Is the adage “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” really true? Many mothers and house-keepers follow TV commercials and are constantly cleaning surfaces and keeping their kids from eating food off the floor. Washing hands frequently and showering or bathing daily is a routine standard for many households. Some even use alcohol swipes frequently when in public.
Modern “microbiome” research challenges these assumptions. We all know that we have an internal immune system that fights off germs invading our bodies. Now we know that there is a shield of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that covers the OUTSIDE of our bodies! These microbes are friendly — they actually make antimicrobial compounds that fight off invading germs from the outside.
Whenever we wash these friendly bacteria off our bodies, we become vulnerable to invaders from the outside. For this reason, microbiome researchers encourages their children to play in the dirt often and to shower or bathe minimally — only to control body odor from armpits, groin, and feet and to shampoo hair. Soap is not used on open areas of skin. They do not compulsively clean surfaces in their homes so as to maintain microbial diversity. Killing “bad” germs means killing friendly ones, too.
Quoted in recent NPR posts, recent research was done at University of Oregon. 11 volunteers were seated one by one in a closed booth for four hours. 312 air samples led to 14 million DNA sequences that demonstrated unique bacterial profiles for each individual. Quantities of bacteria varied uniquely, probably because of different amounts of restlessness and scratching. More importantly, the types of bacteria varied so significantly from individual to individual that profiles could be used forensically to document presence of that individual in a given location. The most common organisms were Streptococcus, Propionibacteria, and Corynebacteria. These species are known to make antimicrobial compounds against more pathogenic bacteria such as Staphylococcus — including dreaded MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) of the modern era. In other words, our individual microbiome is a protective shield which should be kept intact!
[Meadow JF, Altrichter AE, Bateman AC, Stenson J, Brown G, Green JL, Bohannan BJM. (2015) Humans differ in their personal microbial cloud. PeerJ 3:e1258 dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1258, quoted in http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/09/22/441841735/wherever-you-go-your-personal-cloud-of-microbes-follows.]
Personally, I recall a particular set of experiments during my premed training as a Bacteriologist at UCLA. We used antibacterial soaps and alcohol swipes and solutions to see if bacteria would grow. If only 0.01% of bacteria survive, doubling in growth every 20 minutes, it only takes a day or two to grow new bacteria which are RESISTANT to the antibacterial soap or alcohol. Moreover, these new colonies thrived on the soap and the alcohol. Indeed, so-called “antibacterial” soaps were the least effective!
Alarmingly, recent published research shows that there is great tolerance of the dreaded Staphylococcus to ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. These are the types of alcohol used by hospitals and public places!
[Infect Dis Ther. 2015 Jun;4(2):219-26. doi: 10.1007/s40121-015-0065-y. Epub 2015 May 3.“Ethanol and Isopropyl Alcohol Exposure Increases Biofilm Formation in Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis”.
Luther MK1, Bilida S, Mermel LA, LaPlante KL.]
So what should we do? Just hearken back to the principle elucidated in other blogs on MDinyourHand. Get as close as possible to your genomic inheritance — back to the way our “caveman” ancestors lived. The last few centuries are only are fraction of our evolution. We have nature-evolved means of being healthy without short-sighted interventions of some of our modern technology. Being close to the land, and bathing or showering less often, makes sense. Focus on scalp, armpits, groin, and feet; don’t scrub away the rest so vigorously.
Bio-Diversity is our friend! Let our personal friendly germs have their own habitat. They will help fight off pathogens. They are an integral part of our whole “immune system.”
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