Tag Archives: hygiene hypothesis

Not enough dirt as a kid? Time for a poo transplant!

Holding tummy
Get rid of the bad stuff and replace it with good

The more we look at our own bodies, the more amazing they get.

We might have sophisticated modern technology in our hospitals – able to diagnose and treat with the most intricate procedures.

But a good healthy baby can pretty well survive without any of them.

Do it all solo

Born into a world of just earth, wind and fire – and a mother’s caring love – it thrives exactly like cavemen’s offspring, millions of years ago.

What! No bath every day in body temperature water? No constantly-changed, irritation-free nappy? No sterilised bottles? No disinfected surroundings? No Calpol!

None of that while growing up either. Like farm kids today. Out in the open, doing stuff and enjoying life. Getting dirty, breaking bones, having a ball. All the the things that Elf & Safety would never allow if they were at school with city kids.

Result? Almost never ill. Tummies like cast-iron. Stiffened resistance to colds and flu. No allergies of any kind. Good, healthy, stop-at-nothing adults.

Nothing like any of us city-types, hey? Sick as a dog at the first sign of cold weather. Sensitive to all kinds of change in food. Slightest sign of any bug going round and we catch it – in bed for weeks, hospital, saline drips, the works.

Hygiene hypothesis

Medics call it the hygiene hypothesis – the notion that growing up dirty teaches the immune system resistance – how to recognise dangerous germs and defend against them.

Because us city slickers have none of that. We grow up in surroundings clean and pure, so our bodies never face any challenges. Even though each one of us has this hyper-tuned defensive immune system, just ready to take on any evil pathogens.

We’re not just us, you see. We’re actually in partnership with a whole load of germs that live in our bodies – 100 trillion of them at rough count, around ten times the number of our own body cells.

Which means one heck of a lot of getting to know who’s who that the immune system has to learn, growing up. Who’s good, who’s bad, who can help if things go pear-shaped. Who’s on our side.

Kind of important to get that balance right. Bad germs live in us just as much as good ones, held in balance so everything stays OK.

Keeping the balance

But every so often something skews that balance. Stress at work or in a relationship – worry, anxiety, obsession, longing. Next thing acid tummy, nerves shot to pieces, mind going dilly – stress.

And here’s this hyperactive immune system just itching to jump in and help – gung ho to clobber anything, so it chooses the first thing it comes across. Which kind of explains why we’re getting such strange allergies.

Attack!

There’s no holding back those immune cells. Which might trigger a reaction to all kinds of things – milk, nuts, eggs. Or even weirder things – why?

Because they’re there – water, money, mobile phones, underwear, sex, computers, exercise, even food and drink. There is also actually a man who is allergic to Nigel Farage, the politician.

So when you say the Six O’Clock News makes you sick, you could actually be right.

It could even be worse than that. A gastrointestinal disorder that your body just can’t throw off. Clostridium difficile or c.diff is so unpleasant, you might feel you want to die. All that goo inside you is out of balance, and without help, you’ll never come right.

Which is where the poo transplant comes in. If you can’t get rid of the wrong bacteria, or fight them off – it’s time to replace yours with good healthy poo, good bacteria, that can.

The power of poo

And not just for c.diff, but for colitis or any other intestinal disorder – even for conditions that haven’t been fully diagnosed yet. Sometimes literally the difference between life and death.

Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? Except human beings have been doing it for thousands of years. The Chinese used it to treat food poisoning and severe diarrhoea – a golden soup drunk so that bad bacteria were replaced by good bacteria from someone healthy. Bedouin Arabs still use fresh camel dung to cure bacterial dysentery.

A yucky idea, but it works!

Wash your hands

But so does being meticulously clean afterwards – which is why you must never forget to wash your hands. Always after going to the loo, always before eating food – because the fastest way to come down with any illness at all is to allow it into your system.

Your fingers touch everything and germs aren’t fussy. From stuff you swallow, from touching your mouth, from touching the sensitive areas on your face – they’ll stop at nothing to get in and grab a hold. And they’ll do that, whether you ate dirt as a kid or not.

Good health, good hygiene – and may you live long and happy.

Originally posted 2015-07-02 13:49:25.

How down and dirty could save your life

Dirty faced woman
Our immune systems might have the dirt on germs – but we still need to wash our hands all the time

No, not beauty treatment or anything like that.

Forget Dead Sea mud and all the pampering clinics. This is good eat-dirt-to-make-healthy-bodies thinking – otherwise known as the “hygiene hypothesis”.

Oh, and you’ve got to do it before you’re more than twelve months old. After that, your immune system is no longer working in turbo mode to remember all the germs it knows how to conquer.

