In our bustling, Western world, we tend to glorify cleanliness.
As we’ve come to understand the importance of microorganisms in our lives, our idea of clean has slowly morphed away from simply meaning “not dirty.” Thanks to scientific research and the rise of information technology, many of us now associate ultimate cleanliness with the destruction of any and all bacteria that can wage a silent war on our health.
So, when everyone in the office is sick or your toddler routinely snacks on food found on the kitchen floor, turning to an antibacterial hand soap or cleanser might sound like the best idea.
However, recent research suggests that, when it comes to your health and the health of our planet, over-sanitizing with antibacterial hygiene products can actually be more harmful than helpful.
How Modern Day Hygiene Products Affect the Body
If you’ve never stopped to dig deeper, you might think that any bacteria on your hands or countertops is a bad thing. But the truth is none of us would be happy (or healthy) living in a sterile world.
You see, our bodies are made up of trillions of bacteria that thrive within our microbial ecosystem (also known as the human microbiome). Your mental and physical wellness both depend on a healthy balance of bacteria and microorganisms working in harmony to keep you well.
Our resident bacteria perform many functions within the body. From alerting the immune system to invaders and helping us absorb nutrients from our food and supplements, to regulating our metabolism and body weight, microbes perform a multitude of services that are critical to our wellbeing.
And, when there aren’t enough beneficial bacteria (aka probiotics) present, our microbiomes can suffer an imbalance that manifests itself in many different ways throughout the body—from temporary inflammation to digestive distress and other health woes.
Unfortunately, it’s almost common knowledge these days that we’re wiping out our delicate bacterial communities faster than ever with the help of sugar-laden food, exorbitant stress levels, environmental toxins, exposure to unnatural substances in our food and water supply, widespread exposure to antibiotics, and—yes—even certain antibacterial compounds found in our favorite hygiene products.
Antibacterial Cleaning Products Negatively Impact the Microbiome
Simply put, antibacterials are like chemical poisons designed to kill bacteria, but not kill us. They are undoubtedly helpful in the face of life-threatening issues, and we can credit the longevity of our lives to the discovery of, and access to, these miraculous medications and cleaning products.
However, scientists report that common antibacterial compounds found in many kinds of toothpastes, mouthwashes, hand soaps, household cleaners, cosmetics, and antiperspirants (to name a few) may have shockingly adverse health effects that go beyond the depletion of good flora.
For example, Triclosan (a common antibacterial compound found in a slew of best-selling hygiene products) has recently been linked to a range of issues, such as skin irritation, hormonal fluctuations, thyroid health issues, and microbial disturbances in the gut environment and oral microbiome.1 Pretty scary stuff!
Researchers have recently discovered Triclosan (and its close relative triclocarban) in the urine, blood, snot, and even breast milk of otherwise healthy individuals. In fact, according to one recent investigation, there’s about a 40% chance that your bodily fluids contain this chemical!1
Triclosan enters the body by being ingested or absorbed through the skin and then does a number on your gut bacteria. One study, led by Rebekah Kennedy of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that the chemical altered the microbiomes of both mothers and the babies—making it a formidable additive to be avoided at all costs, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.2
To make matters worse, Triclosan and its chemical family members present negative environmental effects as well—potentially impacting the world’s aquatic ecosystems and contaminating our drinking water.2
One of the most interesting findings in the studies of Triclosan and other antibacterial compounds is that, contrary to popular belief, they actually don’t provide any greater benefit than washing with regular soap and water.
In other words: there's no clear upside to using antibacterial cleansers yet there’s an array of evidence suggesting they could be harmful to you and your family.
While there very well may be specific instances where antibacterials can be helpful (i.e. for surgeons and others who might benefit from a prolonged chemical soak prior to an operation requiring a sterile environment), the damaging effects of these kinds of artificial chemicals on our microbial ecosystems shouldn’t be underestimated.
Practicing Healthy Hygiene with Natural Products
While we’re not suggesting that you stop washing your hands after you use the restroom or that you throw out your toothbrush and toothpaste, we do believe that a balanced microbiome is the key to a strong foundation of health. With more than 80% of the immune system living and breathing within the microbe-rich gut environment, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to the products we use as part of our daily hygiene routine.
You can practice excellent hygiene without sacrificing the health of your fragile microbiome that depends on healthy, diverse communities of bacteria to carry out their various roles in the body and keep you feeling your best.
Your best bet is to avoid antibacterial cleansers and to choose natural hygiene products when you can, making sure to read the ingredient labels and educate yourself on the effects of the included ingredients on the human body—and on your microbes, in particular.
Be aware, though! Triclosan has been banned in the state of Minnesota and, due to public pressure, many major manufacturers have quietly excluded this harmful ingredient from their product formulations. However, Triclosan and its chemical cousins are still present in a variety of soaps, body washes, shampoos, medical equipment, and more.
Considering the critical role of beneficial bacteria in our bodies, taking a natural and effective probiotic supplement such as PRO-15 or PRO-Dental (or both!) can help ensure that your system is teeming with the good bacteria that is often impaired due to artificial additives, overzealous hygiene routines, the natural aging process, processed food, and other lifestyle factors.
Making a shift toward a more natural lifestyle when it comes to your hygiene habits can help keep your microbiome strong and balanced and pave the way to a healthier future for you and your family.
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of two little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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© 2016 Hyperbiotics.