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Pushing Back on America’s Dangerous War on Germs

By Kim Robson:

Why don’t kids get to play in the dirt anymore? Who remembers making mud pies? In this age of hand sanitizing gel everywhere and anti-microbial everything, we seem to be sicker than ever. Want healthier, happierkids with robust immune systems? Let them play in the dirt! Good, clean dirt from a garden or forest helps strengthen our immune systems.

Dr. Richard L. Gallo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics, chief of UCSD’s Division of Dermatology and the dermatology section of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, explains:

“The so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ first introduced in the late 1980s, suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents and microorganisms increases an individual’s susceptibility to disease by changing how the immune system reacts to such ‘bacterial invaders.’

“We used to think that children who grew up on farms were healthier than children in urban environments because they were exposed to more microbes. But studies have found that the number of bacteria in urban environments and on farms is similar. The difference is the diversity of the bacteria. Microbial diversity seems to have a very powerful impact. Children’s immune systems are very social: they like to meet and greet a lot of things. It seems the more they meet and greet, the more likely they are to be in balance, and the less likely they are to let any one microorganism grow out of control, as occurs with infection.”

In addition to kids not spending enough time outdoors, we’re also obsessively over-cleansing ourselves and our homes. We’re not suggesting that you live in a pigsty, but do get rid of harsh toxic cleansers and antibacterial soaps that depress our immune systems. We want to clean our homes, not render them as sterile as operating rooms.

Avoid These:

  • Antibacterial hand gel
  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Liquid soap (as opposed to bar soap)
  • Bleach-based cleansers and toilet pucks
  • Harsh chemical cleansers (Good rule of thumb: if you have to open a window or wear gloves to use it, don’t.)

Alternatives:

  • Bakingsoda (Cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours)
  • Table salt (Scours)
  • Distilled white vinegar (Cuts grease, deodorizes, removes mildew and stains)
  • Olive oil (Protects wood and leather)
  • Natural soap without petroleum distillates (I recommend Bronner’sorganic fair trade castile liquid soap. It’s nontoxic and biodegradable, giving it the distinction of being one of the few soaps allowed for use in U.S. National Parks)
  • Lemon juice (A powerful acid, it kills most household bacteria and smells great)
  • Borax(Cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans walls and floors)
  • Essential oil of Tea Tree (Natural antiseptic, antifungal, and disinfectant)
  • Essential oil of Lavender (Gentle antiseptic and antibacterial, safe for expectant mothers; can be applied directly to minor burns and scrapes)

A Few Recipes:

All-Purpose Cleanser: Mix ½ cup vinegar and ¼ cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons Borax) into ½ gallon water. Store and keep for general use, especially on showers, chrome fixtures, windows, and mirrors.

All-Purpose Disinfectant: Mix 2 cups water, a couple drops of natural soap, and 15 drops each of Tea Tree and Lavender essential oils. Spray on any home surfaces as you see fit: changing tables, cutting boards, countertops, phones, keyboards, door handles, walls, sinks, toilets. Not good for glass, as it will streak. This formula is so safe and gentle that you literally could spray it right on your kids.

Mold Fighter: Mix 2 cups water with three drops of Tea Tree essential oil. Spray walls and surfaces weekly and wipe dry. For problem areas, mix one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water, then spray onto mold. Let sit at least one hour before rinsing.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Spray with equal parts vinegar and lemon juice, then sprinkle on baking soda. Let sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing with toilet brush. Two parts Borax to one part lemon juice will also work.

Did You Know?

Toxic chemicals in everyday household cleaning products poison, disfigure and injure millions of people every year, sometimes fatally, and account for 8.6 percent of all poison exposures. Just combining bleach and ammonia creates a deadly gas! Most cleansers never have been tested for combined or accumulated toxicity, or for their effects on unborn children. In fact, the National Research Council states that “no toxic information is available for more than 80% of the chemicals in everyday-use products. Less than 20% have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic, reproductive or mutagenic effects.”

In a study published by theEuropean Respiratory Journal, which tracked over 7,000 families, researchers found that children of expectant mothers who’d been highly exposed to cleaning products had up to a 41 percent increase in risk of asthma and persistent wheezing, and had lower than normal lung function.

When the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976, 62,000 chemicals were allowed to remain on the market without testing for their effects on health or the environment. In over 30 years, the EPA has required testing of approximately only 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated only five. The rest never have been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment. For the 22,000 chemicals introduced into commerce since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts. To learn more about the Safe Chemicals Act, click here.

Don’t be afraid of a little good, clean dirt. Do avoid city dirt, which may be contaminated with oil, grease, soot or chemicals; or lawns and parks that may be sprayed with pesticides. Let’s get filthy! One great thing about kids: they’re fully washable.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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