Who’s afraid of the big bad germ?
In some cases, fear of germs, bacteria or viruses is warranted, we certainly have read or seen the damage that can be wreaked on people and at times entire geographic areas, hospitals or cruise ships when the wrong bug gets out into the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of such events the rise of antibacterial products has skyrocketed but is it really such a good thing?
It turns out that unless you are in a hospital environment the use of antibacterial products may be doing you more harm than good - and, a good wash with just regular soap and water will do the trick without making a mess of your micro biome (that again!?) and hence your own immune system…paradox alert! In order for your immune system to function properly and protect you from pathogens, your micro biome needs exposure to dirt and bugs…right from the time you are small!
Indeed - you need exposure to dirt and microbes, to help to educate your immune system so that later in life it knows what it should react to and what an appropriate reaction looks like. Research has shown that that it is no accident that childhood allergies have gone up as kids’ environments have become increasingly sanitized. It turns out that a good play in the dirt for our little ones is exactly what they need to grow up to have resilient and well functioning immune systems. Even all those horrible colds and viruses they seem to collect obsessively eventually serve them well later in life.
But I digress, back to our antibacterial soaps - they are trouble on a number of levels:
1. They disrupt our skin and gut micro biome - yup, you have a micro biome on your skin (who knew!)
2. Just like antibiotics, antibacterial soaps do not distinguish between good bugs and bad bugs, they just kill bugs.
3. Triclosan, an ingredient included in many antibacterial cleaning products has been flagged as a potential endocrine disruptor affecting estrogen and testosterone as well as thyroid hormones in animal studies. Although animal studies don’t always translate to human effects, the FDA recently came right out and stated that soap and water was just as effective as triclosan containing products-so really why even take the risk?
4. Antibacterial agents contribute to the development of superbugs - bacteria that develop resistance to the antibacterials leading to real trouble down the road - this effect has unfortunately been experienced in hospitals where it is an ongoing challenge.
5. Antibacterials, after doing a number on us end up in the environment where they may continue to damage the environment, wildlife and the larger micro biome of the planet.
So…what to do? Seeing as most of us can’t move to a farm and resume our ancestral ways (plus unless it was an organic farm you’d be faced with a whole bunch of other issues) the best we can do is to relax a bit with our kids and let them get dirty. And, when it’s clean up time, just use good old soap and water - sing a happy song to yourself as you wash your hands or practice your Pranayama breath to get good and relaxed.