Hygiene Hypothesis and Victim-Blaming

The Hygiene Hypothesis has interesting potential implications for those of us in the “developed” world. Essentially, it states that a lack of exposure to infectious agents (e.g., livestock and their bacteria-harboring), microorganisms (gut flora), or parasites (e.g., ringworm) makes us more susceptible to allergies and autoimmune disorders.

The hypothesis, however, is corrupted in the hands of those proselytizing raw and fermented foods. You will not cure any of your issues by drinking kombucha and eating raw sauerkraut. Plenty of us think those things happen to be tasty, and they might have a spare vitamin or two in them, but they alone won’t solve any problem. It is never a panacea.

Frequently, it is manifested in a victim-blaming sense: “You made poor life choices by being uptight and not walking around barefoot in privy areas.” You used too much anti-bacterial soap or didn’t get breast-fed (in that case, your mother made the poor life choices).

Mom shares gut flora with baby via breast milk. So you’re sabotaging your kid’s health if you (God forbid) use formula. There is nothing the new mothers of the world need more than judgment of their mothering choices. And then there’s the vaccine “debate”! Let’s not vaccinate our kids because they might cause autism and autoimmune disorders, even if the diseases you get vaccinated for might kill you. Also, vaccines don’t cause autism; symptoms of autism typically start appearing at the same time a kid gets the first big round of vaccines. Correlation is not causation.

Antibacterial soap, for most people, is a bad idea, but not because using it is going to give you an autoimmune disorder. It kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, you say? Guess how fast bacterial reproduction happens. That 0.1% of bacteria and viruses that survive your Lysol onslaught will be the ones to reproduce. Try cleaning them again with your 99.9% “cleaner” and you’ll just be going after a population that is already resistant to your chemical. Evolution is real, and you are making it happen in your nasty bathtub.

Most likely the overall sparkly-clean world (public transportation notwithstanding) that we live in has more to do with my autoimmune disorder and not the fact that I got vaccinated early on or failed to drink raw milk until a few years ago when I had access to it (importantly, raw cream has the best consistency for adding to coffee). I was breast-fed, so you’d think that would prevent all my lifetime problems (nope!) if you read the guilt-trip laid on new moms.

There are things that are out of our power. Instead of insisting that you give your recently weaned 2-year-old raw milk, maybe we should work on the group dynamic and fear of all bacteria, good and bad. We should pay attention to making our gut a more hospitable microbiome (another reason to not eat too much highly processed food), but if you don’t, there’s always a fecal transplant.

Vaccines save lives. Pasteurization was invented for a reason. You can’t control everything.