To Be Sterile or Not So Sterile, That is the Question

MSNBC has a great article by Diane Mapes ragarding fad or trend. Little kids think it’s cool to have a tiny bottle of cleanser.  One woman is teased by her friends about always using antibacterial cleanser, now they all want a drop of her liquid.  Are we trying to be TOO clean? 

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4 Responses to To Be Sterile or Not So Sterile, That is the Question

  1. Anna says:

    In a word, yes. While conventional hygiene such as bathing, handwashing, and routine housekeeping is an effective tool in promoting wellness, going overboard and killing bacteria with a huge arsenal of strong chemicals could actually be doing damage, leaving us more vulnerable to truly harmful bacteria. There are about ten bacteria for every one of our human cells and they compose several pounds of body weight! It’s far better and more sustainable to learn to live well with bacteria than try to eliminate them (which is futile anyway).

    More useful is making sure that the various bacteria that live in and on us are maintained in a healthy, balanced manner, which will crowd out the excessive yeasts/fungi, pathogens and unbeneficials. Probiotic (pro-life) bacteria help digest food (making nutrients more bioavailable); they actually make some of the nutrients, such as Vit K and biotin; and they play an important role in our immune system (most harmfuls enter through the mouth & nose and end up in the GI tract), as well as play a role in protecting our skin from harmful bacteria. Without bacteria, we cannot survive, so trying to indiscriminately eliminate bacteria is like shooting oneself in the foot.

    The current Standard American Diet is so sterile, processed, pasteurized, and dead that it does not maintain a healthy gut bacteria population, leading to all sorts of minor and serious health issues, including allowing dangerous pathogens to proliferate due to non-competition. Our industrial food production systems further make us vulnerable to pathogenic contamination. In the past, people ate a wide variety of foods that promoted good gut populations and kept pathogens to a minimum, such as fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchee, naturally fermented pickles, etc.) but industrial food technologies have eliminated most of those sources of healthy bacteria from our food supply. Yogurt is one remaining source of a few strains of good bacteria, but so many processed, sweetened yogurts are practically useless in this regard. Factory farming (animal and plants) is a huge factor in the rise of harmful bacteria in our food supply.

    The key is to use tools that prudently minimize our risk of harmful bacteria taking hold on or in our bodies, but to also promote and help flourish the benficials that keep us strong and able to withstand the exposures to the harmful ones. Taking a one-sided approach never works for very long. Nature always prevails. We will lose that battle in the long run.

  2. jennifer400 says:

    Great post. Thanks for this. Do you recommend any books on the topic? I know Michael Pollan’s books.

  3. Anna says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I like Huffnagle’s book, The Probiotic Revolution, for the easiest way for the average person to understand the exciting research on probiotics and how to increase consumption of them with ordinary foods such as yogurt and probiotic supplements. He’s an innumology reseracher at Univ of Michigan, if I remember correctly (I have loaned out the book and can’t check).

    I also like Bacteria for Breakfast by Dr. Kelly Dowhower Karpa. That one is more research oriented and less about “how to”.

    Wild Fermentations by Sandor Katz is a more adventurous look at creating probiotics in your own kitchen (culturing, fermenting, etc.).

    Don’t be intimidated by making your own probiotic foods; the average prairie homesteader with perhaps just a few years education (if that) was able to do this with ease; it was a major food preservation technique prior to canning and refrigeration. Over the past year I’ve added raw milk, fresh raw goat cheese, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies, yogurt, creme fraiche, homemade red wine vinegar, and kombucha (fermented tea) to my kitchen activities. Mostly it is learning new habits and food prep rhythms, adoption new thought processes about how to stay well based on sound scientific info and historical tradition, and understanding how this stuff naturally works in nature, not new skills or a lot of fancy equipment.

    I also very much like Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, but that books is not, well, for the faint of heart; it is based on “traditional” nutrition (like your great-great grand mother and earlier generations would have cooked and eaten) and the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist who studied traditional diets around the world in the 1930s and compared them to “nutrient deficient Western diets”. This book does not agree with the much of the conventional nutrition advice from the “experts”. Several years ago, that book was given to me by a friend and it set me on a journey that still continues, and revolutionized how I view food, health, and conventional dietary advice. The more I looked, the more I found corraborating evidence for the positions in the book. While I do use many of the recipes, I often prefer other directions for the fermented recipes, such as Wild Fermentations, etc.

    If I were you, I would start with the first two or three books I mention. 🙂 They are the easiest to “digest”. Probotics are a hot topic in science right now. You probably seen the ads for commercial products just hoping to become the next big cash cow (Activia?). But you can do this without buying expensive proprietary commercial sugary Dannon products. Just keep in mind, people were eating probiotics like raw dairy, homemade cheese, fermented vegetables, homemade beer, wine, and vinegar, and more, for thousands of years, with far less resources than we have. You won’t screw it up without knowing it. Let me know how it goes.

  4. jennifer400 says:

    Thanks so much for all these book suggestions. Maybe over the holidays I can “digest” some of this.

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