Is our germaphobic nature helping or hurting our immune systems?
You see them everywhere. Those little tubes of antibacterial hand sanitizers that come in a myriad of different scents. They take up space in people’s purses and hang on their key chains. They even have cute little carrying cases for them. But is hand sanitizer really necessary? Is our need to rid ourselves of all germs hurting us? Are germs good for you?
The answer is yes. yes and yes! Germs are good for you and we don’t need fewer germs we need more!
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Before we get to why germs are good for you let’s do a snack bite summary of what germs actually are. Germs are tiny living organisms that are so small you can’t even see them without a microscope. Germs are made up of four main types, bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. Your body already contains trillions of bacterial cells. There’s no amount of hand sanitizer that can banish those and you shouldn’t even try. Your body needs those little babies.
Those probiotics that everyone is pushing these days? They’re made of good bacteria! The good bacteria that are in your gut can help aid digestion, help prevent colds and the flu, treat diarrhea and constipation and so much more. Your body’s mind/gut connection is strong and when your bacteria is off in your microbiome it impacts everything.
[clickToTweet tweet=”The human body has approximately 90 trillion microbes, outnumbering cells by almost 10 to 1. If bacteria were all bad we’d already be dead! #buddhabelly #guthealth #microbiome #probiotics” quote=”The human body has approximately 90 trillion microbes, outnumbering cells by almost 10 to 1. If bacteria were all bad we’d already be dead!”]
The human body has approximately 90 trillion microbes, outnumbering cells by almost 10 to 1. If bacteria were all bad we’d already be dead!
Why do you need good germs?
As a child, your first introduction to germs is when you’re born from your mother’s whoo-ha. Babies born from C-sections are more likely to have digestion issues because they don’t receive that major dose of bacteria right from the get-go. It’s super important that children are exposed to germs because that is when they are building the foundation of their immune system.
Does this mean that you should forgo giving yourself or your child the flu vaccine or other vaccines? No. Does it mean they need to be off eating mudpies so they can avoid digestive issues in the future? A big fat NOPE! Although, that actually wouldn’t be that bad for them. What it does mean is that you shouldn’t actively try and shield them from every germ under the sun. Pick and choose your germaphobic fights! That pacifier that fell on the ground? Just lick it and stick it back in. Unless of course, you dropped it in a fat of pathogenic viruses. Then I have some other questions for you.
Germs are good for you and your kids too. There’s a ton of reasons not to shield your children from it. Kids who grow up with pets are less likely to get asthma. Children who are routinely exposed to other children are less likely to end up with allergies and asthma. And that antibacterial handwash? Ditch it. Antibacterial soap manufacturers have yet to prove that their soaps do anything beneficial. It kills off the good and bad bacteria and leaves trails that make it harder for the good bacteria to recolonize. Instead, learn to wash your hands properly and do so before preparing food, after going to the bathroom, before eating, etc. Antibacterial handwash can’t take the place of washing your hands no matter how convenient it is.
It’s not just kids who need to be exposed to germs though. It’s you too! Good bacteria help our bodies digest food and absorb the nutrients our bodies need. They also produce several vitamins you may recognize like folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. According to this study, good bacteria help crowd out the bad bacteria so it can’t thrive in our bodies. It also strengthens the immune system so it can fight the bad buggers. You will get sick and fell crummy without good bacteria.
Antibiotics have been causing huge issues for our digestive systems and are one of the main causes of why we are seeing so many gut health issues today. Taking antibiotics for a cold is not necessary and actually causes harm by destroying the good bacteria in your body. That good bacteria is what we talked about above that prevents so many nasty health issues! You can also develop an immunity to antibiotics so they may not be there to get you out of trouble when you actually need them. There are definitely times when antibiotics are needed, but when your doctor is offering them to you make sure to ask if your body might be able to fight this on its own.
How do I get good germs and protect the ones I have?
One of the best methods of getting good germs is to eat a variety of different foods. Especially foods that contain probiotics naturally, like yogurt, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi. I’m a huge fan of sauerkraut and kimchi because they make great side dishes to whatever you’re eating.
