Scientists think that we do need germs for immunity. Americans have gotten so hung up on germs that we are killing all the germs and microbes that are necessary to develop a good immune system. Could it be time to do away with paper products, the antiseptic mouthwash and sanitizers that we use so freely and go back to soap, soda and vinegar to clean our homes as we did in the last century. What do you think?
Do We Need Germs for Immunity?
Germ consciousness has been hammered so deeply in the American psyche that much money has been made from this perception. In 1908, a Swiss chemist invented a flexible cellulose film that was acquired by the Du Pont Company. They named it cellophane. To the public this meant germ protection. Cellophane ads warned of the dangers of, flies, fingers, and germy food. These ads soon appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping. The Cellophane Radio Show featuring the etiquette expert Emily Post, aired in the morning just before housewives went shopping, and guess who filled their carts with cellophane.
In the 1920s Listerine made it’s appearance, named after John Lister who introduced antisepsis into surgery. Their ad featured a young woman whose hopes for a happy marriage was ruined because of halitosis, which the ad represented as a terrible condition caused by bacteria in the mouth. Listerine could help one avoid being, “always the bridesmaid and never a bride” Listerine was also recommended as a handwash to kill 17 germs carried by the hands. One ad warned mothers that they would hesitate to bathe or feed their babies if they could see the germs on their hands under a microscope. The company, of course advised washing the hands in Listerine. Sales went from $100,000 in 1920 to $4 million just seven years later.
Germ consciousness also paved the way for all the paper products made today. In 1935, paper cup manufactures warned of the dangers of unsterile drinking glasses and china which could be avoided by using paper cups and plates.
Today a growing number of researchers are saying that our increasing separation from dirt and microbes carries a serious price to pay, and may be killing us. They call it the hygiene hypothesis. The idea is that too much cleanliness is bad, and we need germs. Throughout human life we have lived with dirt and microbes since the moment we were born. Our immune system evolved pathways to protect us. If these pathways are removed (as they are being removed today with all this cleanliness) our whole immune system will backfire.
Scientists give as an example, if a child grows up without love and affection, it’s brain cells fail to make the right connections and the infant grows up mentally impaired. In the same way, our immune system will fail to develop properly, if it isn’t given the challenges it requires from birth. Scientists have noticed that in large families children have a lower rate of illness. They think it could be because older siblings bring more germs into the household and because of that fact, children develop a better immune system. It used to be that if one child had measles, neighbors children were brought in and exposed to it. When one child had a contagious disease they could be sure of plenty of company. Now we keep our children away from contagious disease. A reversal of what out parents did.
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