The Hygiene Hypothesis

by brenda on February 26, 2011

 hygiene hypothesis


Several weeks ago, we found out that Farm Princess is severely allergic to peanuts. The doctor mentioned that more and more people are becoming allergic to peanuts, and I asked him why that is. He said that there are two thoughts on this subject:

1. It is because of the way we process nuts in our country (I will cover this in another post)

2. It is because of the Hygiene Hypothesis


What is the Hygiene Hypothesis? It’s the belief that a lack of exposure to bacteria, microorganisms, infectious diseases, parasites, probiotics and healthy gut flora in early childhood suppresses the immune system and creates a greater chance of allergies and asthma.

The doctor described it like this: our immune system has two sides to it, the side that fights off disease, and the side that fights off allergies and asthma. It’s like a scale. When one side is tipped down (because it is not being used), the other side tips way up.

Our culture is afraid of disease.

  • We give vaccinations to our kids for many illnesses that our parents generation never got. (Think: chicken pox vaccine, rotavirus vaccine, etc.) We want to make sure that our kids are not getting sick!
  • We’ve even got vaccinations for the flu, because people don’t want to be inconvenienced by the flu!
  • Hand sanitizer is everywhere: in mom’s purse, at the school, at the day care center in the kitchen, in public restrooms.
  • Antibacterial soaps are everywhere: honestly, it’s hard to find a soap that isn’t antibacterial these days.
  • Our foods are sterile. Milk is pasteurized. Nuts are pasteurized. Bagged salads are soaked or rinsed in chlorine bleach. There’s talk of radiating eggs to lessen the exposure of salmonella (which is created by the environment the commercial layers are raised in, but never mind that!).

We’ve tipped the disease side of our immune systems WAY down, so that the asthma/allergy side goes WAY up. That’s the Hygiene Hypothesis, in a nut shell (pun intended ;)).

I could write an entire post about how people mess with food in order to make it cheaper and easier (i.e. feeding leftover beer grains to cows) and then create problems in the food (the cows getting sick, then people getting sick from their milk) and then create new rules and procedures to fix the problems they created (pasteurization for all milk) and then create brand new problems (greater risk of asthma & allergies). Man creates the problem, the "solution," the new problems, and then has to come up with a solution to those new problems (asthma inhalers and allergy meds). It’s an industry, and it comes down to money, money, money. If we left well-enough alone (let cows graze on fresh grass so that they wouldn’t get sick and people wouldn’t get sick from their milk and we wouldn’t need to pasteurize), everything would be fine and dandy! 🙂

The solution, in my opinion? Some healthy exposures to microorganisms, bacteria, and yes, even disease!

  • Drink raw milk. Or at the very least non-homogenized milk (sold in glass bottles at our health food store).
  • Don’t use hand sanitizer. Wash your hands, but don’t squirt that stuff on your hands (or your children’s hands) multiple times per day.
  • Don’t use antibacterial soaps (they create super bugs that are antibiotic resistant, anyways–don’t use them!).
  • Don’t be afraid of a little cold or the flu. You’re making your body stronger.
  • Play in the dirt. Garden in the dirt. Don’t be afraid of kids eating dirt. 🙂 
  • Eat lots of yogurt! Full fat yogurt without added sugars, etc.
  • Take a good pro-biotic.

Check out these sites for further reading on this topic:

Kids Growing Up on Farms Less Likely to Have Asthma

Health Benefits of Raw Milk

Parasitic Worms: A Retro Cure for Autoimmune Diseases?

How to Prevent Your Children Suffering From Allergies


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah in the woods February 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

wow. I want hookworms. (he he he)


Jenne Glover February 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I’m with you: I am anti Anti-bacterial soaps/sanitizers. 🙂 And you are right – it IS difficult to find soap that is just soap. I am also deathly afraid of bleach and chlorine. Wish it was not so pervasively used. Did not know about the bagged salads you referenced. I imagine that anything that says it is “pre-washed” in the produce aisle is washed in this manner. ugh.


Karen February 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

What do you use for a probiotic for your family?


brenda March 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Hi Karen, I like Biokult, which was designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. 🙂


Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen March 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

Hey Brenda! Guess what? We started doing GAPS this week. It’s going well so far and I’m already noticing some improvements. Yay!