Probiotics are another great source of healthy bacteria. While the jury is still out on if probiotics can help increase the beneficial bacteria in your microbiome longterm I believe it definitely helps in the short-term. If you have taken antibiotics recently or had food poisoning I highly suggest taking a quality probiotic to increase your number of good bugs so that they can fight the bad ones. Currently, I take VSL #3 and noticed an immediate spike in energy and mood when I started. It’s also the only probiotic out there that has been tested by the FDA and can be prescribed by doctors (that I know of). Before that, I was on Prescript-Assist which I also loved. The only reason I went off is that you need to cycle your probiotics once a year because your body gets used to it.
A great way to protect your microbiome is to avoid antibiotics when possible because they kill the good bacteria along with the bad. There is a time and place for everything so if your doctor says you need antibiotics then you need antibiotics. Just follow up with some probiotics. But often doctors will simply prescribe antibiotics for a simple cold just to placate their patients and it doesn’t even do anything for the cold.
I know it’s easier said than done, but avoid stress! Stress puts your body into a state of constant fight or flight mode. When your body is stuck in that place it can’t repair or take care of itself and your immune system will suffer. Need to destress? Check out my posts on meditation here and here. Meditation has helped me so much with being able to find my peace in moments that were not so peaceful. It has literally changed my life and I want everyone to know about it!
Avoid things that can hurt your good bacteria like sugar, gluten, dairy, and caffeine. Ouch, I know, I felt that one right in my heart too! I’m a caffeine addict through and through. Don’t freak though. I still consume all of the above, but I just do it in moderation. Knowing that a diet high in sugar can cause changes in my microbiome and that caffeine heightens my fight or flight mode helps me to avoid those around 80% of the time. Life isn’t worth living if you can’t have a gluten-free pizza here or there!
Get dirty! A little mud won’t hurt ya. I love this study that shows that houses with dogs have a certain kind of dust that exposes us to, Lactobacillus, a beneficial strain of bacteria. Avoid antibacterial everything (it’s even in workout wear!) and any alcohol-based sanitizers. Let your children be exposed to dust, dirt, pollen, and animals so that their body can learn to fight it off. The best time to develop a good immune system with good bacteria is as a child.
So how do I avoid the bad germs?
So now maybe you’re actually thinking some germs are good for you, but what about the ones that aren’t? Every germ except viruses is pretty much harmless. Viruses are the villain in the story of germs and antibacterial handwash and cleaners are useless against them. Viruses are the germs that cause the flu, colds and other intestinal issues. So while germs are good for you not all of them are.
Most people think of schools, public restrooms, and restaurants when they are trying to think of the germiest places out there, but your germ war is going to be fought at home! You spend the majority of your time there and typically schools, public restrooms and restaurants have sanitary conditions that they must meet.
The best ways you can fight bad germs is to use separate cutting boards and utensils for produce and for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. It’s super easy to accidentally contaminate your produce. I have separate cutting boards that I always use for meat and produce. I know which knives I use for meat and which I use for produce too. That helps me from forgetting in the moment when I’m trying to hurriedly put dinner together so I don’t accidentally use the wrong knife to cut up a pepper.
A food thermometer is a must! Please, please, please make sure that your meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Food poisoning is no fun.
For those who love to disinfect here’s where it’s a good time to actually use that passion! Make sure to disinfect your cooking space before and after you’re making your meals. I know that when I lose a veggie over the side of a cutting board I’ll just pick it up and put it right back in the pile. So not only do I need a clean cutting board, but I need a clean countertop too. Just be careful what cleaners you’re using. Certain ones can obliterate the good and the bad. Limit your use of chlorine and try to go a more natural route with vinegar and lemon juice. Pinterest is full of helpful natural cleaning recipes.
The bathroom! Clean that beast up regularly. I don’t even want to get into the number of feces that ends up covering those surfaces and a toilet flush projects a lot more than you think it would. Also, make sure to keep all toothbrushes put away somewhere and not just in a cup on the sink. I know it’s hard, but that stuff is gross y’all.
I know this is the opposite message that my generation was brought up with. We are the generation of portable hand-sanitizer after all. But germs are good for you and if you want to help your body then step away from the hand-sanitizer and other beneficial bacteria killing foes. Embrace some of the ideas above. Science has come a long way and adapt we must!
If you liked this please share it! Meanwhile, stay tuned for more gut health articles to keep your microbiome happy and healthy!
*This is not medical advice*