Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anti-Bacterial Everything

A recent NYTimes article spoke to something I've believed for a long time - that the proliferation of anti-bacterial products - hand-creams, cleansers, fabrics, etc... is not good for us.

For two reasons:

The first and obvious one is that just as the proliferation of antibiotics use has created strains of drug resistant bacteria, so the proliferation of these anti-bacerials is creating anti-bacterial resistant bacteria.

The second - that we probably need a bit of dirt in our environment to properly develop our immune defenses. Children who are raised in too sterile an environment may develop immune deficiencies including a difficulty in fighting disease, but also a proliferation of auto-immune diseases, such as allergies.

I'd say that the empirical evidence may even back up these ideas. We don't seem to be any healthier (measured by days of being under the weather) than we've been before, and we certainly seem to be developing more allergies.

Anecdotally, I remember once being told that Polio was a disease that was almost unheard of before the 20th century. The reason being that Polio is a disease that doesn't cause any harm if it's acquired in the first three months of life. And before the 20th century, the general level of filth ensured that almost all babies did acquire it in those first three months. It was only with increased sanitation that many children were not exposed to Polio early enough, and when they did encounter it at a later age, it caused paralisis, and was sometimes even lethal. No, I'm not recommending that we go back to 19th century sanitation levels, but we may be going too far in the other direction.


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