Hygiene Hypothesis and Autoimmune Diseases
Throughout the twentieth century, there were striking increases in the incidences of many chronic inflammatory disorders in the rich developed countries. These included autoimmune disorders such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Although genetics and specific triggering mechanisms such as molecular mimicry and viruses are likely to be involved, the increases have been so rapid that any explanation that omits environmental change is incomplete. This chapter suggests that a series of environmental factors, most of them microbial, have led to a decrease in the efficiency of our immunoregulatory mechanisms because we are in a state of evolved dependence on organisms with which we co-evolved (and that had to be tolerated) as inducers of immunoregulatory circuits. These organisms (“Old Friends”) are depleted from the modern urban environment. Rather than considering fetal programming by maternal microbial exposures, neonatal programming, the hygiene hypothesis, gut microbiota, and diet as separate and competing hypotheses, I attempt here to integrate these ideas under a single umbrella concept that can provide the missing immunoregulatory environmental factor that is needed to explain the recent increases in autoimmune disease.