Sunday, March 15, 2009

Because we all want to eat off the floor, right?

I am not talking about the 5-second rule here. I'm talking someone trying to convince me my floor should be germ-free. I'm talking about the rampant, widespread, and reckless use of "antibacterial" products. Yes, I said reckless. Reckless, useless, and shortsighted. Before I go on, there are 2 schools of thought on this, and each side presents convincing research, so the jury is still out. One extreme says that antibacterials don't do any harm, so swim in that antibacterial soap, it's all good. The other extreme waves their arms wildly and predicts the demise of mankind from all the new bacterial strains that laugh at the latest & greatest chemicals we have created to kill them.

I am on the side of caution. Antimicrobials are so pervasive, we are finding them in laundry detergent, soaps, creams, lotions & potions. Putting them in soaps really doesn't kill anything, by the way. They're not on your skin long enough. If you took a soak in it, like Madge the manicurist made you do, maybe.

Killing germs has its place & its uses, but not on my floor or in my ears. Huh, what was that? Floor? Ears? Seriously, I saw advertising just this morning (inspiring this rant) touting the benefits of . . . . . wait for it . . . . . removing bacteria from your floor!

WTF??? My first thought is this - uh, wouldn't the lack of germs on your kitchen floor last about as long as it takes for the next person to come in and walk on it with their dirty feet? Puh-leeze. I have also seen these advertised, although not in awhile:

Antibacterial Q-tips? Oh no they di-int. Earwax has antibacterial properties of its own, it doesn't need that kind of help. Not to mention that we dig around in our ears with swabs waaaaay too much anyway. Kathy raises her hand guiltily.

Simply put, the overuse of antibacterial products & antibiotics (but mostly antibiotics) may lead to resistant strains of bacteria and the dumbing down of our immune systems. I would get on a soapbox (heh heh, soapbox, heh heh) during the pathology class that I taught at the college, and the gist of my lecture was this:
Allergies appear to be increasing in the US (and western societies in general) for unknown reasons. Allergies require an environmental trigger to be activated, which can range from dust mites & animals to our favorite foods. An interesting new theory proposes that the increase in allergies in the US may be due to the “cleanliness” of our modern world. There is a particular group of immunoglobulins, those lovely substances that make up our immune systems, that guard us against parasitic infections. They are called IgE's. Generations ago, when we didn’t know that we had to wash our hands & cook our meat beyond any deliciousness, IgE’s role in attacking parasites was a fine thing to have. Now, IgE’s are feeling particularly unfulfilled since we have mostly eliminated parasitic diseases here. Consequently, they have turned to normally harmless things to pick on that have similar protein sequences to parasites.

**Aside - only proteins can trigger true allergies - an IgE response, so it is doubtful that people are allergic to cigarette smoke or perfumes since they do not have a protein sequence. These types of substances can trigger a histamine release, giving us runny noses & watery eyes, but it is not a true allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening. One study found that of 246 patients taking allergy medication, fewer than half actually had real allergies. The rest were having a histamine release triggered by other things. Some people are 'allergic' to non-living things, like sunlight, cold, etc. You can't really be allergic to these things, but the sunlight or cold triggers a protein change in their skin that their immune system reacts to, or they already have an abnormal protein in their blood that causes the reaction. Allergies are all about proteins.

Dust mites, pet dander & ragweed have been around for longer than we have, but suddenly we are becoming allergic to these simple things. Studies have found that rural children, raised around farm animals and farming, have far fewer allergies than suburban kids do. Their IgE’s are happy fulfilling their purpose in life.
Think of IgE’s as schoolyard bullies itching for a fight, and since they can’t find any parasites to pick on, they pick on the nice little kiddies who never hurt anyone.
It's the mechanical action of washing with soap & water that cleans your hands, NOT the presence of antimicrobials. Soap keeps the junk from sticking to your skin, and water rinses it away. Period. That's ALL you need. Here is a good article to read from my brother's alma mater.

Most of today's antibacterial products are made with triclosan. Research is showing that the combination of triclosan with the chlorine in tap water forms chloroform and dioxins, both toxic and possibly carcinogenic, in very small amounts. Add all those small amounts from the entire US population awash in the stuff and it's not 'very small' anymore. All municipal tap water has chlorine added to it. I love my well water!!!! If Virginia Beach every tries to make me convert to their chlorinated nasty city water, they will have a fight on their hands.

Here is some interesting reading about the different sides of the controversy:
Article on the CDC website
Fox news story questioning the research
Research study the Fox reporter cites

Now, everyone go eat a little dirt every day. Just a little.


Sister G said...

A WOMAN AFTER MY OWN HEART!! Germs keep us healthy - how can you build up immunities if you don't expose yourself to a few hearty germs!

Kathy said...

I better be after your own heart. You're stuck with me!