Our gut is like our second brain. It is the first line of defense against so many toxins that we ingest. It has a significant role in our immune response. Our gut full of bugs. And all of the bugs have their own DNA. These bugs are called our microbiota and their DNA is our microbiome. We are full of bugs (90% bug!) and many argue that we are more bug than we are human! Having healthy gut flora is very important in keeping our bodies strong. We develop our gut flora from birth when we go through our mother’s vaginal canal. We then suck on our parents’ skin. We then crawl on the floor and suck on our toys. We are exposed to other people, our pets and our plants, all of which are covered in bacteria and nourish our gut. We go outside and are exposed to dirt with all of its valuable microbes. We eat the grass and lick things that our pets have licked and we obtain more bugs. This is good. Exposure to small numbers of pathogens will strengthen our immune system. Over time, however, our behaviors have changed, as explained by the “hygiene hypothesis.” As we have learned the importance of sanitation and its role in infection, we clean and sterilize most everything. We know that sanitation prevents the spread of germs and because of this knowledge, we have reduced the number of illnesses that have affected our children. With greater access to medical care, we take our children into doctors with many common ailments. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed by physicians.
But have we gone too far? Is it possible to be overly clean? What is the impact of our hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps? What is the impact on our bodies of treating all of our illnesses with antibiotics? Are we over-treating illnesses, and could many of them be just watched while our bodies work them out? I know many physicians who feel infections are viral where antibiotics don’t work, but still, maybe because of pressure from patients, will prescribe antibiotics. Are we doing the right thing? With all of these changes in the modern era, we have also noted the onset of so much more allergy, autoimmune disease and inflammatory bowel disease.[i] The larger families of ages past who lived in less sanitary conditions were not afflicted with these same illnesses. [ii] Perhaps, then we should get a little dirty and not worry about cleaning so much. Something to think about. I don’t use antibacterial soap. I don’t use hand santizers. I just use good ol’ fashioned soap.
[i] Blaser MJ Who are we? Indigenous microbes and the ecology of human diseases. EMBO 2006, Rep 7:956–960
[ii] Strachan DP. Hay fever, hygiene, and household size. BMJ; 1989; 299:1259– 1260.