Bacteria – Friend or Foe?

“Germaphobia”, hand sanitizer, pasteurization, sterilization, these are all common words in our society today. Did you know these practices and theories can actually cause disease?

Germs are microorganisms and some are indeed deadly, for example E. coli, salmonella, parasites and some fungi. But not all microorganisms harm humans. In fact, without some of them, we would die.

Before you write me off as crazy, consider the National Institutes of Health in 2008 awarded $115 million to researchers to study human microorganisms, The Human Microbiome Project (HMP). In May of this year, the “White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders”1 created the National Microbiome Initiative with a $121 million investment.

The HMP began after the Human Genome Project (completed in 2003) discovered that our DNA isn’t the only DNA in our bodies. The microorganisms that live in and on our bodies possess their own DNA.

For every one human cell, there are 10 microbial cells in your body!

“The Human Microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with the human body. These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria in an average human body number ten times more than human cells, for a total of about 1000 more genes than are present in the human genome. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of our body mass (that’s 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in a 200-pound adult). These microbes are generally not harmful to us, in fact they are essential for maintaining health. For example, they produce some vitamins that we do not have the genes to make, break down our food to extract nutrients we need to survive, teach our immune systems how to recognize dangerous invaders and even produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other disease-causing microbes. An ever-growing number of studies have demonstrated that changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous disease states, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.”2

Isn’t that crazy? Of course this changes everything.

Here’s why.

First, living in a bubble doesn’t teach your immune system the difference between good microorganisms and bad ones. Take a deep breath (I had to!) and get a little dirty. Should you still wash your hands with soap and water? Absolutely. Should you use hand sanitizer and kill 99.9% of germs. Not if it contains triclosan.3

I’ve actually stopped using hand sanitizer all together. When we go to public places we remember not to touch our faces with our hands. We wash our hands when we get home.

What if the flu is going around? Then I use alcohol based hand sanitizer when I get back in car.

Second, all plants have beneficial bacteria growing naturally on their skin. Before refrigeration, cultures developed fermentation. Fermentation is the art of preserving foods in their own liquids and bacteria. Within these fermentations live the very microorganisms we need to survive! Unfortunately, industrialization and modern food practices sterilize everything thus killing all the bacteria. This renders our packaged, canned and frozen foods devoid of valuable microbes.

The best way to reclaim these microbes – grow a garden. Pick ripe food straight from the plant, warm and delicious. No worrying about E. coli contamination from industrial feed lots in my own garden. When I buy produce, I simply use soap and water to wash.

Another way to reintroduce helpful microbes is to make your own fermented food. Books abound on the subject (more on this later). It takes a little know how but worth considering.

Third, get outside, barefooted. I stopped separating myself and my kid from the earth. God made it for us and the skin that protects our bodies.

I realize this goes against everything my generation learned. It has been difficult to change old habits and paradigms. But I challenge you to try. You’ll be healthier for it!


Photo Credit: Pixabay

6 thoughts on “Bacteria – Friend or Foe?

  1. Kaitlin

    What an insightful read! Thank you for all of the helpful information! My favorite suggestion is to meet the Earth with your feet! If it was socially acceptable to walk around barefoot EVERYWHERE, you better believe I would do it! I am barefoot all the time when I’m not in public. It’s the best way to live. Thanks for this awesome information, Dana!

    1. dana Post author

      Hi Kaitlin!
      I grew up a huge germaphobe! All of this new research has rocked my world, lol. So true though that planting your feet on the warm earth forces you to connect to it. My kid has embraced this idea and lives like you, barefoot unless in public places.

    1. dana Post author

      Hi Julie!
      This is such a fascinating topic to me. I plan on doing some book reviews soon for those who want to read up on the topic.

  2. Carolyn

    Great article on a long lost subject. Our forefathers knew this but somehow it got lost in the new age of discovery and invention. Ah, the simple pleasures of living are returning….flip flops, the perfect option for summertime public places! 🙂

    1. dana Post author

      Yes! I’m still wearing flip flops and Georgia mornings are 65 degrees now. Industrialization separated us from God’s Creation. I don’t want to give up my conveniences but there’s something to be said for simplicity.

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