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.
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 and multiple sclerosis, and also some types of depression and cancer.[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. 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”. 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.
Some evidence indicates that autism is correlated to factors (such as certain cytokines) that are indicative of an immune disease. One publication speculated that the lack of early childhood exposure could be a cause of autism.
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.