Anyway, I completely agree with you. I recently learned that our bodies are supposed to carry two types of friendly bacteria, transient and resident. Transient bacteria are those we get from food (or most probiotic supplements, though I don’t know about NCM’s). We re-populate our gut with those when we eat fermented foods. Resident bacteria are those that should live inside us all the time–and we get those from our mothers during vaginal birth, breastfeeding, and…playing in dirt! By not letting our kids play outside, insisting they wash their hands constantly, etc., we are keeping them from building up those friendly bacteria. Also, antibiotic usage knocks those little guys out and, especially for us adults who aren’t being born, breastfeeding, or playing in the dirt, they’re hard to get back.


Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen March 2, 2011 at 7:36 am

What I meant about NCM’s Biokult is it may contain transient and resident bacterial strains. I’m taking a resident probiotic in hopes of replacing what I may have lost when taking antibiotics a few years ago.


brenda March 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Chris, I’m so glad that you’re seeing improvements with GAPS! I need to research transient and resident bacteria. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing! (btw, so glad we live on a farm and our kids are getting their hands in tons of dirt every day! 🙂


sabrina hundley March 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

Hi Brenda,

I completely agree, in our effort to avoid disease and germs we make ourselves more sick! I recently read “The Makers Diet” by Jordan Rubin and he details just what you are saying. A very good and informative read!


brenda March 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Sabrina, I really enjoyed The Maker’s Diet too. 🙂


Cath June 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I agree with a lot of what you said. We are paranoid about germs in our culture — I go nuts when I see those silly commercials of people spraying Lysol on their kids’ toys. I think home-made cleaners are best — vinegar, lemon juice, tea-tree oil, baking soda and bio dish soap clean just about everything in my house. However I nearly lost my son due to complications from the flu at Christmas time. He is usually a very healthy person but ended up in hospital for a week on 24-hour-a-day, super-strong antibiotics with pneumonia and orbital celulitis, which causes menangitis when left untreated. So I am not with you on the flu shot — I’ll be getting that next season.
I think we have to look at the kinds of cleaners we use on babies’ (and kids and our own!) bodies too — harsh soaps and shampoos are so unnecessary and can actually be very detrimental. The CBC did a great doc on allergies last year and they mentioned this in detail.
My daughter showed signs of a nut allergy as an infant and outgrew it. So good luck!


brenda June 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Cath, thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry you almost lost your son. That’s terrible! Each one of us has to come to our own conclusions based on experience, research, etc. I would love to see the info you mentioned that CBC put out. Congrats on your daughter outgrowing her peanut allergy. That’s wonderful!! 🙂


Thomas Lavoie January 7, 2012 at 6:39 am

I’ve never sanitize anything. Clean water. I always eat my good bacteria: yoghurt, kefir. I haven’t been sick in 24 years. I don’t ever get vaccinated. I once accidentally drank water in which an animal died and decomposed in. I survived when all the doctors told me that I should be dead. My immune system is like a castle with archers that use Wookiee Crossbows and energy shields versus an army of 15th century attackers.


Brian Tabor January 7, 2012 at 8:50 am

God made dirt. Dirt don’t hurt.


Linnae January 7, 2012 at 10:24 am

This is an interesting theory. I dont know if I totally support it, but non the less it is interesting. I believe that good bacteria is essential for health and exposure to the bad stuff is just as essential to developing a good solid immune system. Our society is way to over sanitized and I believe it is causing more problems than its solving. In my opinion, food allergies are more caused by leaky gut syndrome more so than over/ under stimulated immune system do to not enough exposure.


Slowmo January 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

I heard an allergist speak recently who said another thought about the rise of food allergies among doctors is that it due to the rise in c-sections. The moms of food allergic children in the room looked at each other and we determined we had all given birth to our children via c-section. Who knows…we have been dealing with a peanut / tree nut allergy for six years and I often question what I could have done differentl, if anything. We have no known family history of food allergies and I breastfed my child, so I can cross those off the list of possibilities.


Jen Pagano January 26, 2012 at 9:33 am

Three additional ones to add to the list:

Leaky gut plays a huge role in the rise of allergies.

Several of the vaccines are made the peanut oil as well, so kids develop anti-bodies to peanuts along with the virus

and peanuts are particularly prone to having hidden mold, another allergy that is very common (for a wide variety of reasons) but is not often considered when one thinks of peanuts.

Looks forward to seeing your follow up post!


Angela February 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I have been doing some interesting reading on bacteria lately. Diversity in bacteria is good!


Ben June 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I’d go along with your sentiments about living in a culture that is ‘afraid of disease’, but likening the flu to an inconvenience is a bit off. Thousands of Americans die each year of the seasonal flu, and globally, the flu kills millions. Moreover there are various strains of flu (swine, avian) which have reached pandemics in recent years and killed tens of thousands worldwide.


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