“The higher the hygiene standards in a country, the higher that nation’s incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases. The more sterile a household is, the more its members will suffer from allergies and autoimmune diseases. Thirty years ago, about 1/10 had an allergy; today, that figure is 1/3.” Giulia Enders: GUT
It’s interesting to consider that there is a world of microbes out there that we actually need. We spend a lot of time focusing on eradicating all microbes by constantly reaching for sanitisers and anti-bacterial cleaners. Clearly there are instances where they make sense; in hospitals. In that setting they work as a more efficient way of reducing the transmission of microbes from patient to patient. It’s simply faster to have each clinical team member use a hand gel at the end of the hospital bed than have them all walk to a basin. In our homes, it’s simply not warranted, warm water and soap will suffice.
Cleaning your home naturally is not any more difficult than cleaning it with harsh chemicals. It improves indoor air quality and is much safer, especially for children. It might sound like hard work but it is simple, quick, and the ingredients are easy to come by and last a long time. With a little soap, some baking soda and a bit of vinegar, you’re on your way to a chemical free and clean home… and no impact to your wonderfully helpful microbes!
“We have taken cleanliness to mean a world without microbes, without realising the consequences of such a world. We have been tilting at microbes for too long, and created a world that’s hostile to the ones we need.” Ed Yong: I Contain Multitudes
The hygiene hypothesis works on the theory that in ‘developed’ countries children contract fewer infectious diseases but demonstrate higher rates of allergic disorders. The word ‘hygiene’ in this context is actually a catch-all phrase that includes the following factors that are associated with ‘developed’ countries like:
- Food sanitisation
- Chlorinated town water
- Limited exposure to domesticated animals and livestock
The question remains, is the hygiene hypothesis an old name for decreases in the microbial diversity of the gut microbiota when comparing developed societies to more remote traditional communities?