Let them eat dirt (The Hygiene Hypothesis)

Let them eat dirt (The Hygiene Hypothesis)


Have you guys heard of something called the “Hygiene Hypothesis?”

The Hygiene Hypothesis states that much of the chronic disease in the First World is due to lack of exposure to dirt and “healthy” microbes.  In our Lysol-friendly American households we come into contact with way less germs than developing nations (or really any other nation for that matter).

What’s the consequence?  HUGE healthcare costs for our whole country because of the higher incidence of chronic disease.

So two weeks ago we talked about the difference between the Th1 and Th2-mediated immune systems.  If you haven’t read that post you should read it now.  (I know it’s a little heavy in immunology jargon – just bear with me.)

Lots of studies have shown that use of antibiotics in the first year of life leads to increased incidence of asthma, eczema and allergies (Th2-dominant diseases).  Ditto for the use of household cleaning products, lack of siblings, lack of daycare, etc.  Basically – the more germs, colds, flu’s and parasites you are exposed to the less likely you are to develop asthma, eczema and allergies.

What’s interesting is that at the same time as Th2-type illnesses have increased, so have Th1-dominant diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and Type I diabetes.  Some authors suggest that exposure to bacteria and viruses helps stimulate our T-regulatory cells, which are the “balancing” cells of our immune system.

Okay, enough immunology.  What’s the take home?

Avoid antibiotics whenever humanly possible. Knock on wood, I have yet to have to prescribe an antibiotic in my practice.  We have LOTS of other options for stimulating the immune system and healing infections and illnesses naturally.

Throw out your Lysol.  Toss your Triclosan-containing soaps. (It’s an endocrine disruptor, leads to antibiotic resistance, and may be a carcinogen.)

For the love – get rid of those ridiculous aerosol products that claim to remove bacteria from the air.  YIKES!  We do NOT need to remove normal, healthy bacteria from circulating air! If your home stinks it’s time to clean whatever is making it stinky, not cover up the odor with harmful chemicals.

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only when soap and water are not available.  And avoid the commercial name-brands, they are full of strange chemicals.

Let them get dirty.  Our bodies were meant to be exposed to soil.  We have lots of “probiotic” supplements and fermented foods to supply us with good intestinal bacteria, but what about skin flora?  I really think our skin was made to have contact with dirt and healthy bacteria in soil.  In fact, Dr. Erika has a hypothesis that many skin conditions could be improved with regular exposure to dirt.  (Okay, not open wounds, please don’t go home and rub soil into your cuts.)  But it is super important to avoid pesticide and herbicide-laden soil (no Roundup) – we need good organic compost.

Remember all those mud-pies we made as kids?  Turns out they may have benefits.  Small doses of healthy bacteria may be enough to stimulate the immune system and activate those T-regulatory cells that reduce chronic disease.  So…

Let them eat dirt!

Erika Krumbeck, ND, FABNP
Erika Krumbeck

Dr. Erika Krumbeck is the proud founder and editor of, the leading internet source for trustworthy natural health information for children and naturopathic pediatric providers. She is also the owner of Montana Whole Health, a primary care naturopathic practice in Missoula, MT. She is one of few doctors with the FABNP designation, meaning she is a board-certified pediatric naturopathic physician. Dr. Krumbeck has specialized training in treating chronic conditions in children using safe, gentle and effective natural remedies. She helps bridge the gap between conventional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine by using both new research and traditional naturopathic therapies to guide treatment.

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