How can being too clean make us sick? Well, it turns out that excessive cleanliness or a lack of exposure to bacteria, viruses and allergens prevents the normal development of the immune system, which eventually increases the chance of disorders within this system down the road. This is called the hygiene hypothesis, and it explains why allergy and asthma rates are much higher in wealthy countries. Studies have found that babies who are exposed to both bacteria and allergens in the first year of life are less likely to develop asthma and allergies. In fact, a 2014 study found that inner-city babies who grow up in houses with higher levels of certain bacteria (carried on cockroach, mouse and cat dander) are less likely to experience wheezing or asthma by the age of 3.
Furthermore, researchers have found that specific conditions as asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases and various allergies, including hay fever, have become much more common as we’ve become more sanitary. These health ailments are more prevalent in developed countries compared to developing ones.
Take note, this hygiene hypothesis does not account for all cases of allergies and asthma, which have a clear genetic component. It’s the interactions between a person’s environment and genes that contribute to the rates of these health conditions.
So, what should we do?
- First of all, you don’t need to stop cleaning your home or stop washing yourself. Remember, most of these findings involve germ exposure during infancy and childhood. Additionally, broader trends such as antibiotic use and sewage treatment plants have led to more drastic reductions in bacteria exposure that we see in modern society.
- Avoid the use of antibiotics in infants and children unless it’s absolutely necessary. Dr. Ardyce Yik ND treats many infections in children naturally using antimicrobial medicinal herbs and nutraceuticals. She is also trained to know when to refer to a medical doctor if pharmaceutical antibiotics or drugs are needed. Click here to read more about how antibiotic use in infants is linked to disease later in life.
- Avoid using antibacterial soaps and products, especially in children. A consensus of more than 200 scientists and medical professionals has concluded that triclosan and triclocarban, two popular antibacterial agents commonly found in personal care products and household items, are environmentally persistent endocrine disruptors that accumulate in and are toxic to aquatic organisms, animals and humans. Triclosan has been found in human breast milk and blood. In Hong Kong, many personal care products and household items containing triclosan or triclocarban are commonly advertised on TV and in public. Beware of the detrimental effects these products may have on your children’s health and yours.
- Vaginal births and breastfeeding are important for the development of a healthy microbiome in infants. Click here to learn on how you can prepare for the best birth. Click here to learn the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Interested in getting a family pet? There’s one more reason to give in to your child’s request. It turns out that pets can boost children’s immunity!