Monday, October 15, 2012

Bacteria: They're everywhere, and they're not your enemy

Bacteria are absolutely everywhere.  On the floor, on your desk, in the air, on you skin, in your stomach, and on absolutely everything else.  There is basically nothing that doesn't have bacteria in or on it.  Well, that is unless you cook it for long enough at a high enough temperature.  But we're talking about uncooked things here.  Us modern humans often thing bacteria is the enemy.  We like to make sure everything is perfectly cleaned with antibacterial soap so we feel safe.  Unfortunately, this is a big fat lie, antibacterial soap does not make us perfectly safe.  In-fact, it really isn't safe in itself and isn't really that great of a cleaner.  Fortunately, the fact that antibacterial soaps aren't that great and that they probably shouldn't be used is probably a very good thing. 

So first off, why is antibacterial soap so bad?  There has been a lot of research showing negative negative health consequences of antibacterial products.  Negative health consequences include neurotransmitter interference, increased allergen sensitivity, and immune system response.  I am not sure how conclusive a lot of this research is but there is a lot of it out there.  There is also good potential that antibacterial soaps with the antibacterial agent triclosan in them are mutating natural bacteria into bacterial superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. 

Secondly, bacteria isn't as scary as you might think.  The fact that bacteria cover nearly everything is actually a good thing and only a very small percent of those bacteria are actually scary.  For example, dirt is absolutely loaded with bacteria.  But, if you were to eat dirt you probably would not get sick from all the bacteria.  The reason for this is because the bacteria in dirt is environmental and not necessarily infectious to humans.  Of course, there is some infectious bacteria in soil but it is a rarity relative to all the other bacterias.  Some research even suggests that eating a little dirt will help boost your immune system, but...  I don't suggest you do that.  We probably all tried a little when we were kids.  Bacteria that naturally lives in dirt lives there because it eats the stuff in dirt.  The bacteria in dirt does not normally live in or infect humans because it does not eat the stuff in humans.  The type of bacteria we have to worry about are infectious bacteria.  Infectious bacteria infects humans because they eat the stuff inside of people!  Typically, we come in contact with infectious bacteria through other humans, or infected water or food.  This is why we must wash our hands and not sneeze on everything or stay home when we are sick! 

No matter how hard and how many times you clean yourself with antibacterial soap, you are never going to rid yourself of bacteria, and that's a good thing. Your skin is normally covered with bacteria that helps keep your skin healthy.  Your digestive tract is filled with all kinds of bacteria that also keep you healthy.  Probiotics have in recent years become increasingly popular as people have discovered their positive health benefits.  Things like fresh yogurt and sauerkrout are loaded with the healthy lactobacillus bacteria which are one type of probiotic.  Lactobacillus bacteria are shown to improve the health of both the digestive tract and skin.  Probiotic bacteria can actually prevent us from getting sick.  Removing these probiotics from the body can have negative health consequences.  So, bacteria are friends, not enemies to be feared.

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