Gatekeepers of Your Gut Health

Is Our Cleanliness Making Us Sick?

Stop taking showers. Keep the dirt under your fingernails. Say “No” to hand sanitizer and antibiotics. These are words I‘ve heard and read recently from people who have embraced the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” Is cleanliness making us sick?

This hypothesis states that lack of early childhood exposure to good bacteria suppresses the development of one’s immune system and makes one more susceptible to disease. This is not the same as the idea of building our immune systems by more exposure to bad bacteria, getting sick and thus having more antibodies (humoral immunity).

Is cleanliness making us sick?

Dr. Robynne Chutkan writes about the hygiene hypothesis in her book Gutbliss.[1] As a board certified gastroenterologist, Dr. Chutkan discusses the epidemic of digestive bloating and distress she sees clinically and which is virtually always explained by frequent antibiotic usage.

The hypothesis is backed up by Dr. Paolo Lionette’s work, which compared gut bacteria of children in Florence, Italy, with those of healthy African children in Burkina Fasa.[2] He noted that the children had nearly identical gut bacteria at birth, but very different bacteria as they got older, due to very different diets. Children in Africa have much more diversity in their bacteria (which is good) than those in Florence and Dr. Lionette attributed this to diet: legumes and vegetables vs. high sugar and meats.

The hypothesis is further bolstered by seeing the high distribution of Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, asthma and autoimmune disorders in developed countries and low distribution in developing ones.

So what can you and I do about this information? That is really why I started reading about it in the first place. Well, a landmark study out of Harvard earlier this year showed not only that the food you eat determines the bacteria you grow, but also that the composition of the bacteria in your gut can change within days as you shift what you eat.[3] This is significant because our bacteria can turn on and off disease-causing genes.

This is good news, because, if you’re like me, you want something to work quickly. Changing to a more plant-based diet is really the quickest step to shift to a healthier microbiome.

1. Garden. We grow kale and herbs, but you can grow anything. Variety is good.
2. Eat more veggies. More variety of veggies means more variety of gut bacteria. Kale is a good place to start.
3. Get your hands dirty. This could be through gardening or other activities outside.
4. Eat fermented foods. Sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir are our favorites.
5. Drink RESTORE. While the first three get more bacteria into your gut, RESTORE functions like a prebiotic, providing nutrients on which the gut bacteria thrive.
6. Cautious use of pharmaceutical drugs. Use less antibiotics, steroids, hormones and NSAIDS like ibuprofen.

cleanliness making us sick

[1] Chutkan, R. (2013). Gutbliss. Penguin LLC. New York, NY.
[2] Filippo CD, et. al. . (2010). Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. PNAS. 107:14691-14696.
[3] Lawrence DA, et. al. . (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 505:559-563.

About the Author

About the Author: David Roberts holds a Masters in public health from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with more than 20 years of experience working in quantitative research and has done public health work on three continents. He sees poor gut health as a leading public health crisis of our day and proper nutrition as the solution. He currently serves as Chief Public Health Officer for Biomic Sciences. .


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