I used to be that person. The one whose nose crinkled up the moment she stepped foot in a public restroom. I remember as a very young child, before toilet seat covers were around in every bathroom, my mom taught me how to carefully cover the toilet seat with toilet paper. I carried that skill into my adult life, protecting my bum from every public toilet it encountered.
I was the person who, after washing my hands, used the paper towel to open the bathroom door, so careful to keep my clean, bare skin from touching any surface of the severely germ saturated bathroom.
I seemed to catch every little bug that came around, which only fueled my war against germs.
But you might have noticed the title of this post refers to a recovered germophobe. Now I know a thing or two about germs and antibacterial soap.
First of all, your immune system is not a delicate flower that needs be protected from every strain of bacteria out there. Your immune system is designed to fight your battles for you. It’s tough. But it can’t stay tough if it’s never given a chance to flex it’s muscles. If you’re always protecting it from germs or killing them with antibacterial soap and overuse of antibiotics, then your immune system gets weak and lazy. And when one of those tenacious bugs inevitably makes it past your best defenses, your immune system isn’t prepared. It’s had no training and it can’t fight off the invaders!
Now, when I see a friend and she says, “I’m not going to hug you because I don’t want to get you sick” or I’m at the grocery store and my cashier looks like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and can’t stop wiping her nose, I don’t cower in fear like I used to. I say, Bring it! In my mind, I relish in the knowing that my immune system is taking care of it.
Your immune system is like those video games where the more enemies you kill, the stronger you get!
Exposing yourself to germs makes you better able to fight them off!!!
Does that mean I never get sick? Of course not. But I certainly get sick less often. In the past two years, I’ve had one head cold.
What is it about our society that we’re sooooo afraid of getting sick? Getting sick is a natural part of life and the means by which our body detoxifies. If you eat healthy, take good care of yourself and generally don’t poison yourself with chemicals, then you have nothing to fear. If you do get sick, surrender and know that your body’s own wisdom is telling you you need to rest.
About those antibacterial soaps….they are in 75% of American households and almost every public restroom out there. The active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps is Triclosan. Triclosan is a synthetic, broad-spectrum anti-microbial agent that you can find not just in your antibacterial wipes and soap, but in toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics, lotions, children’s toys and fabrics.
The problem is that Triclosan doesn’t just kill the germs, but it kills ALL bacteria in it’s path, including the beneficial bacteria. You see, there are billions of bacterial cells in your body and the vast majority of them are beneficial. This beneficial bacteria is the stuff that fights off the bad bacteria.
Triclosan takes out the good and bad bacteria, killing your defense system and leaving you vulnerable to attack.
Six facts you might not know about Triclosan and antibacterial soap:
- Triclosan can kill not just bacteria, but human cells, too.
- Exposure to Triclosan can lead to severe hormone disruption, brain damage, and several types of cancer.
- Because Triclosan is a synthetic chemical, your body views it as such and ushers it away from your organs, storing it in your fat cells, making it harder for you to shed fat. In other words, your antibacterial soap might not just be making you sick, but it could be making you fat, too!
- High levels of triclosan have been found in three out of five breast milk samples.
- As a chemist, I can attest that when you’re dealing with chemicals you’re never dealing with just one. Triclosan reacts with the chlorine in water to form chloroform, which is a human carcinogen and comes with another long list of hazards.
- Several studies have shown that the use of plain soap is just as effective and sometimes more effective than using antibacterial soap. One study found that chronically ill patients demonstrated worsened health when using antibacterial soap versus plain soap.
The difference between plain soap and antibacterial soap is the mechanism by which they sanitize.
Plain soap disinfects by displacing and destroying the bacteria, which is exactly what we need it to do. Antibacterial soap is a little more complicated. Triclosan penetrates the bacterial cell wall and attacks an enzyme that is vital to the cell’s function. As a result of this difference, bacteria have evolved to become resistant to Triclosan. Therefore, Triclosan is able to kill off the weaker bacteria, but makes the strongest strains even stronger, creating these “superbugs” that you’re hearing about.
What’s the take home message?
Your mission, if you choose to accept it is: avoid antibacterial soap as much as possible.
You can replace it with all-natural, 100% castile soap. Castile soap is basically just oils like olive oil and coconut oil that have been ‘saponified’ (made into soap) with really strong bases. Dr. Bronner’s is my favorite brand. You can buy it here.
Start looking for Triclosan on your labels. Can you find it in anything else you use?
And as for you germophobes out there, maybe you can start looking at germs and bacteria through a different lens? It’s not all bad and if you play your cards right you can have that bacteria working for you! No more running scared from big bad bacteria!!
I want to hear from you! Leave me a comment below about your experience with germs. Are they friend or foe? Do I have any fellow germaphobes or recovered germaphobes out there?
“Antibiotics have a direct damaging effect on the immune system, making one more vulnerable to infections, which leads to a vicious cycle of more antibiotics and more infections.” – Gut And Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD
This post is linked to Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.