Everywhere we go nowadays there are a plethora of anti-bacterial products. Hand sanitizers at the grocery store, in the bathrooms, at restaurants. Wipes for your carts and hand wipes for your purse – and who doesn’t carry a travel size bottle of sanitizer? But is this culture of being overly clean good for us, or actually harming our immunity?
A Swedish study was published in the medical journal Pediatrics earlier this year that compared 184 Swedish babies who used pacifiers. When their pacifiers would inevitable fall out of their mouths and onto the ground, 65 of the parents simply picked it up, stuck it in their OWN mouths to suck off whatever dirt and other bacteria were on it, and handed it back to their baby. The other 119 took the time to wash and presumable re-sanitize the pacifier before giving it back to baby. And the group that had the babies who were significantly less likely to get allergies or eczema? The ones whose moms DIDN’T wash the pacifier before handing it back to them. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
In the past decade, there’s been an explosion of asthma and allergies in American kids, and doctors and parents have been trying to figure out why. Enter the “hygiene hypothesis.” This theory postulates that being exposed to microbes and bacteria actually builds up our immune systems by allowing them to identify and differentiate between harmful and non-harmful irritants. By constantly sanitizing and avoiding germs, we are actually depriving our bodies of these “lessons.” Our amazing immune systems are there for a reason, and by not letting them function to their fullest, we are supposedly making them more and more sensitive to the surrounding environment. There have been various studies that have shown that babies in daycare may get more infections earlier in life, but are less likely to develop illnesses and allergies a few years later.
The argument isn’t that being dirty is awesome, or that being clean makes you sicker, but that perhaps, we’re taking it a bit too far. Being clean is all well and good, and – let’s face it – sanitary, but a little dirt won’t hurt either.