Refrigerator Parents

Two epidemiological case-control surveys have linked the age at which, growing up, your home got a refrigerator with your chances of getting Crohn’s Disease later in life. The controls (without Crohn’s) got refrigerators later than the cases (with Crohn’s). This is not one of those data-mining correlations. It was (a) predicted and (b) found in two independent studies.

Crohn’s Disease is much more common in rich countries than poor ones so it was reasonable to examine aspects of lifestyle that distinguish rich and poor countries. In rich countries, the likelihood of having Crohn’s seems to be increasing over time, which is more reason to look for environmental explanations. One of the studies was done in Tehran, where a significant fraction of the population didn’t have a refrigerator when they were born. The control group was patients with irritable bowel syndrome, a curious choice. (The differences might have been larger had they chosen a non-inflammatory digestive problem.) The other study was done in England and used a control group of patients with a non-inflammatory disease.

Refrigerators, of course, retard the growth of bacteria, which I believe everyone needs to eat plenty of (the umami hypothesis). Long ago, “refrigerator mothers” — mothers who treated their children with insufficient warmth — were blamed for autism and schizophrenia in their children. Now that it is clear that autism is connected with digestive problems there may be ironic truth in the old claim.

Thanks to Dennis Mangan.

Refrigerator poetry.

4 Replies to “Refrigerator Parents”

  1. My daughter has Asperger’s, but no discernible digestive problems. I wonder if the connection is only that the apparent severity of autism symptoms is exacerbated by gut pain. Fix the gut pain and the symptoms largely subside, just because autism sufferers are (as for other distractions) not good at ignoring pain.

    The number of people reporting successful treatment of autism with chelation despite the difficult theoretical problems with the idea (chelation mostly removes metals from the liver) leads me to suspect that it’s the big mineral supplements chelation patients get, after a session, that actually help. It seems easy to test.

  2. Everybody insists bacteria don’t survive a trip through the stomach, yet our colon is full of them. How did they get there, and how did they survive the trip through the stomach? Is it only bacterial spores that get through? Should we be eating slow-dried fermented food, because those bacteria have had a chance to put themselves in spore capsules while it dried?

  3. I agree, Nathan, the idea that ‘bacteria don’t survive a trip through the stomach” makes no sense except as a vague approximation. (Like caloric values of foods.) And if 99.99% of a certain bacteria are killed in the stomach, so what if we eat a billion of them? However, the notion that we should be constantly eating bacteria-laden food (I believe daily) implies a great daily die-off. And therefore a need for replenishment.

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