Are germs really as bad as you think?
Here is an article I contributed to for Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar …full article available here..
Everywhere you look there are cleaning products which promise to kill 99.9 per cent of germs!
But, as research shows that daily contact with bacteria could actually be beneficial to our overall health – it begs the question, does over-sanitising on a daily basis have a negative impact?
We checked in with our IQS experts to dig into how germs can affect your gut health and in turn, your immune system…
Your gut health and bacteria.
We talk about gut health all the time – and rightly so as more and more research continues to come to light illustrating how your gut is intimately connected to your mood and even your brain. Who knew?!
As your gut is made up of good and bad bacteria (called microbes), it’s no surprise then that the external bacteria you come into contact with daily does, in fact, have an impact on your gut.
Our in-house nutritionist, Olivia Kaplan, explains that, “Bacteria are everywhere – on surfaces, in food, on your skin and even under your fingernails, and there’s no question that this bacteria can make its way into your gut and affect the balance of microbes”.
Integrative medicine GP and naturopath, Dr Rachel Wyndham, also emphasises that you need both good and bad bacteria to keep your gut in balance. “The delicate world of microorganisms that covers your skin and lines your gut should live in a balanced, harmonious environment. When you attempt to control or completely neglect this, there are certainly health consequences”. And one of these consequences can be a compromised immune system…
So, how do germs affect your immune system?
The hygiene hypothesis describes how you need to be exposed to a range of microorganisms in order for your immune system to develop and function properly. In fact, your microbiota plays a fundamental role in every stage of this process – from exposure, to immune response and repair.
What’s interesting too is that your immune system is ever-evolving. “There’s no question that your gut microbes and immune system are intrinsically linked. We need to be exposed to plenty of microorganisms – the good and the bad – in order to develop and fully functioning immune system,” explains naturopath and nutritionist, Emily Seddon.
There is also a correlation between an imbalance of gut bacteria and conditions like allergies, atopy and autoimmune conditions. “While it’s important to remember that correlation doesn’t mean causation, the link being studied in this field is astounding,” explains Emily.
Dr Rachel also draws connections with early-life exposure to bacteria and immune conditions. Put simply, studies show that when children are exposed to bacteria at a young age, their immune system can develop to protect them against allergies and even some symptoms of asthma.
As a result, by over-sterilising your environment (hello, hand sanitisers), you run the risk of unnecessarily reducing your exposure to a variety of bacteria. “By placing yourself in an environment loaded with antibacterial chemicals, such as those found in cleaning products, you’re increasing your chances of these chemicals coming into contact with your gut bacteria and causing unwanted issues – they could even kill off the good bacteria,” says Olivia.
So, if you’re sanitising in order to protect yourself against diseases, you might be looking in the wrong place.
The bottom line…
All our experts agree that germs are beneficial, if not integral, to the development of your gut bacteria as they help support and develop your immune system.
In fact, Olivia says it’s also worth considering if sterilising your environment is really necessary. “I certainly don’t recommend giving up your personal hygiene, but do be mindful of the ‘antibacterial’ products that you use, as exposure to germs is integral to your overall health.”