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The Hygiene Hypothesis: Is being too Clean Good for Your Children?

By Edited May 17, 2014 1 0
Credit: Sonita Lewis

From: publicdomainpictures.net

Dirt and microorganisms are typically labeled as “harmful”, “unhealthy” and “disease causing”. For that reason, a lot of people have practiced proper hygiene religiously. But, did you know that some studies showed that too much cleanliness can bring forth negative effects to your immune system? This is  especially indicated for growing children. How so? As you read further you will fully understand the concept behind the hygiene hypothesis or in other words, how one’s immune system is affected  by early exposure to microorganisms. 

The Main Concept

Credit: Andrew Schmidt

From: publicdomainpictures.net

The idea of the hygiene hypothesis was first introduced during the 1980s by an epidemiologist named David Strachan. The main concept here is that a person specifically children increases or strengthen their immunity to infections and allergies through germ and dirt exposure.

As noted in one of my articles entitled “The Human Body’s Reaction to Allergens,” the first stage of allergy development is exposure to foreign substances. Once your body detects any foreign substances, this includes various microorganisms, its immediate reaction is to increase its defenses. In cases of allergies, our body produces antibodies and histamine. As for infections, an increase in white blood cells will occur. How is this related to the hygiene hypothesis? Basically, your body can recognize these foreign substances. With gradual and continuous exposure to these organisms, the human body will learn to defend itself from these invaders. As a result, the hypersensitivity reaction or illness will be less severe until you or your child will develop strong immunity to a certain pathogenic microorganisms or allergens.

The idea behind this theory actually has similarities with the mechanism of action of vaccines. A certain pathogen is introduced to your body. Because of this exposure, the body will be able to build the right defense to protect itself once that specific pathogen enters your body again.

Important things to remember

Remember, while the hygiene hypothesis provides an excellent concept, this theory has still to be explored and strengthened. Exposing your child to dirt and pathogens also possesses various health risks. One in particular is a parasitic infection. Keep in mind that soil and other dirt particles are the breeding ground of worms and other parasites. Furthermore; germ, dirt and allergen exposure is not a guarantee of a disease-free life.

Too much obsession for cleanliness is also not recommended. Remember, most of today's cleaning products like bleaching agents are loaded with chemicals that can be toxic to your health. Plus, the human body has its own normal flora. Meaning, several microorganisms are living inside our bodies that bring forth numerous health benefits. To give you a better view, Barbara Fazekas, an immunologist professor states that microorganisms present in the gastrointestinal tract are a factor that influences our immunity as we age. According to her, an established gut flora at an early age will help strengthen the immune system throughout one's lifetime.

So, what now? Basically, balance is the key here. Allowing your child to explore their environment is good for them. But, of course, set some limits. A child's curiosity tempts them to put almost anything in their mouths and go anywhere. Hence, supervision should always be done. You should also restrict them from going to unsafe and unsanitary areas. As for your child's immune system; a healthy diet, lifestyle and balanced hygiene practices are enough to lower his chances of acquiring infectious diseases. 

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  1. Bianca Nogrady "What is Hygiene Hypothesis? ." ABC Health & Wellbeing. 3/05/2013 <Web >
  2. Janet Fang "Being too Clean can Make You Sick." Smart Planet. 3/05/2013 <Web >
  3. "The Hygiene Hypothesis: Are Cleanlier Lifestyles Causing More Allergies For Kids?." Science Daily . 3/05/2013 <Web >

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