We talk a lot about germs on this show and for good reason: Scientists say that if you could somehow gather all microbial bacteria on Earth into one big heap, it would weigh 25 times more than all animal life on Earth combined! So what if I told you that modern day “germophobia” is nonsense and that our collective hysteria over grime fighting may actually be bad for our health?
That’s the word from microbiologist Lynn Bry, in an article we found in Psychology Today magazine. Bry reminds us that people actually need germs to survive. In fact, the average adult human body, contains about 90 trillion living, breathing bacteria – which help break down food, fight off disease, and form blood clots when we’re injured. Experts say that if you could somehow eliminate all bacteria from the planet right now, all life would be dead within two weeks. Now to be clear, Bry fully advocates good hygiene and cleanliness, but in the grand scheme of things, she believes people have an irrational, distorted fear of germs and dirt.
Consider this: Your chance of dying from an obesity-related illness is much higher than your risk of dying from salmonella poisoning. So why are we like this? Why do we panic so much over invisible germs that rarely kill? Mary Douglas, an anthropologist who wrote the book Purity And Danger, believes our obsession with dirt isn’t really about hygiene, it’s about control. Basically, she says we can’t control the bad economy, bad drivers on the freeway or our daughter’s bad choice of boyfriends. However, we can control getting the kitchen sink spotless! So cleaning is our way of bringing a small amount of order to an unmanageable world.
The problems set in when you get obsessive about cleaning because a lack of exposure to infectious germs can be bad for your immune system. In fact, new studies show that children who aren’t exposed to bacteria as toddlers are more prone to asthma and allergies. As sales of hand sanitizers have skyrocketed over the past decade, allergic disorders in children have doubled! Bottom line: It’s great to have healthy habits for personal hygiene and cleaning, but don’t overdo it because a little bacteria does a body good.