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The protective effect of germs

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

Germs, they are fact, our bodies are made up of cells, bacteria and viruses! So why are we so afraid of germs?

For the past 100 years our cleaning and sanitation practices have been changing. We are more and more becoming afraid of germs, illness, and dirt. This had lead to an increased use of household cleaners and disinfectants that kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. The pandemic was simply a ramp up of household cleaning practices that have been changing. This change has lead to a decline in childhood infections, over the last 100 years, which is comforting for most parents. This decline is attributed to the use of vaccinations, antibiotics and the increased use of harsh cleaners. However, with the decline in common childhood illnesses, that my generation and the generations before me dealt with, there has been a rise in asthma and atopic disease (Johnston S.L et al).

Does excessive cleanliness affect immunity?

In this article by Johnston, S.L et al, it is noted that many common viral infections induce a strong protective host response dominated by the production of interferon. This type 1 response is more effective at eliminating viruses than the alternative type 2 response which promotes IgE (allergy) production, eosinophilia, atopy, and asthma. He goes further to note that children are born with strong type 2 responses but mature their type 1 responses in the first year or so of life under environmental influence, mainly that of common childhood infections i.e. getting sick.

It was further noted that children who had uncomplicated colds, i.e. runny nose, mild fever without treatment were less likely to develop wheezing later on and other minor infections like chickenpox and illnesses like hand, foot and mouth disease were also protective (Illi, S.). However, those with major, lower respiratory wheeze were found to likely continue that further into childhood. It was noted that the risk of a diagnosis of asthma by the age of 7 is reduced by about 50% percent in children with two or more reported episodes of common cold (without associated wheeze) by the age of 1 year (Johnston, S.).

The old saying goes "God made dirt and dirt don't hurt!" Having children exposed to other children in school and through older siblings, having animals, and not over-treating common childhood illness (colds, flus, etc) with antibiotics promotes natural immunological maturation and could prevent atopic or type 2 immune responses i.e. asthma and allergies.

How does excessive cleanliness affect the immune system?

This is all about gut health....70% of our immune system resides in our guts. The overuse of antibiotics, harsh household cleaners, and a standard american diet (SAD) leads to a depletion of beneficial bacteria in our guts. This depletion of beneficial bacteria allows pathogenic free loaders normally found in our intestines to thrive. When these free loaders are allowed to multiply and release their potent endotoxins we can develop an overactive immune response due to a decline in our gut mucosal barrier integrity. Food particles, bacteria and endotoxins are released from the intestines into our blood stream. This leads to immune activation and symptoms of allergy, atopy, and even autoimmunity. Not to mention, the chemical toxins present in these harsh cleaners which lead to endocrine disruption and mitochondrial dysfunction.