Early this week one of our gym member’s came around the corner telling Lucas and I that her son and Elijah may have been drinking out of the fountain in the entry way that has a nice collection of mold growing, nothing was witnessed! We started joking about how it’s good for them to get a good exposure of dirt and germs. This made me think back to when I was a little girl and how much time I spent outside playing in the dirt and making mud pies. I read an article in the New York Times a day after that about how children are growing up less exposed to germs and dirt. Many children these days are spending more time indoors than outside getting dirty. Also add in all of the antibacterial hand soaps, sanitizers, sprays and cleaning supplies and it’s the perfect storm. Our bodies have a good assortment of beneficial bacteria that keeps our microbiome in harmony. When you start altering this with antibacterial products and a more sterile environment the immune system is altered in its ability to develop a strong defense system.
There is a hypothesis called the Hygiene Hypothesis that states “organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.” 1
Another part of what determines our immune system occurs at birth. When a baby is born vaginally and passes through the vaginal canal. there is a vast introduction of maternal bacteria. When a baby is born via c-section this does not happen naturally unless the baby is swabbed with the mother’s collected vaginal fluid, called vaginal seeding. It is important to ensure the mom is free from harmful bacteria/diseases. 2 An additional way that infants are exposed to beneficial bacteria is through breast milk, which exposes the child to maternal microbes. There is also mention of how children that grow up on farms or have a dog have few allergies.
Antibiotics also alter the microbiome and a CDC article states that 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions aren’t necessary. The over prescription of antibiotics has contributed to the resistance problem we are seeing with antibiotics, which scares me because when we really need an antibiotic it won’t be effective. I know when I was practicing I was very cautious on how often I prescribed antibiotics and would always try to take a more holistic approach. There are studies that state that a dose of antibiotics can alter gut microbes for a lengthy period of time, some state indefinitely. 3
What can we do? Let kids play in the dirt and if some makes it’s way into their mouths, don’t panic. Avoid antibacterial soaps/cleaners. On a regular basis soap and water and vinegar to clean is sufficient. Be sure to take a daily high quality probiotic and prebiotic. This will keep an influx of beneficial bacteria into the gut. Eat adequate amounts of fermented foods to also benefit the gut, like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. And, lastly, if you are low risk, find a good provider that isn’t quick to prescribe an antibiotic for every sniffle you have.