The researchers were interested in lifestyle factors that are associated with lower rates of allergies. Prior research has shown that such lifestyle factors are : living on a farm, introducing fish into the child’s diet at an early age, having pets early in life, parental cleaning of the child’s pacifier by sucking it, crowded living conditions, early daycare attendance, and having siblings. This study found that in households washing dishes by hand, rather than in a dishwasher, there are lower rates of allergies and eczema in children. In addition, the study found that consuming fermented or farm-bought food could decrease the likelihood of allergies further. It is thought that early exposure to microbes stimulates the immune system in beneficial ways. Dishwashers leave fewer bacteria behind on dishes than hand washing dishes. Living in a household that hand-washes means family members are eating off of plates and cutlery that have more bacteria, and therefore they are getting more microbial exposure. There could also be more bacteria in the air when dishes are hand washed or even some other lifestyle factor that these households have in common.From NPR:
Could using a dishwashing machine increase the chances your child will develop allergies? That's what some provocative new research suggests — but don't tear out your machine just yet.The study involved 1,029 Swedish children (ages 7 or 8) and found that those whose parents said they mostly wash the family's dishes by hand were significantly less likely to develop eczema, and somewhat less likely to develop allergic asthma and hay fever.
The findings are the latest to support the "hygiene hypothesis," a still-evolving proposition that's been gaining momentum in recent years. The hypothesis basically suggests that people in developed countries are growing up way too clean because of a variety of trends, including the use of hand sanitizers and detergents, and spending too little time around animals.As a result, children don't tend to be exposed to as many bacteria and other microorganisms, and maybe that deprives their immune system of the chance to be trained to recognize microbial friend from foe.That may make the immune system more likely to misfire and overreact in a way that leads to allergies, eczema and asthma, Hesselmar says.
"The hypothesis was that these different dishwashing methods ... are not equally good in reducing bacteria from eating utensils and so on," Hesselmar says. "So we thought that perhaps hand dishwashing was less effective, so that you are exposed to more bacteria" in a way that's helpful.
In a study released Monday in the online version of the journal Pediatrics, the researchers report what they found: In families who said they mostly wash dishes by hand, significantly fewer children had eczema, and somewhat fewer had either asthma or hay fever, compared to kids from families who let machines wash their dishes.
Still, there are other possible explanations, Hesselmar and Mahr both caution. Though the researchers took economic status into account in the study, it could be that people who don't have dishwashers are alike in some other way that reduces their tendency to get allergies. Interestingly, for example, certain other lifestyle characteristics — eating fermented foods regularly, and tending to buy some foods straight from the farm — seemed to strengthen the "protective" effect in families without dishwashers.