A revised hygiene hypothesis (with tips for the hypothetical slob)

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Photo © pfly | Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers, as you likely know, are eager to learn why food allergies, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease appear to be on the rise. Many are fond of the hygiene hypothesis, which states, in a nutshell, that decreased early exposure to bacteria—i.e., being too clean as babies—predisposes us to all kinds of autoimmune and allergic BS.

I’m fond of this hypothesis, too. I’ve been known to turn down offers of hand sanitizer, citing it as my reason. Still, I propose that it is incomplete. The full hypothesis should read:

Good hygiene may cause celiac disease, but bad hygiene keeps it strong. 

We all know this on a basic level, and some people don’t even seem all that blown away by it. I’ll mention, shuddering, that having this disease means I’ll need to wipe down countertops for the rest of my life, and they stare at me as though wiping down countertops were something they’d always done. People diagnosed with celiac disease who know how to wield a sponge are lucky; they’re one step closer to good health. But those diagnosees who trend toward the slovenly side must cultivate a neat streak, and (as you may recall from my ode to mess) it’s a heavy leaf to overturn in a day! I would contend that a leading cause for a lack of response to a gluten-free diet, right up there with non-adherence, is poor hygiene.

Sloppy sufferers who have spent weeks on a strict diet and still feel ill may need to look beyond the standard “sneaky gluten” hiding places. For these hypothetical sufferers, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of additional warnings. Please keep in mind that the below suggestions are intended to address a strictly hypothetical celiac patient.

  • If you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth, you may be picking up traces of gluten. This is especially likely if you don’t tend to make a specific point of cleaning under your fingernails.
  • If you were accustomed to eating breakfast at your computer before diagnosis and if you ever dropped a Cheerio (or several) onto your keyboard, you might be picking up cereal residue every time you touch said keyboard. If you then put your hands to your mouth—say, if you have continued to eat breakfast at your computer—you might be ingesting particles of gluten.
  • If you are a green type who carries your groceries home in a tote bag, and if you have also eaten a hunk of apple cake out of said tote bag on the subway, and if you happen to have not washed that tote bag since before diagnosis, you might be ingesting cake crumbs that are stuck to your potatoes (if you aren’t the most finicky ever about washing your produce).
  • If you have been known to wipe your hands on your jeans when no napkin was available, and if you happen to have not washed those jeans since before diagnosis, and if you continue to use said jeans as a napkin and then put your hands in your mouth, you might be ingesting traces of—really, who knows what at this point.
  • If you are partial to eating in bed, and if you don’t fret too much over dropping crumbs in said bed, and if you haven’t washed your sheets since before diagnosis, and if you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth in your sleep, your dream about eating cookies may not be so far off from reality.
  • If you drop a fork on the floor and if you decide to use it anyway without washing it first, and if you haven’t swept your floor since—charitably speaking—before diagnosis, you may be consuming forkfuls of gluten.
  • If you have always been an unrepentant slob, and if you haven’t yet changed your ways, and if you still feel sick as a dog, you might want to think about quitting your nail biting and doing a few loads of laundry. One way or another, it’ll probably do you good.

Like I said, this post is all about hypotheses and hypotheticals. The above list is not even a little connected to my personal life. However, you may be interested to know that I did recently quit biting my nails and do a few loads of laundry. Before sitting back down at the computer to eat breakfast.

If you have more hygiene suggestions or tough love for the aforementioned hypothetical celiac patient, feel free to include them in your comments!

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13 thoughts on “A revised hygiene hypothesis (with tips for the hypothetical slob)

  1. Amanda says:

    Great post! Not that you have any experience with it or anything… 😉

  2. achemistinthekitchen says:

    Excellent post. Until cutting gluten out of my diet, this wasn’t something I had to worry about. Our house was utterly and completely free of offending allergens (peanuts, treenuts, shellfish, milk) so there was no need to worry about any cross contamination, but we haven’t banned gluten….yet…

    (now sneaking off to wash my jeans…lol)

  3. Laurie C says:

    So many bad habits for someone stop all at once, but eating in bed should be the next one to go after nail-biting, followed closely by wiping hands on jeans.

  4. stevestfu says:

    It rubs the gluten off its skin, or else it gets the sprue again. #Obviousmoviereferences

  5. rachelmeeks says:

    Hmm. As someone planning to have kids soon, it’s kind of a load off to learn that some germs might actually do the kiddos some good. 😉

  6. […] eat anything anywhere else again. Except, just how gluten-free is my bedroom floor? We all know I’ve been known to snack there—have I vacuumed up all the gluten crumbs? Have I vacuumed at all? Does a vacuum even pick up […]

  7. […] seriously about books, food, hunger, my own life, love, and doctors. I’ve gotten silly about messiness, sandwiches, brainfog, and the […]

  8. […] I stopped being a slob   Would be thankful, if it had […]

  9. […] excessive hygiene (which I’ve joked about before) […]

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