Autoimmune Disorders and the Hygiene Hypothesis

While I was doing research for a new blog post I found this term “hygiene hypothesis”, so I decided to investigate and see what it had to do with autoimmune disorders. I found the information interesting and that this isn’t a new term. This hypothesis has been around since the late 80’s.

What is the “hygiene hypothesis”?

In medicine, the hygiene hypothesis states a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms, and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.

I see some terms in that paragraph that I am not familiar with, so I’m going to break it down:

Infectious agents:

An infectious agent is something that infiltrates another living thing, like you. When an infectious agent hitches a ride, you have officially become an infected host. There are four main classes of infectious agents:

  • bacteria
  • viruses
  • fungi
  • parasites

This is a short and informative video.

Symbiotic microorganisms

Symbiotic bacteria are bacteria living in symbiosis (interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.) with another organism or each other. For example, Zoamastogopera, found in the stomach of termites, enable them to digest cellulose.


A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.

The Hygiene Hypothesis and Autoimmune Disorders #autoimmune #MS #rheumatoidarthritis

Are we are too clean?

When we talk about the hygiene hypothesis, the collection of theories that address the possible problems that can be associated with growing up less exposed to germs and dirt, we are essentially talking about growing up indoors. We’re talking about living in a world of relatively clean and controlled surfaces, where even small children who are constantly picking things up and putting them in their mouths are not going to come into contact with a very wide variety of exposures. Read more

I’m glad there are these videos on YouTube to help explain this topic. I’ve been reading a lot about this and it can be very hard to understand and the experts even say so. I found this article from that sums up all of this fairly well:

Consider this: in some Western countries, allergies — which are your immune system responding to things like pollen or cat dander as though they are dangerous attackers — have risen 200 percent in the last three decades. However, they remain low in countries where keeping everything gleaming clean is less of an obsession.

It’s not just allergies, either. Multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes and other autoimmune diseases are all on the rise — and researchers speculate that our need for clean may be part of the reason.

The hygiene hypothesis isn’t the only reason to re-examine our clean routine. Health Canada advises against the overuse of antibacterial soaps and household cleaners because they may cause more problems than they solve. Overusing these products can not only lead to antibiotic resistance, but research has shown that people who use them are just as likely to get sick as the rest of us.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Keep your hands clean (by using regular soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers), but leave the antibacterial products off your household chore list. And that’s the dirt on dirt.

For me some of this information makes sense. I grew up with many different allergies and my parents did their best to keep our house and environment very clean. When I became an adult I developed four autoimmune disorders. In the last thirteen years I have been exposed to dirt, dust, pollen, cats, dogs, and manure working with horses on different ranches, and I have never felt healthier.

Just yesterday before I ate a granola bar, I rinsed my hands off with water from the garden hose. As I was eating the thought ran through my mind, “I wonder how much crap I have ingested over the years?” Then I just laughed because of all of the things from the environment I was protected from growing up, this is the complete opposite.

I don’t know if it is because of the autoimmune disorders or because of being with livestock and a work environment that isn’t the cleanest, I never have the flu or a cold.

When I was teaching, a lot of children exposed me to all sorts of colds and flu, and I never got sick.

So, what do you think about the “hygiene hypothesis” and autoimmune disorders? Please leave your comments below.







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