By Darrel Crain, D.C.
Your prescription is ready Mrs. Jones, fresh intestinal whipworm eggs straight from the pig!
This type of medicine may sound rather unorthodox, but scientists testing this unusual treatment on six human patients with inflammatory bowel disease found that it helped every one of them.
Take two tablespoons of dirt and call me in the morning. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but then again, mud pies may one day be squeezed into the five food groups. The hygiene hypothesis is gaining ground, folks, so if you think your health is worth fighting for, get ready to fight dirty!
Modern medicine has always held that we get sick because of something we catch, or something we ate, inhaled, or were exposed to in some other way.
Of course, this is the popular germ theory which states that germs cause disease. Those of us brought up on the germ theory know to constantly wage war on germs. Kill everything! Disinfect! Sanitize! Good. Now go wash your hands.
American industry answered our war cries by inventing at least 739 bazillion ways to massacre germs using antibacterial soaps, lotions, cleansers, sprays, toys, mattresses and even computer screens. Warnings in the medical literature that these products do nothing to reduce infection, but only contribute to new and scary strains of drug-resistant bacteria, have been lost in the germ war frenzy.
The hygiene hypothesis is a fairly new school of thought that turns the fear of germs on its proverbial head. We should, instead, get friendly with microbes and let them go up our collective noses, in this approach.
This view argues that early exposure to a wide variety of microbes is a good thing, permitting a growing child's immune system to develop and build up immune response "muscle."
If the germ theory leads down a white, sterilized hallway, the hygiene hypothesis seems to lead down a dusty old dirt road.
Researchers have long noticed an important difference in children who attend daycare at a very young age, as well as children who live with many brothers and sisters, or on a farm. All of them develop less asthma, hay fever, allergies, eczema, and other atopic diseases than do other children.
"Sickness is the vengeance of nature for the violation of her laws," wrote Charles Simmons.
But a lack of exposure to germs is only half the problem, leaving as it does, one leg of our immune system without enough to do, while the other leg gets too much stimulation. This chronically triggers an inappropriate response of the immune system to produce all the allergy stuff, such as histamines, mucus floods and inflammation.
Tragically, several common medical practices seem to be substantial contributors to this problem. Antibiotics, antipyretics (fever-lowering drugs), and even some vaccines have been shown to significantly raise the risk of asthma and the other atopic disorders.
Autoimmune responses, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and even Type I diabetes are on the list of disorders that may be caused, at least in part, by exposure to common medical interventions.
A recent study from Sweden published in the medical journal Lancet found that children in the families they studied who avoid antibiotics and vaccinations have fewer allergies than do other children.
"Half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window, except that the birds might eat them," wrote Martin Fischer.
In our zeal to treat acute symptoms, we have become effective at suppressing robust expression of immune responses to normal childhood illness, including all the uncomfortable but productive symptoms of a healing crisis that would otherwise yield permanent immunity.
The hygiene hypothesis leads to some intriguing, perhaps shocking conclusions. Do you suppose nature intended all those kids to get all those colds at daycare and have all those fevers?
One might conclude that Mother Nature herself wants us all to have a bout of chicken pox, the measles, and yes, even the mumps while we're still young. In return we get permanent and non-toxic immunity. We also get to pump up our immune muscles and promote appropriate immune responses.
I have personally observed the scraped knee of a three-year-old heal just as quickly and well as the knee of a Harvard-trained medical practitioner with 42 years of practice under his belt. It comes as no surprise to me that nature's plan for our immune systems avoids many of the pitfalls unintentionally created with manmade medical interventions.
"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run," wrote Mark Twain.
The hygiene hypothesis forces us to face an important question never asked by medicine. Namely, "Which is preferable, expression, or suppression?" This basic question needs to be asked of every medical intervention, given the knowledge that many standard medical practices may come with a hefty price tag of chronic health disorders.
Perhaps the current outbreak of mumps in highly vaccinated adult populations is an opportunity to ask these kinds of hard questions. It wouldn't be the first time we needed to bury accepted standards of medical care in the compost heap of history after their underlying theories crumbled to dust.
I guess everything eventually goes back to the dirt. As the old saying goes, "Eat right, exercise regularly, die anyway." However, I believe that Mark Twain had the last word about all health opinions that get published, including those in newspapers: "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."
Copyright © 2006 Darrel Crain - All rights reserved.
Dr. Darrel Crain
Natural Health Writer
President, CCA San Diego County District