Hand Sanitizers: Do you need them?

It feels good to be clean, but nothing beats getting dirty.

In a way, that’s seems to be the American dilemma, we try as best we can to have it both ways. But the American media and especially advertising has suggested that the only option is to clean everything in sight, and several places we can’t see.

I’ve been a bystander during this social change, opting to use soap and water, but the tide changed when I was working out and got a nasty look from a woman who made a big display of wiping down my hamstring machine after I was done. The situation was so awkward that I felt compelled to travel over to the dispenser and get the “court ordered” hand wipe, to allay my guilt. But then I had second thoughts. Thoughts solidly based on recent research with gut bacteria and autoimmunity.

The intellectual realization that a diverse bacterial community in your intestines is a health requirement has finally arrived but the reality is, we are still afraid of germs in a big way. We take every opportunity to kill the organisms on our outsides and insides and ignoring the recent evidence directing us to be more conservative with our sterilizing attempts.

We all know that antibiotics are tremendously over prescribed and this results in intestinal damage, immune dysfunction and spread of resistant super bugs. As it turns out, hand sanitizers and hand wipes aren’t that good for you either. The surface of our skin and especially the hands is teaming with bacteria, all jockeying for the position to live on you. New evidence suggests that good skin bacteria protect humans from pathogenic invaders and help boost the immune system.

Some bacteria such as Staphylococcus epidermis makes substances called anti-microbials that can kill harmful bacteria.

The skin bacteria Propionibacterium acnes use certain fats in the skin to generate short-chain fatty acids that can ward off microbial threats. In addition, they help your immune system to heal wounds and decrease inflammation by secreting Lipoteichoic acid a substance that prevents inflammatory chemical release from skin cells.

Unfortunately, your hand sanitizer that is used to kill more harmful bugs will also wipe out the friendly bacteria too.

While it is probably true that sanitizers are helpful in an acute hospital setting where there is a high proportion of active and virulent germs, the use of them in most more normal setting is much over done. There are even schools in the US that require that children carry and use bottles of hand sanitizers, an action that impedes the development of their digestive and immune systems. This assumption that all germs are bad or at least that killing the bad germs has no deleterious affects on the good ones is simplistic and wrong.

As Michael Pollan, a well known American author, and professor at UC Berkeley, put it, in his article Some of My Best Friends Are Germs.

… as a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota with a multifronted war on bacteria and a diet notably detrimental to its well-being. Researchers now speak of an impoverished “Westernized microbiome” and ask whether the time has come to embark on a project of “restoration ecology” — not in the rain forest or on the prairie but right here at home in the human gut.”

There are other cautions to hand sanitizers as well. In a recent article in the Canadian Medical Journal, 161 long-term care facilities were surveyed showing an association between the use of alcohol based hand sanitizers and increased outbreaks of norovirus, the highly infectious virus that causes most of the cases of acute gastroenteritis a severe intestinal infection. The staff in those facilities where the outbreaks were found, were six times more likely to use hand sanitizers than soap and water. This happens because the natural antimicrobial effects of good bacteria were prevented from controlling those virial outbreaks.

Other studies have indicated that hand sanitizers are simply ineffective for viruses like norovirus and rotavirus. (Appl Environ Microbiol 2010; 76:394–399 and Appl Environ Microbiol 2008;74:5047–52).

In fact, the Center for Disease Control recommends against using hand sanitizers as a substitute for soap and water.

Lastly, there is the problem of sanitizers increasing the transport of toxins across the skin into the body. A very recent study shows that using hand sanitizers increases Bisphenol-A or BPA absorption when handling receipts by 185 times. BPA you might have heard, is a chemical common in plastic containers, food cans and receipts printed on thermal papers, that can mimic estrogen. It’s linked with a wide range of diseases including infertility and miscarriage in woman and reduced libido and sperm quality in men. It can also alter thyroid function, impair learning and cause inflammation. This study found that it only took 2 seconds to get a 40% of maximal dose. This happens because additives in the sanitizers will help chemicals penetrate through the skin.

The good news here is that scientists have figured out a way to reduce the frequency that people get sick by 40 percent! Wash your hands with soap and water. That’s right, It’s not fancy but considering one half of Americans don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom it could make a huge difference the transmission of disease. There is no need for a mystery salve, a special wipe or a heavily marketed spritz. So if you’re not in the hospital at this moment, soap and water is all you need. Well … that and plenty of exposure to old fashioned natural dirt.

To keep all your bacteria happy, you might try some of the following options

  • Don’t overuse cleaning chemicals to sanitize your home
  • Reduce your intake of sugars and starches
  • Start gardening. The dirt exposure will be a great help
  • Eat more fermented foods
  • Keep antibiotics to an absolute minimum

If you are interested in additional information about natural ways to solve your IBS problem, please visit our site and subscribe to make sure you are getting all our updates and new videos as they come online. And if you would like to work with me personally, you can let me know there too so that we can get that set up as soon as possible.

Heath is on the way.


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