Are we too clean for our own good?
A friend of mine has three daughters, all under 6 years old. Recently, she was at the supermarket with her youngest. Her daughter dropped her pacifier on the ground. My friend picked it up, wiped it on her shirt, and handed it back to her daughter.
An elderly gentleman approached her a few seconds later. Chuckling, he patted her child on the head. "This must not be your first kid, then," he said with a grin,
"Why do you say that?," my friend asked nervously.
"Well, with the first child, if they drop their binkie, you'd be more likely to boil it before letting your baby touch it again. By the time you get to your second, you get over it."
My friend smiled. "Yeah, that pretty much sums it up."
There are probably a few of you reading this who think my friend is a horrible mother. I can assure you that she is not. Yes, supermarket floors are dirty. Yes, her daughter was probably exposed to germs. But according to many scientists, germs may be exactly what we need more of.
Building up a healthy immune system is one of the most important things that we can do for our health. It's the reason that people try to make sure that their children get chicken pox at a young age; they hope to inoculate their babies against the disease, which is much more serious if experienced at an advanced age. Taking your kid to a Pox Party is like a cheap vaccination. Viruses are serious things, and we believe in inoculating our kids against them, for the most part.
However, we don't feel the same way about bacteria and other bugs. In fact, we do our utmost to avoid contact with bacteria, and when we do experience it, we zap the hell out of it with antibiotics and antibacterial ointments. The result? Our bodies don't know how to deal with bacterial infections, and the bacteria that we do come into contact with is getting stronger and stronger as we continually do our damndest to kill it off. Not only that, but when an immune system with too much free time on its hands comes into contact with innocuous but foreign substances (like cat dander), it over reacts, causing us to suffer from allergies.
You've probably heard that certain conditions that seem endemic to Americans, such as hayfever, asthma, and food allergies, are not as common in the developing world. People infected with hookworm, for instance, have fewer asthma attacks and allergies (the hookworms trigger and immune system response, it is thought, that causes the body to concentrate on the worms, rather than triggering wheezing asthma attacks). By the way, do not Google "hookworm" unless you want to spend the rest of the day fighting the heebie jeebies.
The point is, exposure to other germs, especially those found in soil, are beneficial in preventing all kinds of autoimmune diseases. With that in mind, consider letting go of your germ phobic ways. You'll save some money on the plethora of cleaning supplies that promise to nuke every single bacterium within a hundred-mile radius, and just may find that your kids grow up healthier.
- There's certainly nothing wrong with washing your hands, but skip the anti-bacterial soaps. Also, hand sanitizer is good in a bind, but if you apply it several times a day (and don't work in a hospital), you might have bigger issues than germs.
- Nobody wants salmonella poisoning, but using the appropriate tools when preparing raw chicken (plastic or glass cutting boards that can be run through the dish washer) and cleaning the kitchen with normal soap and water afterwards can do the trick - no need to break out the Clorox wipes.
- Slate.com believes that Americans should eat sh*t and NOT die. Provocative, but also, ew. They also mention the importance of breast feeding as a method for transferring antibodies from mother to child, even though most mothers today also lack crucial antibodies, having also been raised in sterile environments.
- Let your kids get dirty. They will survive. I suppose it's possible, but it's fairly uncommon to hear of children who have been hospitalized because they accidentally ingested a little dirt.
- Ladies, your ladybits are self-cleaning, like an expensive oven! Unless it has been recommended by your gynecologist, do not feel the need to rinse them out from the inside (click here to see a really odd add for Lysol ladybit cleaner). Remember, douchebag is a better insult than it is an invention. Too much rinsing will actually CAUSE infections.
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