We have been waging war with germs for the longest time, it seems. Since we were young, we have been taught that germs are harmful and that we should make sure we are clean all the time. It is a lesson that echoes even today, with the swaths of products that ensure you are spotless at all times.
It turns out, the phrase ‘at all times’ may be the reason why we are losing out on sickness these days.
“In the past two decades, asthma, allergies, and immune disorders have been on the rise all over the world,” according to children’s allergist Dominique Bullens. “People also noticed that children in large-scale daycare centers developed fewer allergies and that the chances to become allergic go down as from the fourth child in a family.”
Bullens attributes this to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which states that lifestyle changes in industrial countries have contributed to a decline of infectious diseases. However, with the fall of infectious diseases, cases of allergic and autoimmune diseases have begun to elevate. This was first theorized by British epidemiologist David Strachan in 1989.
He postulated that an allergy is a sign that our immune system is spiraling out of control. With the introduction of a lot of cleaning products, our bodies have been affected by it to a level that our immune system is compromised.
Take the chemical triclosan, for example. This chemical was found in many household and cleaning products. However, a study conducted by the University of Michigan reports that prolonged exposure to soaps and gels containing triclosan can result in allergies in children. Aside from this, the substance poses an environmental hazard and is known to be an endocrine disrupting compound (EDC). (Related: More proof of hygiene theory – exposure to microbes help kids breathe better.)
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According to Dorothy Matthews, a biologist at the Russel Sage Castle in New York, this reaction may be our bodies overreacting to helpful microbes, as our body’s immune systems have already forgotten how to co-exist with them.
This is why, instead of treating our bodies like hospitals, we should learn how to treat it as a field.
“We shouldn’t be turning our homes into hospital environments. That should be the message: a germ-free life is not healthier and germs aren’t bad.” Bullens adds. “We’re constantly dragging more than 1.5 kilos of them with us in our body: each of us is carrying more germs than there are people on this planet.”
She continues by saying that to there can be detrimental effects to being too clean. Take washing your hands: if a person washes his hands using cleaners and antibacterial soaps, he runs that risk of destroying his hand’s skin flora, which can heighten the risk of infection. However, using water alone can get the job done, while still keep some of the germs that are useful. The same applies to washing intimates: do not drown it in bactericides, just wash it and let nature run its course.
Of course, the advice is taken with a grain of salt. Can we have problems with being filthy? How long do we wash it then? How often? Researchers answer that not with how long you wash, but how well you do it. Good hygiene is not a deep-down clean of all areas of our body. Rather, it is a targeted approach that aims to address necessary areas. In this manner, our body’s natural flora is not disturbed as much as we clean ourselves.
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