Prone to allergies? Chances are you were raised in a somewhat ‘sterile’ environment or at least one where close attention was paid to avoidance of bacteria and the general run-of-the-mill pollen and microscopic critters that inhabit the world around us. This is why, on average, people raised in urban areas tend to have more allergies than people raised in rural areas. But what is the connection? Carrying this a step further, people in developed countries tend to have more problems with allergies and allergic reactions than people who are from poorer undeveloped or developing countries. Studies show with more development and wealth comes more problems with allergens and certain pathogens. This seems counterintuitive but there is a sound explanation.
The reason: people from rural areas have a more or less continuous low-level exposure to allergens and bacteria that stimulates the body to create ‘resistance’ to them via antibodies and other natural defenses. So there builds in the individual a host of protective measures that tend to mediate the effects of potential pathogens, a process that does not happen if one is not exposed to them especially during ones younger years. It is possible, it seems, to be too clean.
New research has determined a curious link between certain oral (mouth) bacteria, bacteria killing mouthwashes, and heart health. In one study people who used the antiseptic forms of mouthwash had slightly higher blood pressure compared to a control group who were given mouthwash but without the antiseptic quality. So there is a link between certain beneficial oral bacteria and your heart. Why do we use mouthwash in the first place? The main reason is to clear ‘bad breath’, but originally mouthwash did not contain any antiseptic quality. But then we found out there were jillions of bacteria swimming around in our saliva and of course all bacteria were bad so people freaked out. The facts are if you have healthy clean teeth and gums, the ‘good’ bacteria will take care of the ‘bad’.
Overuse of antibacterial soap also is the shotgun approach to controlling bacteria. It does not discriminate between the good and the bad. This is not to say that antibacterial soap should be abandoned altogether as it is effective for hand washing, but as a general body soap it may be doing more harm than good.
Which brings us to the final thought. It may come as a surprise but there are people who never use soap at all. And not because they are poor or because of cultural or religious mandates. They do wash frequently but only scrub with plain water. Plain water will not kill the literally billions of bacteria that make your skin their home. Yet most surprisingly of all, these people do not ‘smell funny’, to put it politely. What we call ‘body odor’ is the result of the activity of certain bacteria. So this seems a contradiction. These people are loaded with bacteria and yet do not elicit revulsion via the olfactory senses of their companions. How is that possible?
To help explain think of your body as a walking ecosystem loaded with all sorts of microscopic critters. There are more individual ‘alien’ organisms on and in an average body then there are human cells in an entire person. Before you panic understand that you could not survive without most of them. They ensure the digestion of food for starters. There is also an army of the ‘good’ bacteria on your skin keeping the ‘bad’ bacteria in check. The antibacterial soaps briefly kill both, and if the ‘bad’ guys regroup before the ‘good’, you may develop anything from a mild rash to life-threatening digestive issues. So why don’t these people who don’t use soap smell ‘funny’? A few reasons. It encompasses an entire life style. They eat a healthy diet low in processed starchy foods and sugar. Yes, certain types of processed foods increase your ‘smell factor’. They do wash regularly with water mainly to remove dirt and normal body waste products from the skin and airborne contaminants. They drink a lot of sugar free liquids. The result: the bacteria in and on their bodies, particularly on their skin, reaches a healthy balance between the hundreds of different types of bacteria that live there. Their bodies, then, do not smell ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but neutral.
Thinking of trying this approach? Understand that this is not a promotion. It is simply information. Run it past your health professional first. There may be sound medical reasons for not going this route. But humans did not evolve using soap of any kind and were not even aware of bacteria, and for most of human existence, when we washed, if we washed at all, we only used water.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.