Bacteria in bed dust may actually improve a child’s health, study suggests

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — If you’ve ever heard of dusty bed sheets, you may think it’s time to do the laundry. Researchers in Denmark say we shouldn’t be in such a rush to clean the linens. When it comes to a child’s bedroom, a new study finds microbes living in dust may actually be beneficial to their health later in life.

A team from the University of Copenhagen and Danish Pediatric Asthma Center say there’s a link between microorganisms in the dust in children’s beds and the bacteria inside the human body. The link points to these microorganisms playing a role in reducing allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases as children grow.

While the naked eye can’t see them, researchers say beds are full on microscopic life. These organisms, especially during childhood, influence how the human microbiome develops. This includes how resilient our bodies become to certain diseases.

Researchers examined bed dust samples from the rooms of 577 infants during the study. The team also collected respiratory samples from 542 children and compared the two. The review is the largest study of its kind, measuring the makeup of environmental microorganisms in dust and the bacteria living in the airways of children.

“We see a correlation between the bacteria we find in bed dust and those we find in the children. While they are not the same bacteria, it is an interesting discovery that suggests that these bacteria affect each other. It may prove to have an impact on reducing asthma and allergy risks in later years,” explains Professor Søren J. Sørensen of UCPH’s Department of Biology in a university release.

Microorganisms inside a home help a child’s immune system

It may not sound very hygienic, but the study makes the case that a high diversity of microorganisms inside a family’s home helps children to build defenses against both diseases and allergies. Beds in particular serve as a central gathering place for bacteria, fungi, and various microorganisms. Study authors find constantly cleaning these particles away may be hurting and not helping your overall health.

“We are well aware that microorganisms living within us are important for our health, with regards to asthma and allergies for example, but also for human diseases such as diabetes II and obesity. But to get better at treating these diseases, we need to understand the processes by which microorganisms emerge during our earliest stages of life. And, it seems that the bed plays a role,” Sørensen adds.

“Microorganisms in a bed are affected by a dwelling’s surroundings, where high bacterial diversity is beneficial. The simple message is that constantly changing bedsheets may not be necessary, but we need to investigate this a bit more closely before being able to say so for sure.”

The country life is better for your health

Researchers analyzed 930 different types of bacteria and fungi living in the bed dust. The samples all came from the beds of children who were around six months-old at the time of the study. The findings reveal there’s a big difference in the diversity of microbes living in rural areas compared to urban cities.

“Previous studies inform us that city-dwellers have less diverse gut flora than people who live in more rural settings. This is typically attributed to their spending greater amounts of time outdoors and having more contact with nature. Our studies demonstrate that changes in bacterial flora in bed dust can be an important reason for this difference as well,” Sørensen reports.

The team adds that children who have pets or older siblings also have a lower risk of developing autoimmune diseases. Researchers are now planning to determine if different varieties of bed microbes alter a child’s susceptibility to allergies and asthma.

The study appears in the journal Microbiome.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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