Too hygienic to be healthy?

Too hygienic to be healthy?

Too hygienic to be healthy?

Falling sick because of unhygienic conditions is a common problem, but going overboard with hygiene-related practices - like using hand sanitisers, antibacterial soaps, disinfectant detergents, anti-microbial floor cleaners etc. can also make you susceptible to diseases. Recent studies say that people are contracting an array of allergies – skin infections, respiratory problems and stomach disorders because of ‘overdoing hygiene.’

A recent survey by Michigan School of Public Health found that children overexposed to Triclosan – the germ killing chemical present in antibacterial soaps - may be at increased risk of hay fever and other allergies. Doctors say this supports the famous ‘Hygiene hypothesis’ which states that eliminating all germs and bacteria by maintaining ‘excessive hygiene’ makes the immune system complacent and weak. 
 
Dr Shubnum Singh, chief of medical affairs, Max Healthcare says, “Bacteria in small doses is actually good for the body. Our immune system reacts to germs in two ways – initial reaction and memory reaction. The former is feeble but the latter – based on the system’s former encounters with the same germ – is stronger. But if you eliminate all germs from your body, how will the immune system build a defence against it?”
“Unfortunately,” she adds, “The burgeoning healthcare industry is hell bent on having us believe that unless we use hand sanitisers, Triclosan containing soaps, detergents, dishwashing liquids, shaving creams, floor cleaners etc., we are bound to fall sick. This is when the fact is that washing one’s hands with plain soap and water is sufficient.”      
Not just this, Triclosan has also been found to help bacteria develop newer and stronger strains. This is said to have caused a sharp spurt in cases of allergies and auto-immune diseases in American cities. Many studies have come up on this subject and the effects of Triclosan on the body are being closely looked at.

Dr Anup Thakur, paediatrician, Columbia Asia hospital says, “There is a reason why Western tourists fall ill so easily in India. They live in such sterilised environs back home that even mild bacteria, which Indians tolerate easily, cause their bodies to react violently. We see the same problem in Gurgaon today. So many children suffer allergies here because their homes are absolutely spic and span. The moment they move out, germs grip their body.”   

So what is the possible solution? Dr Rajiv Kumar Erry, chief of internal medicine, Fortis Research Institute, says, “It is good to maintain hygiene but overdoing anything is not good. Use plain soap unless the doctor recommends an antibacterial one. Hand sanitisers are also not necessary. If not Triclosan, the drying quality of soaps will create cracks in the skin and facilitate entry of germs. What’s the point of overusing soaps then?”

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