Know your enemy

Actually, the body does keep on discovering these as you get older, but not at the same pace.

Kids who grow up on a farm for instance, are more resistant to allergies and infection. Even early exposure to animal faeces and cockroach droppings seems to be beneficial – in weird conflict with keeping clean and washing our hands all the time.

But there is reason in the madness.

Our immune systems learn how to recognise and fight life-threatening micro-organisms in later life. They even acquire memories of germs they’ve never encountered – hostile pathogens never experienced before that have never entered our bodies.

Segue fast forward to adulthood and the same principle applies.

Developing immunity

Because it seems around half of us have developed an immunity to flu so strong, we just never come down with it any more – no coughs, sneezes, headaches, fever. They just pass us by. Previous infections have built up our resistance, so that our bodies can tell flu viruses to get lost.

And yep, it seems to work against pandemic flu too – we’re able to withstand oncoming waves of bird flu, swine flu and maybe even SARS as well. Not from eating dirt, but from previous exposure to milder infections that teach our immune systems how to handle the real villains.

Kinda like the analogy with cowpox and smallpox.

For centuries, smallpox was a killer virus that caused misery for millions with pus-filled blisters all over the body. But in 1796, Edward Jenner, a doctor in Gloucestershire, discovered that previous exposure to cowpox – a familiar problem on farms – produced immunity to smallpox.

“Vacca” is the Latin word for cow – from which we get “vaccine,” a protection from viruses – and “vaccination”, the jab we get to protect us. Actually for cowpox it’s a series of tiny jabs dipped in vaccine solution – a mild reaction blister develops, but disappears in two weeks – and we are protected.

Washing hands is always vital

All of which does not mean that we should ignore daily hygiene, or that it’s safe to run around with dirty hands.

It was another doctor, Joseph Lister, who discovered that surgery patients were dying because infections were transferred from one case to another by surgeons who did not realise the significance of washing hands between treatments.

And yes, he’s the guy after whom Listerine is named, originally an antiseptic, but now a mouthwash.

We might have immunities, but there’s still plenty of germs out there we haven’t encountered yet – all too ready to do the dirty on us if we stop being careful. (Tweet this)

And the Lister story is significant because it’s about transferring germs, spreading them on contact – either directly, or by things we touch in common with other people – door handles, mobiles, keyboards, knives and forks – what the medics call “fomites”.

Hygiene to protect others

Our immunities aren’t all the same either. So while WE might be safe from a particular germ, the kid at the next desk in school – or the colleague alongside us at work – other people might not be.

How fair is it to give them our germs – infect them with a bug we’re immune to – because we’re too forgetful to wash our hands?

Yes, “down and dirty” teaches our bodies to be strong when we’re infants. It’s also how we need to fight germs when we’re older. All or nothing, brute force, get rid of them.Rediscover Hygiene logo

Because living in communities of others as we do – all of us different – there’s no one-size-fits-all protection we can share.

Except washing hands.

Life-saving habits

Except doing everything to keep germs away from any of us who are vulnerable. To stop any cross-contamination. To keep everything around us clean and germ-free for the same reason. Even to using a Hypersteriliser to sterilise the living space around us.

Dead and gone, germs can’t touch us.

So let’s give them their own dirty treatment straight back again.

Originally posted 2015-06-17 11:35:35.

Good, healthy dirt? Never, ever, with our lifestyles

Muddy Girl
Good, healthy dirt – try it and see how ill it can make you

Some people reckon we need dirt to be healthy. To be exposed to it, particularly when we’re kids – so it activates our immune systems, builds up our defences against infections in later life.

Hygiene hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis, it’s called – the notion that being obsessed with cleanliness is the trigger cause for allergies like hay fever, eczema and asthma.

Uh huh. Here’s a reality check, in case you were wondering – especially if you’re among the gung-ho keep-fit brigade.

We spend something like 90% of our time INDOORS.

So if you’re thinking good old-fashioned mud and grass and dew water, you’re already on short rations. Outdoors is so last Century.

Unclean within

Now Google “time spent indoors” and see how many hits you get for indoor air pollution, sick building syndrome, exposure to contaminants and all that how’s-yer-father?

Never normally think about it, huh?

Doesn’t even occur to us.

Stack the dishwasher, hoover the floors once a week, the odd bit of dusting – what’s the problem?

Yeah?

So where do we come with our usual colds, flu, tummy bugs and bits of us that go septic from mishaps doing stuff around the place?

And if we’re so healthy, how come we’re screaming up to the Doc every five minutes for yet another scrip load of antibiotics?

