Ottawa, April 20: ‘Tera saboon slow hai kya’- goes the famous tagline of ‘Lifebuoy’, urging kids to wash their hands before touching their food, while the exact opposite is claimed by a microbiologist, Brett Finlay. He explains that parents these days take the business of cleaning hands too seriously. In fact, overdoing it will contribute to a host of chronic conditions ranging from allergies to obesity.
Science shows that blasting away tiny organisms called microbes with our hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and liberal doses of antibiotics is having a profoundly negative impact on kids’ immune systems.
Our immune system is underdeveloped. But as soon as microbes come into the picture, they kick-start our immune system to work properly. Without microbes our immune system can’t fight infections well. It’s not just the presence of these microbes but what they produce. They produce molecules and substances that directly interact with the cells of the lining in our guts, but also with the immune cells that are on the other side of the lining in our guts. They literally train them. It is only upon the encounter with these microbial substances that an immune cell obtains the information to do what they’re supposed to do. Then these cells in our gut have the ability to transport themselves to other parts of the body to do more training.
The hygiene hypothesis tries to explain why allergies, as well as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease and even autism, these are all diseases on the rise. And this is not explained by genes alone. Our genes simply do not change that fast.
Research is consistently showing that it’s these changes in early life exposure to microbes that are driving the rise of these diseases. The lack of microbial exposure early in life is necessary for our immune systems to be trained properly and to eventually be able to avoid the development of these diseases.
Kids who are growing up on a farm environment have way less chance of developing asthma. Of course you cannot just pick up your things and become a farmer, but what this suggests is that living in an environment that is less clean is actually better.
Studies have also shown that cleaning everything that goes in baby’s mouth increases their chances of asthma. The incidence of developing asthma is decreased if the pacifier is cleaned in the parent’s mouth. And all of these points to the fact that we are just living too clean, to a point that it is not beneficial. Hygiene is crucial to our health. We should not stop washing our hands, but we should do it at a time when it is effective at preventing disease spread — before we eat and after using the restroom.
So if your child is out in the backyard playing with dirt, you do not need to remove that dirt. There’s no benefit from doing so. There has to be a balance between preventing infection, which is still a real threat in society, and also promoting this microbial exposure that is healthy.