Are you one of those parents who get upset when your children play in the dirt or when you spot the tiniest speck of dust in your home?
There’s a misconception that a healthy home is one that’s been scrubbed squeaky clean from floor to ceiling and treated with all sorts of chemical disinfectants.
A healthy home is actually one that allows a bit of normal dirt to exist. You’re probably raising your eyebrows now because you haven’t heard of the “hygiene hypothesis.”
The hygiene hypothesis theorizes that early exposure to dirt and germs programs the immune system to identify threats. Dr. Mercola explains that the body was meant to have regular contact with dirt and the things that comes with it, especially for children because it trains their immune systems to function correctly.
Your immune system fights off threats using a duo of white blood cells:
• Th1 lymphocytes – white blood cells that attack infected cells throughout the body, and
• Th2 lymphocytes – white blood cells that produce antibodies that try to prevent dangerous microbes from invading your cells. Th2 lymphocytes are also the cells that drive allergic responses to foreign organisms.
Babies rely primarily on the Th2 lymphocytes to keep them healthy. But the hygiene hypothesis suggests that the Th1 system can grow stronger and become more effective if it can get some practice, either by fighting infections or through encounters with certain harmless microbes.
Clean Does Not Necessarily Mean Healthy
If you raise your children in a home doused in antibacterial soaps and cleansers, and give them antibiotics that kill off all the good and bad bacteria in their gut, they will not be able to build up resistance to disease and will become more vulnerable to illnesses later in life.
Studies also show that if children catch viral infections early on, it could reduce their risk of heart disease by as much as 90 percent!
Some 350 patients with heart problems were compared with others who did not suffer from coronary disease and all the respondents were asked about their childhood experience with diseases such as scarlet fever, measles and mononucleosis.
A consistent link between the number of childhood infections and reduced coronary risk was found. Those who suffered two viral infections reduced their risk of heart disease by 40 percent, those with four infections by 60 percent, and those with six infections resulted in a 90 percent risk reduction.
Researchers also discovered that mice exposed to common stomach bacteria were protected against the development of type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
You might be thinking that allergies or asthma don’t have anything in common with type 1 diabetes or other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, but in fact, they are all related to problems with the immune system.
It is estimated that many allergies and immune-system diseases have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in the last few decades. Modern living is one of the main suspects for this phenomenon because the increases occurred largely in highly developed countries in North America and Europe, with the increases showing up in other countries as they become more developed.
It Pays to Be a Little Dirty Sometimes
Dr. Mercola believes that your fear of catching disease is what will make you and your children sicker. If your immune system is healthy and strong, mild infections will actually boost it and provide you with a natural defense designed to help you prevent disease in the future.
Learn how to live in harmony with a little bit of dirt. You can do this by remembering these simple tips:
• Let your child be a child. Allow your young ones to play outside and get dirty (and join them yourself once in a while).
• You don’t need antibacterial soaps. Simple soap and water will suffice.
• Serve locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics.
• Avoid antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary.
• Introduce more friendly bacteria to your gut by eating naturally fermented foods or by taking a high-quality probiotic.
The hygiene hypothesis reminds us that sometimes, we are too “clean” for our own good. There are more serious health issues we should worry about than just a little dirt.