Taking Hygiene too Far

hand washing

Mom always told you to wash your hands before every meal. Seems like pretty good advice, but maybe mom was over-doing it a bit. Our culture’s obsession with environments that are free from any germs or bacteria is starting to have an unforeseen side-effect: weakened immune systems!

The mild contaminants our systems easily handle everyday are what help keep our overall disease-resistance in top form. Take away all germs, and we actually become worse at fighting off the serious stuff! Sounds sickening!
New mothers are paranoid about keeping the baby’s surrounding totally antiseptic but a little more dirt might be just what the doctor ordered. A recent Italian study found that exposure to bacteria is essential for development of an infant’s immune system. He says a baby must be exposed to germs during its first year in order to develop antibodies needed to fight infection later in life. Just as a child needs lot of exercise to develop strong bones and muscles, a child’s immune system needs a rigorous workout to develop normal resistance to infections throughout life.

In fact, the efforts of humans to keep their bodies and the things they touch bacteria-free are misguided. The vast majority of bacteria are out there serving a purpose for us. Helping our intestinal track mature, helping our immune system mature. It states that when young children do not get enough exposure to bacteria, some scientists suspect the immune system can overreact to pollen or dust, or other ordinarily harmless substances. And that, scientists say, may be the reason for the rapidly rising rates of asthma and allergy.

Repeated use of popular antibacterial soaps on children might actually contribute to the development of chronic diseases. The ingredients in soaps and cleansers intended to fight bacteria could promote the growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” that might otherwise be kept in check with little more than a vigorous scrub.

Contributed by:
Dr. Agarwal
(Shri Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, India)