Sunday, November 29, 2009

Parasites - Good or Bad?

Isn't he cute??

Tonight I heard an excellent radio program on parasites, courtesy of Radiolab on WNYC. There's an interview with parasite expert and science writer Carl Zimmer, and a fascinating segment on a fellow who had chronic asthma and decided to treat it by purposefully acquiring a hookworm. Spoiler alert: it totally worked!

To paraphrase the program: autoimmune diseases such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, lupus, et cetera are virtually unknown in the developing world. Why? We might be a little too clean. If you use antibacterial products in your home and eat only irradiated food, you've essentially eliminated an entire class of organism from your life - organisms which have developed in concert with human beings for thousands of years.

Granted, sanitation and hygiene are important. No one is advocating that doctors stop washing their hands. But listen to this program for a slightly different take on parasites - and just maybe learn to appreciate them!

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