Health & Fitness
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Bacteria-Bashing Questioned

[I:]Clean bathroom fixtures and a tidy kitchen are not the only way to gauge a home’s health index. As a teen I spent a great deal of time around a friend’s home that onlookers would have sworn had a revolving front door. Set in a college town, that little house thrummed with the activity of older siblings coming and going, career parents on the run and a bevy of student boarders from all over the world calling it home. There was rarely a bare square inch of counter space in the kitchen for all the dishes that constantly needed washing, the laundry machines were never still and there was the subtle but continuous jockeying for an available bathroom.

They had a professional cleaning lady of sorts who gave the place little more than a lick and a promise once a week. You could not tell much more than six hours later if she had been there or not. The amazing thing I now recall from the years that I observed and participated in that milling microcosm, is that there was never a sick person among us, never more than a mild dose of the sniffles. Above the nearly always full kitchen sink, there hung a framed motto: “Our home is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.”

There is more and more scientific evidence that points to a truth that lies beneath that motto. A casual observer of many American broom closets today would note the labels on multiple cleansers are splashed with the word “antibacterial”. In bathrooms, it would be hard to miss the array of soaps, shampoos and other hygiene products on vanities and in showers with the same antibacterial designation. It would not be in the least bit unusual to discover a stash of disposable masks or latex gloves as part of a medicine chest’s menagerie. Our culture has been inundated with anti-germ marketing and consumers have embraced the notion of wiping those dastardly culprits out. However such eagerness, according to the hygiene hypothesis, can backfire on humans as we eradicate too much.

The hygiene hypothesis contends that if during early childhood, an environment does not provide exposure to particular infectious microorganisms, an individual’s immune system will be deprived of a valuable education. The expansive term “bacterial lipopolysaccharides”, refers to a bacterial module that acts as the immune system’s educator, stimulating certain immune system cells into protective action. Simplistically put, the hygiene hypothesis suggests that our increasing fixation with antibacterial sprays, wipes and soaps is removing too many of these important bacterial modules that need to be present to trigger the child’s antibodies into developing.

At the same time news photos from around the planet show people walking city streets while wearing latex gloves and protective masks to ward off newly developing bacteria and viruses, small groups of parents across our country are consciously telling their healthy kids to get outside and play in the dirt. They are not ignorant folk; they believe in the inherent innoculative good that comes from time-old practices of letting kids be kids and not obsessing over a little healthy dirt. Nothing more than simple soap lathering is depended on to clean up afterward and reduce the bacteria count to a manageable quantity for the average person.

Ironically, locating a soap in the grocery or drug store that does not have an antibacterial label is not such an easy task anymore, but it is very likely worth the search. The axiom “clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy” is something we should keep in mind the next time we ponder which cleansing products to buy.

Writer and family health enthusiast Shelby Morrison continues to fine tune her family’s immune system through infrequent house cleaning and haphazard food refrigeration habits. Shelby has no idea why there are two boxes of vinyl gloves in her pantry but it could be that some one is planning to clean the refrigerator one of these days.

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