Hygiene hypothesis: Be more dirty

I’m sure most people know what the hygiene hypothesis is, but just in case, here’s a blurb from everyone’s favorite questionable source.


The original formulation of the hygiene hypothesis dates from 1989 when David Strachan proposed that lower incidence of infection in early childhood could be an explanation for the rapid 20th century rise in allergic diseases such as asthma and hay fever.[2]

It is now also recognised that the “reduced microbial exposure” concept applies to a much broader range of chronic inflammatory diseases than asthma and hay fever, which includes diseases such as type 1 diabetes[3] and multiple sclerosis,[4] and also some types of depression[4][5] and cancer.[6][specify]

In 2003 Graham Rook proposed the “old friends hypothesis” which seems to offer a more rational explanation for the link between microbial exposure and inflammatory disorders.[7] He argues that the vital microbial exposures are not colds, influenza, measles and other common childhood infections which have evolved relatively recently over the last 10,000 years, but rather the microbes already present during mammalian and human evolution, that could persist in small hunter gatherer groups as microbiota, tolerated latent infections or carrier states. He proposes that we have become so dependent on these “old friends” that our immune systems neither develop properly nor function properly without them.

Strachan’s original formulation of the hygiene hypothesis also centred around the idea that smaller families provided insufficient microbial exposure partly because of less person to person spread of infections, but also because of “improved household amenities and higher standards of personal cleanliness”.[2] It seems likely that this was the reason he named it the “hygiene hypothesis”. Although the “hygiene revolution” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may have been a major factor, it now seems more likely that, although public health measures such as sanitation, potable water and garbage collection were instrumental in reducing our exposure to cholera, typhoid and so on, they also deprived us of our exposure to the “old friends” that occupy the same environmental habitats.[8][9]

The rise of autoimmune diseases and acute lymphoblastic leukemia in young people in the developed world was linked to the hygiene hypothesis.[10][11]

Some evidence indicates that autism is correlated to factors (such as certain cytokines) that are indicative of an immune disease.[12][13][14][15][16] One publication speculated that the lack of early childhood exposure could be a cause of autism.[17]

Fun stuff, right?  That’s not to say that people should eat out of their toilets, but being too clean can be a problem.  When I was a kid, I was a cesspool.  I spent summers outdoors, waist deep in swampy muck.  I ate perishable foods that had been sitting out all day, or all week in the case of butter.  I never got food poisoning.  I was subject to circulating bugs like everyone else, but they were short and had minimal impact.  My parents’ houses were also quite dirty.  Full of dust, molds, and every allergen on the planet.  I was a crappy slave, and they had better things to do than clean house.  It didn’t bother me at all.

Now that I’m out adulting on my own, their mess bothers me.  Every time I visit, I have to clean.  There’s junk mail, paper plates, and STUFF everywhere.  It’s also really fucking dusty and their shihtzu scoots her ass across the carpet…and good lord, the smell.  My Dad has heart disease and diabetes because he doesn’t give a shit, but is otherwise ‘healthy’.  My Mom is 65, survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and can run circles around me.  No weird autoimmune illnesses going on there.

So, I was thinking about it…my house isn’t nearly as clean as it used to be, but it’s still a lot cleaner than what other people seem to live with.  It wasn’t until I became OCD about cleanliness that I started getting sick more often, started dealing with environmental allergies, and crohn’s disease made its quiet entrance.  My immune system was so bored, it went ape-shit.  Helminthic therapy can help people with autoimmune disorders by redirecting the fight to the infestation, as I understand it.  Most people probably aren’t willing to eat parasitic worm ova to treat their Crohn’s disease or MS, but I’m getting there.


I’ve sort of done my own dirty person experiment unintentionally.  I used to shower every day, and refused to go anywhere without showering.  My hair and skin would be greasy by the end of the day, and my face and back were both subject to frequent breakouts, well beyond my teenage years – my acne actually popped up in my mid-20’s, and I had clear skin as a teen.  Talk about frustrating.  I tried all of the washes, lotions, all had minimal effect.  I even eliminated certain foods to see if that would help.  When I figured out that oil-free lotions were causing my skin to become congested, I switched to a natural brand with olive oil and vitamin E.  That helped a lot, but we still weren’t in the clear.

Over the past two years, showering daily has become more and more difficult, and though I probably don’t smell as pretty as I used to, my skin and hair are jumping for joy.  I don’t get zits anymore.  Not even during PMS, or eating nothing but fries and chocolate.  I know my hormones are fucked.  Why is my skin so happy?  I’m guessing the friendly bacteria that gather on my skin, and a natural oil layer, keep the acne bacteria out.  I only scrub my face with a little scrubby mit to exfoliate the dead skin off and water, no soap whatsoever.  I moisturize with my super-cheap vitamin E and other nature goop lotion, and then repeat the process 3 or 4 days later when I shower.  I use Tom’s Lavender vit E and olive oil bar soap on the rest of my parts.  My oil production has decreased as well, since my skin isn’t constantly under assault.  Fewer hair-washings mean longer intervals between haircuts.  That’s the best part.  I’d rather get teeth pulled than get a haircut.

Moral of the story, some microbes are your friends.  Don’t kill ’em!

Postscript:  I wrote this as a way to procrastinate.  Packing is no fun.



18 thoughts on “Hygiene hypothesis: Be more dirty

  1. My initial reaction was, “She wrote a post??? Isn’t she supposed to be packing? OH. :-)” Just fer ya know, I grew up a lot like you did, pretty filthy and shoeless and buttering with counter top butter. However, my immune system never got the message that it should stop being so scared. I was always three times sicker and longer than anyone else, and the mystery was finally solved in the fall of 2014 when I was being tested extensively to try to figure out why my shunts were giving me so much trouble. It turns out I’m IgG3 and IgG4 deficient – and since my remaining siblings haven’t been tested, I don’t know which side of the family sent it down to me. I’m in this weird grey world where I don’t want to overdo the antibacterial crap but an infection could kill me.

