Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hygiene Hypothesis

I have just recently heard of the "Hygiene Hypothesis" that states "a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (e.g., gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by modulating immune system development." In other words, we have sanitized ourselves sick. The incidence of allergies in children has risen since we have become overly preoccupied with sanitation. The hypothesis goes on further to state: "Viewed through the lens of the hygiene hypothesis the modern obsession or preoccupation with sterlity, equating it with cleanliness and goodness, is revealed for what it is. An unhealthy cultual artifact that arose as a consequence of the more immediate and apparent benefits from adopting modern sanitary practices and technologies. Eliminating typhoid and cholera has saved millions of lives in the aggregate since sewers and clean drinking water was introduced in North American and Western Europe for instance. But in so doing we caused the rise of the modern diseases involving immune dysregulation."

When Charles Schultz created the "Peanuts" comic strip, he was dismayed to learn that Pig-Pen had become everyone's favorite character. Everyone loved Pig-Pen (including me) and I think it is because we could identify with him, and his little cloud of swirling dust. When I was about five years-old, I remember my grandfather saying to me, very sternly, "Just look at you; you have been outside for ten minutes and your clothes are all soiled."

Well, yes, I grew up in a logging town. We played outdoors. We got dirty. That's what kids do.

Last night on the 6:00 news I heard about a company here in Vancouver that can go through all the office buildings and sanitize them until there are no germs left at all. The very thought of it gives me the creeps. Since the beginning of time have lived in a symbiotic relationship with most of the world's viruses and bacteria, and most of them are beneficial to us. Many of them are necessary, in fact. For goodness sake, leave them alone.

Get outside and play...!


Alissa said...

I agree! I've never been a germaphobe, and find things like antibacterial wipes to wipe down my grocery store cart kind of silly. I too spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the dirt. I can even recall a time my friend and I played at being cows and ate grass. Fortunately my backyard wasn't coated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers. I recall the grass tasting pretty bad, but I'm still here to tell the tale.

Jo said...

Alissa, gosh, I did that too. Played at being a cow and ate grass. Oh, goodness...! We used to eat all kinds of things. *shudder* :-)

Penney said...

I wish there was a "like" or "kudos" or some similar button that I could click for this post!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I fully believe in the hygiene hypothesis. Polio is a good example. When polio strikes the very young, it tends to be not as severe as when it strikes older children. The big severe outbreak of polio in the USA at the beginning of the 20th century was in part due to the improvements in sanitation that resulted in more of the population not exposed to polio. They were therefore more susceptible duiring a major outbreak and also suffered more severe symptoms because they got it at an older age.

Hilary said...

Totally agree, Jo. We've gone antibacterial and antibiotic crazy in our time. We're the reason viruses and bacteria evolve and get deadlier. I don't buy any anti-bacterial products.. just plain soap and water should do the trick. Unless you're a surgeon, of course.. then carry on. ;)

Katy said...

Great post Jo! I completely agree. I have defently noticed a rise in allergies in kids. Also, I wonder if there has been a rise in people with OCD.

Deedee said...

In a similar way, our over-use of sunscreen has caused us to become deficient in vitamin D. Some "germs" are good for us. Moderation in everything is the healthiest way to go.

PurestGreen said...

What is equally ridiculous is the obsession with swine flu and vaccinations, yet prevention always takes a back seat. You can't sterilize the world and get shots and take tablets, then eat the standard north American diet of high saturated fats and carbs, and expect to stay healthy.

A diet high in whole foods and fibre is the best prevention there is. And playing in the dirt is a very good thing.

Mclndesm said...

I agree also. I cringe when I see the commercials where a teacher is washing all the plastic toys in a bucket of bleach. Uggh! I am not against teaching kids(and some parents) about proper hygiene and germ avoidance ettiquette but Come On! That study has been around for quite awhile and it is fact. Their immune systems are developing and learning what to go after at that age and to stop that process or "chemicalize it" is doing a great disservice to the child that will last a lifetime.
I remember as a child having to change out of my school clothes into my play clothes and then off to serious business of playing and getting dirty. :)

jeannette stgermain said...

I strongly agree with you, Jo! I think it's sad when friends tell you to was your hands before you can hold their baby! But they have to hear it from "an official source" before they believe this what you're saying in this article -thanks! I will print this so they can see the official source:)

Russell said...

I grew up on a farm and still live on an acreage. I am around all sorts of dirt and other things that many city folks would find, well, offensive.

My dog Bailey eats things that are gross, though he considers them to be a delicacy! There is a skunk that visits my barn so often I have named him Skylar.

All in all, I must be VERY healthy! Heh!

Take care.

Paula Slade said...

I'm not sure I agree with the theory that eliminating germs and virus from our environment is the cause of allergic reactions. I would think it would be more from environmental pollution IMHO. But, I'm with you - kids should be kids, and get dirty - that's part of the fun of childhood! :)

Jennifer D said...

