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You Need to Eat a Peck of Dirt Before You Die

So said my grandmother…so it MUST be true.  ;-)

Of course, not everyone agrees with that philosophy.  Yesterday I happened to catch about half of an episode of “The Doctors” that was themed “Is This Really Bad For Me?”  If you believe the esteemed Dr’s, not only is double dipping taboo (which I agree with just on the “GROSS” grounds, but have less bacterial concern); its a serious health concern, right up there with the “5 second rule” and using finger nail polish while pregnant.

Wait…I’m a childbirth instructor AND a chemist, I worked with many of the chemicals that are in nail polish.  And I’ve never heard that you should be concerned about painting nails while pregnant.  In fact, I did it while I was waiting for labor to set in with Katie

Not that I think the chemicals in nailpolish are completely safe.  No, I don’t.  Reasonable precautions should be taken by anyone using a product with volatile organic compounds–use it in a well ventilated space.  But quantities do matter.  Even water can kill you if you drink enough of it–and there are traces of cyanide in apple seeds, and yet they don’t kill you if you eat them.  I have trouble really believing the amount of nailpolish one might get on ones skin would result in enough chemicals absorbing into the body to have any toxic effects.

The Dr’s really tore into the “5 second rule”–that is, eating food that has fallen on the floor–even if it only was on the floor for 5 seconds!  They pointed out that studies show that foods that have fallen on the floor have a higher bacteria count than foods that haven’t.  Likewise, they shamed “double dipping” (which again, I do think is gross–spoon some dip onto your own private plate for goodness sake!) due to increased bacteria counts.

So let me get this straight…the same doctors who want us to inject a live virus (certain vaccines) into an infant to develop immunity, are freaking out over what might be on my kitchen floor?

I do wonder if as a culture we have become too “germ phobic?”  I have trouble finding hand soap that *isn’t* antibacterial, and I make it a priority to find that because I’m concerned about antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Many products are now marketted as being antibacterial.  My kids’ elementary school requests that children keep hand sanitizers at their desks to “reduce sick days” (none of my kids have ever missed more than 2 days of school in a single school year even before the hand sanitizer policy). 

Could it be that being exposed to a certain level of bacteria acts like a vaccine, building immunity toward stronger illnesses?  I once had a co-worker who told me that he was glad that his kids caught colds while they were toddlers/preschoolers, because they didn’t get sick often when they hit school age and it was more important that they be ”well.” 

It seems that I’m not the only one that is thinking this way.   Craig Weatherby over at Vital Choices asks if American children’s overly sterile surroundings and overprotective parents may pose dangers to their health?”  He proposes that “excessively clean environments and lack of outdoor play may be partly to blame for the rise in allergies and asthma in recent years.”  The folks at the New York Times actually suggest that children’s desire to put things–even very dirty things–into their mouths may have an evolutionary advantage.  Immunologist Dr. Mary Ruebush writes in her book “Why Dirt is Good“:

 To read the news headlines or to watch any TV commercials, you’d think that the only thing standing between you and death by some horrible new disease…is the germ-killing power of some miraculous cleaning product.  Actually, what keeps most people healthy most of the time is the amazing ability of your body to keep infection out to begin with….All that cleaning doesn’t protect you nearly as well as your own body can.

Hmmmm…imagine that.  Simply being exposed to a germ does not doom you to illness!  If someone is reasonably healthy, they can fight off most common illnesses.  Which I guess explains why my husband and I both recently got fairly bad colds from our then 5 month old Sophia (we don’t get enough sleep to maintain good immune systems), but none of our 4 older children caught a cold.

Of course we do take what I consider to be “reasonable precautions” around our house when it comes to germ transmission–we aren’t just wallowing in each other’s germiness.

But what are “reasonable precautions?”  Well…despite the dire warnings on The Doctors, the “5 second rule” is alive and well in my house…and its probably more like 30 seconds.  Tight budgets mean that I’m not above scraping meat off my kids’ plates into a leftover container to eat for lunch the next day.  And I didn’t miss a beat when Sean picked up an interesting black item off the sidewalk today and said “what is this Mommy?”  “A dried up earthworm.”  (Don’t worry, he didn’t stick it into his mouth…and just in case you wondered…if you are a guest in my home you will not be served recycled or dropped food.)

BUT…even 5 year old Sean will remind anyone who sneezes near him to “cover your mouth” (with your arm if you don’t have a tissue–you are less likely to touch something with your germy arm prior to washing it than if you had sneezed into your hand), all my kids know to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” while handwashing to get a thorough wash.  And we don’t eat food that has fallen onto dirt…and I certainly wouldn’t eat something that had fallen on a hospital floor–a scenario posed by one of “The Doctors.”  We use separate cutting boards for meats & veggies, and wash hands after handling raw meat.

On a related topic, there is a very good discussion of the whole “Swine Flu” situation over at Mercola.com, and another at Junk Food Science that reveals that the toddler in Texas who died of swine flu had actually been air lifted into Texas from Mexico, and had under-lying health concerns.

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Posted in Home 5 years, 5 months ago at 1:00 am.

2 comments

2 Replies

  1. This is my philosophy, too. And I recently read that part of the problem — particularly with diseases like MRSA — is that we are “too clean”. When we use antibiotics that kill common (and typically fairly harmless) germs, what we are doing is basically giving the really nasty germs a clear pathway to infect us. Essentially, the “common cold” viruses and bacteria — as well as the good bacteria — serve to keep the population of the really nasty germs down to a manageable level, because in reality, the real bad guys can’t stand up to common germs. But when all the common germs are gone, there is no resistance from anywhere, so the bad guys can proliferate and take over the body. Here’s an article that goes into it more in depth.

  2. Interesting take on things Kathy! I agree that it makes sense, and found the article that you linked to be very thought provoking. Thank you!


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