Some people reckon we need dirt to be healthy. To be exposed to it, particularly when we’re kids – so it activates our immune systems, builds up our defences against infections in later life.
The hygiene hypothesis, it’s called – the notion that being obsessed with cleanliness is the trigger cause for allergies like hay fever, eczema and asthma.
Uh huh. Here’s a reality check, in case you were wondering – especially if you’re among the gung-ho keep-fit brigade.
We spend something like 90% of our time INDOORS.
So if you’re thinking good old-fashioned mud and grass and dew water, you’re already on short rations. Outdoors is so last Century.
Now Google “time spent indoors” and see how many hits you get for indoor air pollution, sick building syndrome, exposure to contaminants and all that how’s-yer-father?
Never normally think about it, huh?
Doesn’t even occur to us.
Stack the dishwasher, hoover the floors once a week, the odd bit of dusting – what’s the problem?
So where do we come with our usual colds, flu, tummy bugs and bits of us that go septic from mishaps doing stuff around the place?
And if we’re so healthy, how come we’re screaming up to the Doc every five minutes for yet another scrip load of antibiotics?
Healthy dirt? With the way most of our bodies are these days, one mouthful would put us in intensive care without even thinking about it. Six days on drips, digestive system up the pole, shaky and nauseous for weeks afterwards.
Norovirus and other friends
Exactly like a bad case of norovirus.
But we don’t need to eat dirt to catch that. Just eat something with our fingers without washing our hands – burger, fish and chips, kebabs, whatever. Well, our fingers LOOK clean, don’t they? How are we supposed to know there might be germs on the countertop, or desk, or telephone keypad, or wherever?
It’s a fact of life though, that there are. Everything everywhere, even our own bodies – is teeming with billions and billions of bacteria, inside and out. Our own gut is home to over 100 trillion of them – vital to helping us digest, and even keep our immune systems going.
And remember that Google search? The whole air around us is full of them as well. With the other usual suspects in any enclosed space – germs, chemicals, dead skin molecules, dust, all kinds of stuff. On our skin, breathed in, swallowed down to our innards.
Our own stuff and everybody else’s too – nicely cross-contaminated and hemmed in around us. Protected by the double glazing and insulation we need for ourselves. Kept alive by the central heating and our own unbelievably sloppy hygiene, it’s a wonder we’re not running to the Doc every day.
- 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly.
- 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after the loo.
- Only 12% of people wash their hands before eating.
Healthy dirt? Do us a favour! We’ve got all the germs we could want – literally at our finger tips.
Which means slightly more than just hoovering if we’re going to survive, right?
Our daily threat
Because every one of us today faces an increasingly deadly challenge to our health and we can’t afford to take chances any more. Our bodies are continuously under threat and we don’t even know it – every bit as lethal as smoking 60 a day and not giving a damn.
Twenty years ago even, and we stood a better chance. Our bodies were stronger, we were more resilient – and yes, we used to spend more time in the Great Outdoors. Before the couch potato existence of computer games, box-set binging and door-to-door pizza delivery.
Look at us now. Two thirds of us overweight or clinically obese. A third of our kids visibly overweight too. Ten ton porkers, all of us – what the hell’s happening?
Exposure to antibiotics is what. Our regular runs to the Doc, yes – but also daily in our food.
Because you see, twenty years ago is around the time that antibiotics took off Big Time as animal growth promoters on the farm.
Fat, fatter, fattest
Dose ’em up with every meal and cows get bigger in quarter of the time, and chickens, and pigs, and fish and everything – including vegetables and fruit and grain crops. El Dorado every day, better than winning the lottery.
Yeah, so cows get fat – but so do we. Ingesting the same growth promoting antibiotics drip, drip from everything we eat – laced through either directly from feed, or from richly nutrient and antibiotic laden manure used to fertilise everything and grow other feedstuffs.
Thing is though, that antibiotics don’t just make you fat. They work by killing bacteria, it’s what they’re designed to do. And inside your gut they kill good bacteria too – plus damage a few billion or so more that might be vitally needed for immune system work or simple house-keeping like regulating hunger.
We’re fat because antibiotics damaged our hunger control OFF switch – made us resistant to the leptin our own gut bacteria produces to tell us that we’ve eaten enough – just like the cows and pigs and sheep – dosed with 65,000 – 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics worldwide every year.
Itching, gasping, swelling up
There’s other damage too. Immune systems going nuts about conditions that aren’t there – glitched so they read phantom challenges, firing up the troops to fight infections that don’t exist. Otherwise known as allergies – asthma, rhinitis, food intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, hay fever, dust, mould, nuts, coeliac disease. How many were so widespread, twenty years ago?
OK, so our systems are weakened, we’re more at risk to dirt of any kind. Plus there’s all the downside that our being overweight epidemic brings – the slow road to an even unhealthier lifestyle.
- The number of people with diabetes in the UK has tipped the 4 million mark.
- Deaths from cancer in the UK in 2012 totalled 161,823.
- Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide – responsible for more than 73,000 deaths in the UK each year.
Yeah, the writing’s on the wall people. Hike up our hygiene levels seriously or we might not be around much longer. If there is such a thing as healthy dirt, we’re way too far gone to take advantage of it.
Scrub up, or else
Which means: wash our hands every opportunity we get. And keep washing. They might be clean momentarily – and then we go and touch something which isn’t.
Which takes us to the next step: sterilise the place so the germs are gone.
They can’t touch us if they’re not there. And we can take them out just by touching a button. Next second, our living space is misted up with dry all-penetrating hydrogen peroxide. Germs are oxidising to nothing on contact – in the air, on every surface, in ever nook and cranny.
Whew! Safe at last.
Now to get back outside and work some weight off.
Run, walk, cycle, swim – who needs TV?
Picture Copyright: diogoppr / 123RF Stock Photo