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Is Cleanliness Giving Your Kids Allergies?

Why Aren’t Food Allergies Common in Africa?

Whenever I return to the United States after an extensive stay on the mission field of West Africa, I am always amazed and shocked to see how many families are struggling with kids who are allergic to so many things.

Cooking for your family can be extremely difficult when one child can’t have any gluten, diary, or sugar, and another can’t have sea foods or certain vegetables, and several of the kids can’t go anywhere near peanuts.

For the longest time I was very puzzled by this. In all my years of doing health care in Africa I have only once come across a case of someone who had allergies. Asthma, yes, but allergic reactions to what people eat, no.

I wondered if, with health care being what it is in Africa, perhaps people who had allergies to foods just didn’t survive. After all, you don’t have any dietary alternatives here. You can’t just run to the store and pick up gluten-free, dairy-free, no peanut please, products.

As a matter of fact, if anyone were to become allergic to peanuts here in Africa, they would have a very hard time and probably wouldn’t live very long. There are peanuts in EVERYTHING. Peanut butter is a key ingredient in a lot of sauces and foods here. Peanut butter on bread is a common breakfast. Boiled peanuts is a common snack. And the main meals just wouldn’t be the same without the peanut butter mixed into the sauce.

Peanuts are a major crop here in Africa. But you never hear of anyone being allergic to them. I’ve encountered people being sick and dying from many other sources, but I’ve never encountered a case of allergic reaction to peanuts or any other kind of food for that matter.

So Why All These Food Allergies in the US?

This question puzzled me for the longest time, until I began hearing reports that allergies in first world countries may be linked to the overuse of disinfectants. In other words, homes and environments that are too clean.

After hearing this report, I suddenly became aware of so many factors that shed a lot of light into my years of wondering and questioning.

As missionaries, my husband and I travel a lot and are invited to stay with a lot of different families in their homes. This has provided plenty of opportunities to explore these claims by seeing first hand what life is like for families with allergies and families without.

And something I have seen over and over again as a commonality between families with allergies is the careful germ-free environment in which they live. This is also the most decided contrast I’ve seen between families who have allergies and those who do not.

Just to clarify, in this particular article I am not talking about hay fever, asthma, hives, or seasonal allergies. My primary focus and study has been specifically on food allergies, though there are studies that show that these other forms of allergies can also be caused or affected in the same way, but I have not looked into that enough to be able to give any verifiable information.

Let me also clarify what I mean by a home or environment that is “too clean”.

I am not talking here about the clean and organized state that we are all trying to achieve in our homes, where kids wash their hands before they eat and don’t traipse mud into the house. Homes that have garbage cans that get emptied frequently and don’t have science projects growing in the kitchen.

There is no questioning the fact that a clean home is a happy home, and washing your hands before eating prevents a lot of sicknesses.

But when I say a house is “too clean”, I am referring to a household that is overly germ-conscious and doesn’t allow bacteria of any kind to exist.

The American “Dream Mom” vs. the Typical African Mother

Lets look at one major contrast scenario before we get into the more technical aspects of how this applies to our lives.

Picture with me for a moment, the American “dream mom”. . .

From a very early age her children are raised with antibacterial wipes, hand-sanitizer, antibacterial soap, toothpaste and mouth washes specifically designed to “kill germs”. Every counter top and surface of the home is regularly wiped down with disinfectant cleaners. Just take a stroll around the house and count how many times you see the words “disinfectant”, “antibacterial”, “antiseptic”, “antimicrobial”, or “kills 99.9% of all germs”. These products are everywhere! In the kitchens, in the bathrooms, in the classrooms, in mom’s purse!

Now lets look at the other extreme – the typical mother in Africa . . .

She’s never even heard about germs and doesn’t have any idea what bacteria is. Her children grow up playing in the dirt. Why? Because it’s fun and because there isn’t any surface around that isn’t dirt. She never buys antibacterial soap or any form of disinfectant because those products are so much more expensive than the simpler kinds, and she’s never really understood what the major difference is. Clothes, kids, and dishes all look the same whether they’ve been washed with regular soap or expensive disinfectant soap, so why pay the extra money?

Here’s another major contrast . . .

Have you ever noticed what the American “dream mom” does when her child drops something on the floor?

She takes it away!

Whether it be a pacifier, a bottle, a toy, a potato chip . . . whatever it is, if it touches the floor it is automatically “unclean” and “off limits” to the child unless it can be properly disinfected again.

What does the typical mother in Africa do when her child drops something? Ha! She just picks it up, wipes off the visible dirt, and hands it back to the kid (who, I might add, sticks it directly into his mouth!)

What a contrast!

So How Is All This Linked to Food Allergies?

Have you ever noticed the fact that many of the foods that people are allergic to are in the “fungi” category?

Peanuts, yeast, corn, sugar, wheat . . . either the food is a fungus, or it is a breeding zone for fungi.

Coincidence? I think not!

Do you know what your body needs in order to keep fungi under control? It needs good bacteria!

That’s right. If you’ve never heard it before, there exists such a thing as good bacteria. Not all the bacteria you’re out to kill are actually bad or harmful to your kids. In fact, most of the bacteria microbes you’re killing are actually really good.

With all these disinfectant products keeping your kids from being exposed to all those nasty germs, at the same time you’re keeping your kids from getting a good healthy dose of the good microbes. As a result, you’re kids grow up without the good bacteria their bodies need. And without good bacteria in your intestine, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the fungi that infiltrates the body.

So, instead of giving kids good bacteria, we take away the fungi. No more peanuts, no more yeast, no more gluten, no more corn . . . any food products that contain fungi or substances their body reacts to is taken away. Now, not only are we protecting our kids from germs, but we also have to protect our kids from food!

