It’s Okay to Get Dirty!

April 2015 - Family Wellness

The human body is teeming with bacteria. In fact, there are 90 trillion microbes that make their home in our tissues. If the thought of all these microorganisms crawling across your skin makes you want to run for the antibacterial soap, just wait a minute! Contrary to most people’s views, bacteria are beneficial and actually necessary for our immune system to function at its peak. In today’s culture of “neat freaks,” we are too quick to sanitize every surface of our homes, our bodies, and the bodies of our loved ones. In fact, a body teeming with bacteria is more likely to be one that experiences fewer illnesses than one that has been wiped clean with antibacterial soaps and cleansers.

Your Body’s Natural┬áDefense┬áSystem
Our immune system development begins in the thymus gland. When we are young, our thymus gland is extremely active creating T-cells, which are responsible for determining the difference between good and bad bacteria. As we age, the thymus begins to shrink and produces fewer T-cells. T-cells are created in response to our brains recognizing bacteria in our bodies, meaning the more bacteria we are exposed to as children becomes critical in determining how effective our immune systems will be as we grow up. Furthermore T-cells distinguish between which bacteria are a part of our bodies and which are foreign and could be a threat. Studies conducted on mice have shown that individuals who had stronger immune systems and a greater number of T-cells have fewer instances of autoimmune disorders like asthma or food allergies. This is because T-cells help the body decide which bacteria to fight and which bacteria are helpful. As an autoimmune disease is our immune system attacking our own body, scientists hypothesize that it is the result of an underdeveloped immune system attributed to a lack of T-cells dictating which wars to fight against microorganisms.

Good vs. Bad Bacteria
Naturally, we have trillions of bacteria living in our bodies at any given time. Some are good bacteria that aid in the digestion of food and help fight the other type of bacteria – bad bacteria. The good bacteria compete for space with bad bacteria, thus creating a natural balance. In fact, the presence of the bad bacteria is what keeps our immune systems on guard. Without stimulation, our immune responses become sluggish and we are more likely to become ill. Antibacterial cleaning products wipe out all bacteria, leaving none of the good to fend off the bad, which destroys the natural balance. Using antibacterial products can actually stimulate the growth of bad bacteria because it attempts to medicate minor infections in your body that you may not even know you had. The antibacterial product is not strong enough to completely fight the infection and as a result the bad bacteria becomes even stronger. A good example of this is superbugs. These bacteria become resistant to antibacterial products, leaving us with no products left to stop them. Moreover, most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, a chemical which is extremely damaging to our waterways and aquatic ecosystems.

Make Your Immune System Work
Our bodies have a natural response known as IgE used to fight off strong parasites. It is very effective, however, in fighting the threat it also inflicts some collateral damage on our bodies. Studies have shown that a weakened immune system is more likely to have increased IgE responses, which although meant to be beneficial, can cause problems like allergies. Studies have also shown that rural children exposed to dirt, pollen, and dust as a result of being outdoors had fewer instances of allergies than urban children who were more likely to spend a greater amount of time indoors. From this, scientists hypothesize that a stronger immune system, as a result of exposure to potential allergens or bacteria, will reduce the instances of IgE response and in turn reduce the occurrences of allergic reactions.

While we are all trying desperately to protect ourselves from bacteria we are missing a key point – most illnesses are actually caused by viruses. The best way to avoid getting sick from a virus is to have a strong immune system. And what causes a strong immune system? Bacteria! So, instead of cleaning all surfaces in your home with antibacterial cleaner, stick to chemical-free products that use plant-derived cleansers and essential oils. For your body, use castille soap and water, which will remove some of the bacteria but will not wipe it clean like an antibacterial cleanser will. You will still have enough good and bad bacteria to maintain a healthy balance and keep your immune system on its toes.

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