Jo... I agree with you yet again. I have never been afraid of germs and my family is very healthy. We have always avoided antibiotics. I gave my baby garlic water when he had a stuffy nose. Stinky but it worked.

susie said...

I'm all for kids getting dirty, playing outside, and being exposed to lots of things. My daughter says she sends her kids over here, because she knows they'll be exposed to all sorts of things, and she won't have to worry about allergies.
Seems to be working too.

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...


Here in Brazil we have our "Pig Pen" too. His name is "Cascão" (Hard crust). Cascão is a loved character in spite of his filth and was criated by Mauricio de Souza, the most famous brazilian cartoonist. He creates his characters based on his ows childreen. Google "Cascão", maybe you enjoy this adorable-dirty boy!

TheChicGeek said...

Hi Jo :)
No time to read so I will come back to catch up! Russell is looking very sexy on your sidebar there.hmmmm...LOL
Really :)

I wanted to wish you a Happy American Thanksgiving! We all have so much to be thankful for and you, my dear, are one of those things I am thankful for!

Hugs to you, Jo!

Mia said...

This must be why I'm never sick. We had all kinds of germs, bacteria, dirt when I was growing up. I always thought dirt was natural.

Mo said...

Irene had an old Greek saying, "Children are like plants, they can't grow without some dirt." I think it was on a t-shirt too.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I observed minimal hygiene as a child and have rarely been sick in my life, although I do have allergies. I also raised three extremely healthy children who were encouraged to play outside every day. It all washed off at night.

the walking man said...

There is a line in which too damn clean is on the other side. I live just below that line.

Jo said...

Penney, oh gosh, thank you! :-)

LGS, that is very interesting. I think the same applies to the H1N1 virus too. People who have been exposed to earlier influenzas seem to be at less risk.

Hilary, we have bottles of antibacterial gel all over our office, and you're right -- soap and water is sufficient.

Katy, there is definitely a rise in autism, it seems. Interesting, isn't it?

Dee Dee, I was not aware of the Vitamin D thing. Interesting!

PurestGreen, you're so right, people have forgotten how to take care of themselves preventatively. Blame McDonald's and Burger King, *heh*

McIndesm, oh yes, we had our school clothes and our play clothes! We could not get our school clothes dirty, but we could get our play clothes dirty.

Jeanette, well, I think it is a good idea to wash our hands, but disinfecting them is completely ridiculous, I agree.

Russell, the skunk has a name now? Skylar? Oh, dear. You can't get rid of Skylar...! *heh*

Paula, yes, how else can children build up our immune system unless we are exposed to germs?

Jennifer, people can indeed become over-medicated, and over sanitized.

Marcos, thank you. I'll have to check that out.

Kelly, yes, Russell is sexy, isn't he? I will tell him you said so. :-) Happy Thanksgiving...!!!

Mia, yes, dirt is natural. We are made up of it. :-)

Mo, Irene was very wise. I think she made good spanakopita too. :-)

Hearts, yes! It washes off in the bath water. *heh*

Mark, *heh* Good for you...!

Alicia said...

Funny thing is today during our Thanksgiving meal all the mothers were making a big deal about all the kids washing their hands because they had all been playing with the dogs. My brother said he wasn't going to wash his hand even though he had dog on them because he didn't want to get rid of all his germs and get sick.

He must have read your blog :-)

Jo said...

Alicia, that's wonnnnnnnderful....!!!! Omigoodness good for him. *heh*

noteither said...

I got your point here Jo. Drastic actions against our symbiotic relationship with host of germs and bacterias might result to something bad! I don't think man can live normally in a sterile environment :) And, hey! Sometimes being dirty means - just got some real outdoor fun! :)

A human kind of human said...

Jo-Anne, my second daughter was the healthiest baby anybody could wish for until she was two years old. Then she developed Asthma (ellergy driven) and all kinds of other allergies also. She was even allergic to board chalk and at one time her teacher sent me a letter asking that I keep her home until her "cold" clears up (lol). We visited Dr Wineberg at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town (at the time a world leader on allergies in children) and he told me that we can never have animals or birds for pets, or carpets on the floors (he even wanted us to change the curtains to blinds) and my whole house must be dusted daily with a wet cloth and the floors mopped with a damp mop. Well, I kept this up for about a month and then decided that it was nonsense (shoot me for being a bad mother). I grew up with animals, birds, dust and much, much, worse and never suffered an allergy. Well yes, at times her allergies were very bad but gradually she became desensitized and today, she is not allegic to anything. She loves pets and I can just imagine how much poorer her life (and ours) would have been if I had stuck to the super hygienic principles prescribed by the world authority on childhood allergies. This is just my personal experience, but yes, I can subscribe to the this Hygiene Hypothesis.

lovelyprism said...

I couldn't agree more! I used to know this woman who wouldn't let her baby crawl on the grass because it was "dirty". For heaven's sake! I'll just bet her kid is sick ALL the time now!