The microbes we need for good health develop a healthy immune system in children.
Microbes found in the soil have proven to be especially good for children's health.
The problem with antibacterial soaps and sanitizers is that they kill good bacteria necessary for health as well as killing bad bacteria.
My nursing school education is precious to me.
Quite frankly, it’s also precious to lots of parents and children who are in my day-to-day community of love.
Very often, I hear questions like,
“You’re a nurse - let me ask you…”
“Can I ask you as a nurse…?”
“As a nurse, what would you tell me about…?”
My answers and knowledge come from:
- my incredible diploma nursing school education (Memorial Baptist Hospital, Houston);
- an amazing dental school education, residency and fellowship (University of Kentucky College of Dentistry and University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine);
- having been the oldest sister of six children;
- having raised four children of my own, and
- more than 25 years in practice of pediatric dentistry and orthodontics.
Interesting that “direc-ly” (as we Texans say) out of nursing training, (and having grown up in a household where cleanliness was indeed next to godliness), I had learned to be a relative germaphobe.
I understood the role of micro-organisms in many diseases, and in our operating room semester, we certainly learned how to effectively wash our hands (also known as “scrubbing”). Our nursing instructors did not subscribe to the belief in the “5-second rule,” or any other such thinking that if something touched the floor, and it were only there a few seconds, that somehow the bacterial load was not virulent.
Uh-oh - we have a problem
Having followed the literature for all these years with strong curiosity and interest in things medical. I have now tempered my thinking about germs. This change in thinking revolves around research on the immune system, AND the science showing that the chemicals that kill the “bad bugs,” also kill the “good bugs.”
About the immune system: Turns out the good bugs (the microbes we need) develop a healthy immune system in children. Failure to develop the immune system puts children at higher risk for allergies, asthma, diabetes and even obesity.
About the bugs, good and bad: The body’s microbiome is the vast array of micro-organisms in the body, which are about equal in number to the cells in the body. We cannot live without the good organisms.
There are also pathologic (disease-producing) bugs that I call the “bad” bugs. An anti-bacterial soap, for example, will kill those bad bugs. Unfortunately, it kills most of the “good” bugs as well. Without the balance of the good bugs, the bad bugs will grow and prosper and one’s risk of disease is actually greater.
Now we have antibacterial soaps, antibacterial gels and sprays, antibacterial cleaning wipes and other disinfecting cleaning products. Our children are growing up in clean, disinfected, sterile environments, protected from germs in every way possible. At the same time, rates of allergies, autoimmune problems and gut related disorders are increasing (especially in children).
Could there be a connection? The scientists answer with a resounding YES!
And we have some answers
Scientists find that widespread use of these disinfecting and antibacterial products (and the removal/avoidance of dirt) prevents proper formation of healthy gut (GI tract) bacteria.
Restoring the good bacteria could be the key to boosting immune function, reducing multiple sclerosis, Type I Diabetes, allergies and digestive problems like celiac disease, GERD, IBS. Restoring the good bugs can even reduce anxiety and improve mood.
In September, 2016, the US FDA banned anti-microbial agents in soaps. In one year, these may not be sold. As clinical research has shown many times, antibacterial soap is no more effective at cleaning your skin than plain old soap and water.
The concern about the anti-microbial agents is for the harm they may do in killing the good bugs with the bad bugs.
The antimicrobial agent Triclosan, found in soaps and other disinfecting products, is a hormone disruptor and may be affecting our endocrine systems and contributing to the occurrence of reproductive system cancers (breast, prostate, uterine, testicular, ovarian…).
Triclosan is also known to impair muscle function. Researchers have shown that the effect of this antimicrobial agent on the heart muscle acts like a potent cardiac depressant.
Antibiotic resistance is worse in the presence of these antimicrobial agents.
Kudos to the FDA! Now, our immune systems’ work to rid the body of bad bugs will be more effective and we may be much, much healthier. In the meantime, since the manufacturers have one year to stop selling these bad products, you can reduce your use of antimicrobial products, to keep your family and yourself healthier, less at risk of infections, and of heart problems and cancers!
Another important answer
We want to restore the good bugs. We are getting rid of the disinfecting products that are killing them.
Where do you find the healthy bacteria?
Probiotic supplements, like the chewable American Health Probiotic Acidophilus are a good start.
And this is probably even more surprising! It turns out there are SBO’s (soil-based organisms) that are stronger good bugs. These bugs survive best in the digestive tract and give the most benefit.
The scientists who wrote the book “Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World" say, keeping children too clean keeps them away from many of the microbes necessary for a healthy immune system. The book's authors, Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta, experts in micro-organisms and immunology, show evidence that allowing children to get dirty exposes them to healthy germs that are actually good for their health. “If we miss out on that exposure, the immune system is not going to mature,” Arrieta reports.
Another book for you to check out is by Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, who wrote, “Why Dirt Is Good” .
She says, “What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth, is necessary for protection, and it also plays a critical role in [developing] the immune response.”
Let ‘em play in the dirt!
Children should be allowed to get dirty when they play.
Dr Chris Baker
Dr. Chris Baker is Past President of the American Orthodontic Society, a pediatric dentist and teacher of orthodontics, An author, dental practice consultant, mentor, and a current or former faculty member of three U.S. dental schools, Dr Chris practices and blogs in beautiful Abu Dhabi, UAE, and glorious Texas, USA.
Text and images
© 2019 Dr Chris Baker