The current status of the “Hygiene Hypothesis”

The Hygiene Hypothesis says that Western culture is too clean to allow our bodies to build up a strong immune system. It turns out that’s mostly true, but with an important recent update.

I have grown up hearing that being a little bit dirty is good for you and that it helps to build your immune system. It kind of makes sense and it’s been my general approach to my own personal hygiene as well as how I decided to raise my children.

What I didn’t know (thanks to a recent episode of Stuff You Should Know) is just how new that theory is. In fact, it’s younger than me.

I learned quite a bit more about the hypothesis during that episode, including how it plays into your susceptibility to allergies, and how it was broadly correct, but there has been a recent correction to it owing to better understanding of our immune system.

In short, there are certain things which it makes sense to protect ourselves from (like salmonella, poo, and measles), but we need to get outside more and not be afraid to get dirty in nature and not clean ourselves meticulously, so it’s not the end of the world if you get some mud on your hands and eat lunch without cleaning them, or if a dog licks you.

Have a listen. I suspect that you’ll learn something and it’s really good information if you are – or will be – raising a child, because this matters the most between birth and age 4, when your immune system is learning what true threats to your body are.

Listen to “How the Hygiene Hypothesis Works”

Author: Dave

Dave is the proud father of Ellie and Jack. There's nothing that makes him happier than spending time with his incredible wife and their amazing children. He's a civil/mechanical engineer and he also builds and maintains WordPress websites.

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