The foundation of an immune system is, of course, a good diet of real, whole, traditional foods rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and probiotics. With a diet of real food and a healthy gut a child's immune system can take on just about anything.
But the fastest way to short circuit this super immunity is to over sterilize them and their environments.
Out of a fear that has been thrust upon us by companies who produce bleach and cleansers and soaps and sanitizers we have been tricked into fearing every germ and microbe. But we can't avoid them. Did you know that there are more bacteria in your body than your own cells? That bacteria covers every surface, including our skin? Germ theory is exactly that- a theory. While it established the existence of bacteria and the fact that they cause disease, it viewed the world as a place full of hostile bacteria, out to attack us. The truth is that bacteria is everywhere, incuding inside of us, and that most of it is beneficial to our system. The "world" of bacteria is not out to get us- it works with us. Only when our system is upset, something is missing from our diet, or we are otherwise compromised that bacteria can take hold and make us sick.
We have so had this theory drilled into us, though, that sanitation and hygeine is the norm. We spray/scrub/wipe our walls, our floors, our surfaces, our skin daily, and to what end?
To this end- we both dry out the skin and upset the acidic mantle that protects it. We weaken our childrens' immune systems. And we create superbugs.
The skin's acid mantle is an often overlooked and underrated defense against infection. The surface of the skin, when not stripped by soaps, surfactants, and cleansers, is naturally acidic. This acidic coating protects the skin from bacteria, most of which require and alkaline environment to survive. But when we shower daily and regularly scour our hands and arms with harsh soaps we damage that defense. Obviously you still need to wash your hands before handling food, after handling raw meat, and any time your hands may have come in contact with fecal material. But go easy the rest of the time, and consider skipping the daily shower.
I can hear your complaining already- "my hair gets greasy if I don't wash it." Mine used to, too. "I just don't feel right until I shower in the morning." You'll get over it. Daily bathing is a purely modern and purely American thing. And it is bad for us, and bad for our water supply. Wanna know why your hair gets greasy when you don't wash it daily? Because you wash it daily. But that may be a post for another day- right now we're talking about bacteria. Trust me, try showering every other day instead of daily and in a few weeks you skin and hair will be thanking you.
Over sterilizing the environment can also damage our childrens' immune systems. Many studies have shown that children who grow up on farms, exposed daily to the bacteria associated with livestock and the unavoidable dirt, have significantly fewer cases of allergies, asthma, and hay fever, as well as other childhood illnesses. Children with pets have also been shown to have stronger immune systems that children who haven't been exposed regularly to animals. Why is this? Animals have germs. Lots of them. And no matter how much you sanitize, if you have pets or livestock, you will come into contact with these germs, and frequently. Your pets track them in and out of the house, or you track them in. Therefore, your children come into contact with these germs, challenging and improving their immune systems. Conversely, if you kill (or most, because you can't kill all) the germs in their environment, their immune system goes unchallenged, resulting in seasonal allergies, food allergies, asthma, and other immune disorders.
But most importantly and potentially most dangerously, the very products that we use to sterilize our environment can create the most dangerous strains of bacteria- the antibiotic resistant strains, or super bugs. Triclosan, probably THE most prominent germicide used in soaps, sanitizers, and sprays, has been linked several times in clinical trials to development of resistant strains of the exposed bacteria. And most disturbingly, Benzalkonium Chloride, the active ingredient in Lysol, an ingredient both the company and the FDA have repeatedly defended as completely safe, has been shown to cause mutation of bacterial strains to become resistant to multiple antibiotics.
So what happens when we create these super bugs? We create bacteria that are potentially resistant to both the disinfectants and the antibiotics we use in hospitals, where we NEED to use them to protect the weak. People die from infections despite our technological advances. While my primary concern is the safety of my children (whom I choose to protect by NOT sanitizing), I am also concerned for those who are ill and infirm and who need our protection. They don't need us to create crazy super bacteria out of fear of germs.
I threw out my last can of Lysol in the middle of potty training my first child. Yep, you read that right- in the middle of potty training. She was still pooping in a little plastic potty when I stopped. It took a huge leap of faith and a huge change of mindset, but I was pregnant and had a toddler, and was learning more and more about the possible dangers of the status quo. That isn't to say I didn't clean up her messes (actually, she often cleaned up her messes...). For the very worst stuff, like anything involving poop on any surface outside the potty chair, I used full strength white vinegar followed by peroxide (both in spray bottles- just make sure you keep peroxide in an dark colored bottle, not a clear one, as it is damaged by light. For everything else I use vinegar, sometimes with some essential oils, sometimes not. And I still do. And no one has died. In fact, the few times we've had stomach illnesses (since I brought up toileting) they were always easily linked to sources outside of our home.
Can you take that same leap of faith for the good of your kids?
This post has been shared at the Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania, Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday, and Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday.