I don't know about you, but every time I go with my father somewhere he's carrying two bottles of hand-sanitizers (just in case one gets lost). Almost all of us nowadays have been predisposed to fear the germ monsters and washing our hands as much as we can to rid of any potential bacteria.
I'm here to tell you that you're doing it all wrong. Here's why:
Bacteria Isn't Bad (Seriously)
First, it's critical to understand that exposure to germs and bacteria is only a normal part of our biology, and there's no need to be afraid of it. The opposite-- we should be welcoming it. In fact, we even need it more than ever to help us build greater resilience against illnesses.
Essentially, our gut is made up of something called a microbiome. The microbiome is what makes up our good and bad bacteria and holds up varying strands of bacteria that actually help boost our immune system. From the time we're born, our bodies build their natural defenses by actually creating a wide range of microbes which make up the microbiome. Ironically, most parents will actually cringe when you kiss their baby's cheeks (germs, hello!) trying as hard as they can to be the greatest of parents and protect them from my bacteria.
They're unfortunately only making it worse. Microbial exposure is crucial for long-term immunity and resistance when it comes to fighting off infections, colds, and what-not.
Symptoms of Oversanitation
As we progress toward a cleaner, germ-free society, we're only paying the price of what we don't want in the first place:
* Today, a higher percentage of children and adults are challenged with immune systems that are overly sensitive to germs and become hyperactive as a result.
* Despite all of our efforts to improve hygiene, the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology have reported higher rates of allergies, learning disabilities, infections, and inflammatory bowel disease.
* In a 2013 publication, studies have shown that behaviors such as taking antibiotics, overcleaning our homes, and even wiping ourselves too much can lead to a loss in very beneficial microbial organisms that can drastically affect the microbiome.
There's also a hygiene hypothesis that argues the increase in sanitation has been directly correlated with growing rates of health problems caused bu low immunity.
What Am I Supposed to Do Now?
The good news is that there is a solution.
These so-called good microbiomes, which mostly live in our guts can also live in our skin and other body parts. They can also actually interact with our DNA and help us regulate our appetite, manage the digestion of our nutrients, and even control our weight.
Yes, they do all of that.
Germ exposure boosts our immune system by gradually turning down inflammatory responses. In other words, we've become so accustomed to living in a clean environment, that our bodies actually developed an even lower threshold to bacterial input.
So, here's what I would do:
1. Spend more time outside: you'll be more exposed to natural molds, bacteria, fungus, and the bonus vitamin D.
2. Go for probiotic-rich foods: Studies have shown that increasing probiotic intake can help stimulate your immune system and bring back some of the good bacteria. Try probiotic foods like yogurt (Chobani brand), Kefir and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or Kombucha.
3. Stop over-sanitizing your hands, please: The more you sanitize your hands, the less of a chance your body has to fight it. Slowly, but surely, your body becomes weaker and more dependent on chemicals like anti-bacterial soaps to do the fighting instead.
In a few words, try to stay away from antibiotics, embrace natural remedies, and spend more time exercising outside. You'll be rebuilding your microbiome in no time.