Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Killing Us Softly, Part 1: Germaphobia

If you sent an alien with no Earthling experience whatsoever to the United States, they would probably be appalled. Although we seem on the surface to be the most health conscious culture ever to roam the Earth, we are literally killing ourselves. This series looks at how our well meaning actions and well thought out decisions are taking years off our life spans... and those of our children as well.

Americans love to declare war on things. Even if you are a staunch pacifist, you are probably all for the war on drugs and the war on homelessness. Our most costly war in the end may be the war on germs.

Shows exposing the generally germiness of American homes abound on the television. The aisles at Target, WalMart, and even Whole Foods have a veritable arsenal of products to eradicate these germs. Some of these products, especially those that are explicitly marked anti-bacterial, never break down, instead being carried to waterways where they kill the good bacteria that maintain our ecosystems and even act as poisons themselves. Parents who would rather soak their children in a cocktail of dangerous chemicals (most bubble baths) get a little worried about kids playing in dirt, especially if they may be accidentally ingesting it.

Germaphobia doesn't just allow us to feel good about filling our homes and our planet with toxic chemicals, it keeps us from exploring our natural habitat: the great outdoors. Remember how kids used to play outside all the time? Remember how rare obesity was back then? Now, children are sat in front of electronic devices that rob their muscles and their brains in one fell swoop.

If you are worried about your kids getting dirty, it may actually be beneficial to their health. Recent studies show that nematodes, little wormy critters that live in almost all dirt, may actually immunize children against seasonal and food allergies. If you've ever wondered why so many kids have severe allergies now, a lack of early exposure to filth may be your answer. In fact, a lack of nematode exposure has been linked not just to allergies, but to asthma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease, all diseases that have taken a sharp rise in our ultra-clean society.

We don't just want clean, germ-free houses; we want clean, germ-free bodies. In come antibiotics for every sniffly nose. Unfortunately, by overusing antibiotics and/or using them the wrong way, we are training bacteria to survive antibiotics, creating new killer strains that will crush our weakling immune systems like a schoolyard bully against the president of the first grade chess club.

The truth about germs is that almost all of them are harmless or even actually good for us. Even with the less than 0.1% that aren't, most of these 'harmful bacteria' will only make us sick enough that we come out ahead in the end--with a stronger immune system that can fight off the really bad germs, like anthrax and MRSA.

Don't think this means being a total slob. I'm all for clean houses and clean hands. However, soap and water have been found to do a fine job and don't kill healthy bacteria or poison our streams. Natural cleaners require a little more elbow grease sometimes, but I'm not exactly wasting away. This is an easy way to create a cleaner house and a cleaner world. Just repeat: Germs are friends, not enemies.


MaggieBrown said...

Good points made here. However, does anyone reading this have a child in daycare? It can be frustrating when your kid gets sick, bringing home a plethora of germs. Then we get sick, and miss work. There is a great new program out called Germy Wormy Germ Smart Kids. Your little ones will learn in a mom-invented, fun and drug-free way how to both avoid AND keep from spreading germs. Check it out, its priceless!


Emily the Great and Terrible said...

My kids are in part time childcare, and I am home sick with one right now.

Kids in daycare are less likely to have allergies, if it makes you feel better about the time off. It's a great opportunity to snuggle and reconnect, also.

Emily the Great and Terrible said...
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