Could there be a connection between cleanliness and type 1 diabetes? It sounds a little far-fetched. But according to new research, there may be something in this theory.

Finland is one of the least-polluted and wealthiest countries in the world. But it is also home to the highest rate of type 1 diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are about 58 cases diagnosed yearly per 100,000 children in Finland. In the United States there are 24 cases yearly per 100,000 children.

This led researchers to create the “hygiene hypothesis.” “The hygiene hypothesis is based upon epidemiological data, particularly migration studies, showing that subjects migrating from a low-incidence to a high-incidence country acquire the immune disorders with a high incidence at the first generation,” the study says. But does that really mean that cleaner living can result in a weaker immune system?

Because of our growing industrialized world, there has been a rise of allergic and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. According to the study, the idea is that, “Some infectious agents — notably those that co-evolved with us — are able to protect against a large spectrum of immune-related disorders.” Just as there are microbes that trigger a disease, there are also some that can protect a child from developing a disease.

In western countries we decontaminate our water, pasteurize and sterilize our milk and other food products, and there is a decline in illnesses such as hepatitis, childhood diarrhea, and parasitic diseases. In third world countries where our health standards do not exist, people are chronically infected by those pathogens. But, interestingly, the prevalence of allergic and autoimmune diseases is low. The prevalence of diabetes is sixfold higher in Finland than in adjacent Russia, although the genetic background is the same.

This research presents new and interesting therapeutic perspectives for the prevention of allergic and autoimmune disease. Researchers aren’t suggesting contaminating children in hopes of preventing the disease, but they do want to mention past approaches that are similar.

A study treated patients with active Crohn’s disease with the ova from a swine-derived parasite every three weeks for six months. It improved the symptoms in 21 of the 29 patients, with no adverse effects.

While some scientists are skeptical of the theory, America is jumping on it and studies have been started comparing large groups of children with type 1 diabetes in different parts of the country.

For more on type 1 diabetes:

Could Parasites Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
Scientists Find Gene that May Link to Type 1 Diabetes
Better Off Knowing? Debate Over Advanced Knowledge of Type 1 Diabetes Risk