Good and Dirty
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that they would rule on the safety of the chemical triclosan, a product commonly used in antibacterial soaps. Triclosan is also used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and toys. The chemical, in use for more than 40 years, may be unsafe. The FDA will soon issue a ruling – if they find the chemical is harmful, it will have huge implications on an almost $1 billion industry.
Our cleaning supplies tout their germ-killing prowess. Antibacterial soap is common in public (and many private) bathrooms. Hand sanitizer, once a last resort in lieu of soap and water, is available in a size small enough to carry on your keychain. We like to clean, and for good reason. Human history is the story of survival, and germs have been a worthy adversary since the beginning. Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever prove that clean water is a necessity we shouldn’t take for granted. But how far should we take our war on germs?
Our immune systems need to be challenged to grow strong. Raising children in a sterile environment (as helpful as it may seem to new parents) doesn’t do their immune system any favors. In 2009, the New York Times reported on studies researching the “hygiene hypothesis.” The hygiene hypothesis is the idea that children raised in overly clean environments have a derailed immune response period. After birth, our immune systems must learn how to respond to our environment. As our immune systems are introduced to millions of bacteria, viruses, and worms, we practice immune responses and learn what’s best ignored.
The next time your little one reaches for a handful of dirt, don’t panic. A child tasting dirt is providing their immune system with invaluable lessons. Parents that cleaned off pacifiers by giving them a quick suck may have done their children a favor. A new study published this week suggests that that quick lick lowers the risk of allergy-related conditions like asthma and eczema. (For more information on the hygiene hypothesis and asthma, follow the link to the FDA’s official website. The information gets a bit technical, but it’s a good starting place if you’re hoping to convince someone – or yourself – that easing up on cleaning is a good idea.)
So, what are we to do to protect our health and the health of our children? There’s no need to clean house of your cleaning products (yet.) The best route, in this case and so many others, is to exercise moderation. Don’t allow your child (or yourself!) to embody Peanut’s Pig Pen, but don’t sterilize your home, either. If you’re bringing home a baby, consider their forays into dirt tasting the most natural, and least painful, immunization.