By Kris Isakson, DC
As the weather grows colder outside, we hear more about the so-called "cold and flu season." Inevitably, we begin to think about how we can protect ourselves from these unpleasant illnesses, or how to get better faster if they do come. When it comes to prevention, we essentially have two methods: (1) decrease our exposure to germs, and (2) improve our ability to handle the germs. The first option can be effective in some basic, common sense ways, e.g. washing your hands regularly, not sneezing on others, etc. However, we are finding that the recent trend of trying to create an ultra-sterile, "germ-free" environment for ourselves and our children is not only impossible, but not even beneficial. Bacteria and viruses are everywhere; we will never eliminate them all. Moreover we are discovering multiple reasons why we probably shouldn't be trying to eliminate them.
First, the chemicals that are used to kill germs are often worse than the germs themselves. Bacteria and viruses are a part of nature, and humans have been living amongst them for millenia. Our bodies possess specific organs and cells which identify, disarm, and expel foreign invaders. On the other hand, most disinfectants are artificial man-made chemicals that have been produced in labs over just the last few decades. Our bodies are not able to process them as effectively, making it more difficult to neutralize and eliminate the foreign substance. Hopefully everyone is aware of the FDA's final rule issued in September 2016 regarding antibacterial soaps. Not only could they not prove efficacy, it seems the antimicrobial chemicals in the soaps (triclosan, triclocarban) are more harmful than the bacteria. You can be confident that this is not the only instance where that concept is true.
Second, we are discovering that some challenges to our immune system are actually a good thing. Think of it like exercising our muscles: the body adapts and strengthens itself according to the demands that are placed upon it. A study from the University of Melbourne in September 2016 reported that those who spent their early years on a farm were over 50% less likely to develop asthma, hay fever, and nasal allergies later in life. Although it doesn't prove a direct cause and effect relationship, it would suggest that regular exposure to various allergens and germs improves the competency of the immune system.
Rather than living in fear of germs, I believe it is better to focus on how one can improve the body's response to the inevitable germ exposures. The obvious question is, "How do I do that?" Fortunately, the things that seem to help our immune response are things that are good for our health in general. The following are some of my recommendations.
**This is an article that was written by Dr. Isakson and published in the Sioux Center News.