hygiene hypothesis

man cleaning kitchen counter

Are You Over-Sterilizing Your Life?

Keeping your body clean hasn’t been easier than it is today, but is there such a thing as being too clean?

No matter where you go — the supermarket, your local gym or even a neighborhood yoga class — antimicrobial chemicals have invaded our living spaces, creating an environment that’s become “too clean” for our own good.

The use of antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan may have seemed like a good idea at one time. However, that perception changed radically a few years ago when health problems related to the hygiene hypothesis and its lingering effect on our immune systems began lessening the natural ability of our bodies to fight disease.

Although triclosan has been the main focus for these problems, some of its notoriety faded when the FDA took the major step of banning it from antibacterial soaps and most body washes in 2016.

Despite the ban, triclosan can still be found in some personal care products (review the Environmental Working Group’s most current list) including some toothpastes as well as lining common consumer products like yoga/exercise mats and gym equipment.

That’s where a new health problem lies in plain sight…

Antibiotic resistance in dust?

This stealth invasion of triclosan in our environment may be creating antibiotic-resistant dust, according to a recent study appearing in mSystems.

Researchers at Northwestern University discovered this problem after collecting dust samples from 42 athletic facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

Study leader and associate professor Dr. Erica Hartman chose gyms due to the contact people have with mats, floors and gym equipment and how many clean them before and after using them with antimicrobial wipes.

Concerns arose when Hartman’s team collected dust from athletic spaces, hallways and offices, then examined the bacteria hiding in dust, and its genetic makeup.

Antimicrobial chemicals were the most concentrated in dust found in moist spots and gym spaces and in higher levels in rooms with carpeted floors or rubber mats.

In samples with higher levels of triclosan, scientists found genetic markers directly linked to antibiotic resistance and, specifically, medically relevant antibiotic drugs.

“There is this conventional wisdom that says everything that’s in dust is dead, but that’s not actually the case. There are things living in there,” says Dr. Hartman, according to Northwestern Now.

Trying to keep workout spaces clean for yourself and others creates a larger health problem with antibiotic-resistant infections, potentially leaving you vulnerable to superbugs.

Unfortunately, manufacturers of products like yoga mats aren’t required to disclose antibacterial chemicals like triclosan in their labeling, because their safety is governed by the EPA, not the FDA, Dr. Hartman says.

So, how do you protect your health and environment surrounding you from being “too clean?”

  1. Avoid products that are labeled with terms like fights germs, fights odors or antibacterial, according to experts at the National Resources Defense Council Health Program.
  1. Review the product labels of any personal care products you’re buying at the grocery store for anything that you suspect includes antibacterial chemicals (look for a future blog about triclosan in toothpaste).
  1. Protect your immune health the safe and natural way by taking a probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic that contains 10 strains of beneficial bacteria, plus a prebiotic (FOS) that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
window cleaner next to paper towels

Why a “too clean” home may harm your child

Keeping your home a bit “too clean” by using common multi-surface disinfectants could be changing and harming your child’s gut bacteria by making them more susceptible to obesity.

That’s the chief finding from data culled from an examination of fecal samples collected from 757 Canadian babies, along with their exposure to various cleaning products, according to a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Babies living in homes where disinfectants were used every week were twice as likely to have increased levels of one bacteria (Lachnospiraceae), according to researchers.

That difference in one strain of bacteria was enough to elevate the chances of young children being overweight by age 3, compared to kids who weren’t exposed to disinfectants as infants, says Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, the principal investigator on the SyMBIOTA project that examines how altering the gut health of infants impacts their health.

Canadian scientists could see the connection, especially as they discovered babies living in households with greater use of more eco-friendly cleaners had a decreased risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Although this study cited concerns about the use of antibacterial cleaners, researchers didn’t track the kinds of chemicals being used to clean the homes where their participants lived as babies.

Still, these results may be more evidence of the hygiene hypothesis, in which the body’s immune responses are reversed due to continuing exposure to disinfectants, antibacterial chemicals, antibiotics and bottled water, all of them intended to make our lives way too clean.

(The hygiene hypothesis can also work to protect kids from health problems like asthma. For example, Amish children surrounded by nature, farm animals and common house dust — a less hygienic environment than most homes — were less likely to suffer from asthma, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report.)

Fortunately, there’s a simple and healthy solution to protect the delicate balance of bacteria in your baby’s gut and reduce his/her risks of obesity at the same time (especially for moms who can’t breastfeed for very long or at all).

A quarter-teaspoon of EndoMune Jr. Powder, recommended for children up to age 3, contains four strains of beneficial bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria families along with a prebiotic (FOS) that keeps their gut health in balance.

little girl playing with a puppy

A Dog’s Gut Health May Look Like Yours

How many of you think of your pets as if they were members of your own family? You’d probably have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t feel that way about their four-legged family members, especially dogs.

Did you know a dog’s gut health has developed very similarly to ours, and good gut health may be beneficial to dogs and their human masters?

Not only did researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory discover great parallels in the gut health and microbial composition of 64 retrievers and beagles, they concluded our gut health could be more similar to dogs, according to their study published in the open access journal Microbiome.

The latter finding is an interesting one, given that pigs and mice are used commonly in gut health research, which led scientists to study how the gut health and diversity of lean and overweight dogs changed when fed low carb/high protein diets.

Just like their overweight masters, the microbiomes of heavier dogs changed significantly when fed high protein/low carb food, but not those of leaner dogs (a sign that thinner canines had healthier, more resilient gut microbiomes).

“These findings suggest that dogs could be a better model for nutrition studies than pigs or mice and we could potentially use data from dogs to study the impact of diet on gut microbiota on humans, and humans could be a good model to study the nutrition of dogs,” says Dr. Luis Pedro Coehlo, as told to BioMed Central.

The hygiene hypothesis connection

You may be wondering how the microbiomes of dogs and their masters became so interconnected. That’s where the hygiene hypothesis may come into play due to Western cultures living in more sterile environments that are too clean for our good.

On the other paw, dogs only get soapy when they’ve been dirty (and probably bad) and they tend to scratch, sniff and lick spots on their bodies and those of fellow canines that most of us would never do.

Dogs may not be the only animals that provide microbial protection to humans either. Based on a 2016 study from the New England Journal of Medicine, Amish children raised around farm animals were up to six times less likely to experience asthma.

What can you do to protect the microbiomes of your family if you don’t live on or near a farm and caring for a pet just isn’t realistic?

Taking a probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic and EndoMune Junior Probiotic for kids, containing multiple strains of beneficial bacteria can make a healthy difference in your gut health profile even if Fido isn’t available to help.

(Anecdotally, my wife and I have given our dogs EndoMune for seven years with no problems. All of them have a healthy GI tract and have experienced no gas, bloating or diarrhea during that time.)

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