Healthy dirt? With the way most of our bodies are these days, one mouthful would put us in intensive care without even thinking about it. Six days on drips, digestive system up the pole, shaky and nauseous for weeks afterwards.

Norovirus and other friends

Exactly like a bad case of norovirus.

But we don’t need to eat dirt to catch that. Just eat something with our fingers without washing our hands – burger, fish and chips, kebabs, whatever. Well, our fingers LOOK clean, don’t they? How are we supposed to know there might be germs on the countertop, or desk, or telephone keypad, or wherever?

It’s a fact of life though, that there are. Everything everywhere, even our own bodies – is teeming with billions and billions of bacteria, inside and out. Our own gut is home to over 100 trillion of them – vital to helping us digest, and even keep our immune systems going.

And remember that Google search? The whole air around us is full of them as well. With the other usual suspects in any enclosed space – germs, chemicals, dead skin molecules, dust, all kinds of stuff. On our skin, breathed in, swallowed down to our innards.

Protected pathogens

Our own stuff and everybody else’s too – nicely cross-contaminated and hemmed in around us. Protected by the double glazing and insulation we need for ourselves. Kept alive by the central heating and our own unbelievably sloppy hygiene, it’s a wonder we’re not running to the Doc every day.

Healthy dirt? Do us a favour! We’ve got all the germs we could want – literally at our finger tips.

Which means slightly more than just hoovering if we’re going to survive, right?

Our daily threat

Because every one of us today faces an increasingly deadly challenge to our health and we can’t afford to take chances any more. Our bodies are continuously under threat and we don’t even know it – every bit as lethal as smoking 60 a day and not giving a damn.

Twenty years ago even, and we stood a better chance. Our bodies were stronger, we were more resilient – and yes, we used to spend more time in the Great Outdoors. Before the couch potato existence of computer games, box-set binging and door-to-door pizza delivery.

Look at us now. Two thirds of us overweight or clinically obese. A third of our kids visibly overweight too. Ten ton porkers, all of us – what the hell’s happening?

Exposure to antibiotics is what. Our regular runs to the Doc, yes – but also daily in our food.

Because you see, twenty years ago is around the time that antibiotics took off Big Time as animal growth promoters on the farm.

Fat, fatter, fattest

Dose ’em up with every meal and cows get bigger in quarter of the time, and chickens, and pigs, and fish and everything – including vegetables and fruit and grain crops. El Dorado every day, better than winning the lottery.

Yeah, so cows get fat – but so do we. Ingesting the same growth promoting antibiotics drip, drip from everything we eat – laced through either directly from feed, or from richly nutrient and antibiotic laden manure used to fertilise everything and grow other feedstuffs.

Thing is though, that antibiotics don’t just make you fat. They work by killing bacteria, it’s what they’re designed to do. And inside your gut they kill good bacteria too – plus damage a few billion or so more that might be vitally needed for immune system work or simple house-keeping like regulating hunger.

We’re fat because antibiotics damaged our hunger control OFF switch – made us resistant to the leptin our own gut bacteria produces to tell us that we’ve eaten enough – just like the cows and pigs and sheep – dosed with 65,000 – 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics worldwide every year.

Itching, gasping, swelling up

There’s other damage too. Immune systems going nuts about conditions that aren’t there – glitched so they read phantom challenges, firing up the troops to fight infections that don’t exist. Otherwise known as allergies – asthma, rhinitis, food intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, hay fever, dust, mould, nuts, coeliac disease. How many were so widespread, twenty years ago?

OK, so our systems are weakened, we’re more at risk to dirt of any kind. Plus there’s all the downside that our being overweight epidemic brings – the slow road to an even unhealthier lifestyle.

  • The number of people with diabetes in the UK has tipped the 4 million mark.
  • Deaths from cancer in the UK in 2012 totalled 161,823.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide – responsible for more than 73,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall people. Hike up our hygiene levels seriously or we might not be around much longer. If there is such a thing as healthy dirt, we’re way too far gone to take advantage of it.

Scrub up, or else

Which means: wash our hands every opportunity we get. And keep washing. They might be clean momentarily – and then we go and touch something which isn’t.

Which takes us to the next step: sterilise the place so the germs are gone.

They can’t touch us if they’re not there. And we can take them out just by touching a button. Next second, our living space is misted up with dry all-penetrating hydrogen peroxide. Germs are oxidising to nothing on contact – in the air, on every surface, in ever nook and cranny.

Whew! Safe at last.

Now to get back outside and work some weight off.

Run, walk, cycle, swim – who needs TV?

Picture Copyright: diogoppr / 123RF Stock Photo