Skewed Exposure to Environmental Antigens Complements Hygiene Hypothesis in Explaining the Rise of Allergy

Acta Biotheor. 2017 Jun;65(2):117-134. doi: 10.1007/s10441-017-9306-7. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


The Hygiene Hypothesis has been recognized as an important cornerstone to explain the sudden increase in the prevalence of asthma and allergic diseases in modernized culture. The recent epidemic of allergic diseases is in contrast with the gradual implementation of Homo sapiens sapiens to the present-day forms of civilization. This civilization forms a gradual process with cumulative effects on the human immune system, which co-developed with parasitic and commensal Helminths. The clinical manifestation of this epidemic, however, became only visible in the second half of the twentieth century. In order to explain these clinical effects in terms of the underlying IgE-mediated reactions to innocuous environmental antigens, the low biodiversity of antigens in the domestic environment plays a pivotal role. The skewing of antigen exposure as a cumulative effect of reducing biodiversity in the immediate human environment as well as in changing food habits, provides a sufficient and parsimonious explanation for the rise in allergic diseases in a highly developed and helminth-free modernized culture. Socio-economic tendencies that incline towards a further reduction of environmental biodiversity may provide serious concern for future health. This article explains that the "Hygiene Hypothesis", the "Old Friends Hypothesis", and the "Skewed Antigen Exposure Hypothesis" are required to more fully explain the rise of allergy in modern societies.

Keywords: Allergic diseases; Asthma; Domestic environment biodiversity; Hygiene Hypothesis; Skewed antigen exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Asthma*
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Hygiene Hypothesis*
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Immune System