    Back to work! Rainbows and puppy dogs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, busted!

      AI disorders are so complicated as you know all too well! I’m unsure how much of a role, if any, this had to play in my system breaking down. It’s sort of fun to read different theories. Man, my idea of fun has gotten a little weird.

      Infection is a big risk when your health is compromised, so I understand what you’re sayin’! Better safe than sorry. I use normal soap at home, but if I have a medical appointment or find myself being held hostage in the hospital, I’m all over the hand sanitizer.


  2. Pingback: Dirty Is The New Clean | The Sick and the Dating
  3. Heh. I just read an article in JAMA that shows how kids who grew up in households that did dishes by hand had fewer immune system issues as adults. Very interesting. Dishwashers are designed to kill everything and replace it with a layer of weird smell. My son grew up covered with black mud from our various gardens, horse manure from our horse farm, shit from goats, ostriches, dogs, cats, birds, but not chickens (the ostriches cured us of chickens). He has an outrageously good immune system, but he did inherit the Autistic Spectrum thing from me and his dad, so probably not due to germs.

    You are right about not removing your skin’s protective mantle of fatty acids and beneficial bacteria. Americans are fanatical about smelling like something other than people. I admit to having lots and lots of essential oils, and using them daily. They are good medicine that also smells good! I use sandalwood oil instead of commercial deodorant. Everyone asks me what kind of perfume I’m wearing! I had to stop showering daily when I suddenly out of nowhere developed eczema. It was very distressing to me at first, since I like feeling clean. So I started taking oil baths, which feels cleaner than nothing, and helps my skin, and probably gives my bacteria a better environment than soap and water, which happen every three days. I don’t like it, but no choice, so there it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yep, that’s where I’m at. I’d prefer to shower every day, if not every other day, but it doesn’t seem worth it if I waste half of the day trying to recover from it. I also think the link they were trying to make with autism is a big stretch. Any impact it does have on other autoimmune diseases is probably small, and of course may not be the same for everyone. So many frickin’ variables. I’ll figure it out one day! I’m on a mission.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand the premise. Makes sense. Still, it’s hard for me to blame the immune system for conditions like autism. That seems to be more of a brain problem. (I’ve also read one study about a connection between autism and Tylenol given to infants.) Maybe the new research on gut bacteria will provide more of a connection, not that I understand it all.

    I developed both allergies and eczema as an adult, but I don’t know how to connect that with the cleanliness of my home growing up. No, we weren’t raised on a farm, and my mother did take advantage of having 6 girls, as the cleaning was never-ending. But with a house of 8, I assume that’s to be expected. I’ve attributed my immune problems to living with constant pain, especially since I don’t have many digestive issues.

    Seems to me that the chemicals and pollutants in our air, water and food are more to blame, but I suppose that could be connected to our immune systems, too. Immune systems trying to figure out what all this foreign stuff is, like plastics. And drugs. Colbert just did a segment on what they found in salmon, with a list of drugs longer than Walgreens receipts.

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I’m tired. Been packing (and cleaning), too. Stressed out, but trying to use your suggestion about looking at this change as an adventure. Thing is, I’m way too old and in too much pain for adventures. 🙂


    • You made perfect sense. 🙂 There are a ton of factors, and this is one of many angles. I like it because ewwww worrrrrms. Pain does fuck everything up, and you know the adventure doesn’t begin until the awful crap like packing and moving is over. An adventure like sleeping for 2 weeks straight, or eating your way through a freezer full of dilly bars!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Hmmm, yeah…ice cream and cocaine are probably on the same addiction plane. You deserve some treats for making it through all of that crap. I might need your new address so I can send you some tasty-goodies. Oh, that reminds me – when manchild was in Korea, I bought a giant bag of pretzel m&m’s to mail to him, but they disappeared into my mouth before I could get them mailed out. That’s addiction right thar. Mmhmm.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting. You’re not the first person I’ve heard the theory that Americans go a little crazier about being “clean”. I grew up the same way, playing in the fields and creek, drinking out of the hose, swimming in the lake in the summer. I did have a traumatic head injury at 7, but other than that (and chickenpox in 7th grade) I seemed to be pretty healthy as a kid. It wasn’t until my 20’s I developed an autoimmune disorder.
    But with my case in particular, I think clues might have been there when I was younger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My parents think I’ve probably had Crohn’s since I was a teenager, but it was mild enough that it got ignored. That’s fine by me. I enjoyed living in ignorance and beating the crap out of myself. Party party party 🙂


      • Lol! Ayup! My biggest clues were migraines as a kid (damn that concussion at 7!) and a birth defect with my left hip. But it was the 70’s….who could have known?


  6. Weirdly I talked about this theory in my latest post too (though much more briefly). My mum is a big supporter of the theory, and a scientist, and is continually frustrated that despite her lack of cleaning me and my sister still got asthma because basically everyone in our family has it. She’s nor frustrated for use you understand, frustrated she can’t use us as an example haha

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least she gave it a try, and hey, cleaning is overrated! That’s what I’m telling myself these days. Anything to help rationalize my defects. 😉

      Allergies run in my family, and I think rolling around in allergens helped to keep the allergies at bay, for a little while at least. I’m allergic to everything now. My immune system is a dick!


  7. Pingback: Death on my ‘heals’, zig-zagging | Polishing Dookie

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