Mom’s job just got a whole lot harder!

But That’s Not All

Apart from the fungi control problem, there is yet another side to this problem, and that is in how disinfectant products directly affect a child’s immune system.

The immune system is the body’s “military”, or the soldiers that identify and fight against disease and sickness.

One of the most important training tools for your body’s military force is exposure to the enemy – giving your immune system the opportunity to discover who the enemy is.

Without knowing who the enemy is, these soldiers are going to be paranoid – fumbling around in the dark, shooting at random, afraid of anything and everything because they don’t have a clear understanding of what they’re supposed to be fighting.

This is basically what food allergies are. Your soldiers are trigger happy. The moment these paranoid soldiers come in contact with anything strange, new, unusual, or questionable, they go berserk!

So how do your soldiers learn to identify what is an enemy and what is not?

Well, it starts very early on with a baby’s very health (yes, mom, it is healthy) habit of putting everything in its mouth!

The Importance of Germ-Exposure

Babies who are breastfeeding have a very strong immune system, which can be the ideal time for the child to have good exposure to germs. And yes, despite what you may think, germ exposure is actually a very good thing for childhood development.

A baby’s habit of “putting everything in its mouth” has multiple advantages, including:

1) It gives the child a regular dose of “good clean dirt”. By putting everything in its mouth, the child is taking in all the good bacteria that is on the objects . . . bacteria that is needed to keep fungi under control.

2) It introduces the immune system (soldiers) to bad germs, in a sense exposing them to the “enemy” so that the child’s immune system can learn early on what things are a real threat to the body, so it will not confuse other good nutrients as being a threat.

3) Being exposed to germs at a young age allows children to contract childhood diseases, which are often much milder and safer to contract as a child than if they were to contract the same diseases later on in life.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not by any means promoting a disorderly dirty home with filthy dirty kids. By no means! Washing hands before meals, regular bathing, and a healthy soap scrubbing routine are all really good habits to keep, and really does help to prevent a great many sicknesses.

But microscopic germs are not the only threat to your child’s health. The lack of exposure to microscopic germs is also a threat.

So if you want healthy kids who are allergy free, your aim needs to be a balance between a clean home and one that still welcomes a healthy dose of germs.

What Does This Look Like Practically?

Here’s a few ideas to send you off in the right direction:

1) If your child drops a pacifier or toy on the ground, instead of making the object contraband until a thorough disinfecting job can be done with it, instead, just wipe off any visible dirt and give it back to the child. Or if the object is really dirty, rinse if off with some plain water first.

If you’re extra germ conscious and have a hard time dealing with all the germs you envision being on your child’s toys, feel free to wash and disinfect them every few months, but not every time it comes in contact with dirt.

2) Let your kids play in the dirt. Do you have a hard time with that? Just think of the fact that they’re much better off playing in the mud of a clean-conscious first-world country than a lot of kids in Africa are who play around in garbage pits and trash heaps.

3) Throw out (or stop buying) products that kill micro-organisms. Feel free to keep one or two germ-killer cleaners for cleaning the toilet, wiping down the diaper pail, or washing the dishes (that’s fine and good), but as far as bathing, washing hands, wiping off counter tops, and general household cleaners, lay off of the germ killers.

Now is a good time to start using natural household products (click here for Natural Cleaning Products).

4) Don’t run your home like a hospital. Antibacterial soap and cleaners are great for hospital use where you have a lot of sick people with highly contagious diseases in high traffic areas. But your home is NOT a hospital. It doesn’t have to be germ free, and is actually healthier for your kids if it’s not.

But What About the Kids Who Already Have Allergies?

This can be a really difficult condition to reverse, and depending on the severity of you child’s allergic reactions, it would be best to do a treatment under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. We certainly don’t want the efforts of trying to reverse allergies to put your kids at risk in any way.

Another reluctance towards giving a “one-size-fits-all” solution is that every allergy case is different. What works for one person does not necessarily work for others.

A lot of differing factors include:

– How old the child is

– What your child is allergic too

– How serious or life-threatening the allergic reaction is

– How long the child has had allergy problems

– Whether or not there are hereditary or other possible cause factors

Reversal Program

Taking all the above factors into consideration, a general reversal program would consist of:

– Giving the body a good cleaning (getting rid of any infections, parasites, or other threats that may be keeping you immune system on high alert).

– Building up good digestive flora (giving their body the enzymes and good bacteria it may be lacking)

– Giving the body a natural immune modulator (such as Aloe Vera) to help keep the immune system stable and in balance so it will not over-react.

– Give the immune system a “re-setting”, if needed. Helping it to wipe clean the information it has and do a re-evaluation and re-scan to determine anew what is a threat in the body, or what should (or should not) be identified as the enemy.

– Give the body small, slowly increasing, amounts of germs and allergenic products. Please only do this under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.   

– Simultaneously, it is important to work with the psychological and emotional state of the child. Thoughts or feelings of fear or anxiety can influence the hormones in the body, which by extension can influence the functions or reactions of the immune system. To overcome existing allergies, you need to overcome any habits of fear that have developed.


The above is just a simple outline of what a reversal program would entail. It is not meant to be a treatment, and is by no means a complete cure. The Reversal Program Outline is primarily intended to give you an idea of what can be expected in a treatment program, and to give you somewhere to start in talking to your healthcare practitioner about helping your child work through their allergy problem. For full disclaimer click here.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, my email address is:

Related Topics:

Excessive Cleanliness Increases Allergies

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The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic (It’s NOT Gluten)

Asthma: A Gut Reaction To Antibiotics

Link Found Between Food Allergies and Farm Antibiotics