Updated: Apr 25
A few years back, I came across an interesting study about excessive cleaning products and their link to obesity in childhood. In fact, I even wrote up a short blog post that you can read here.
It seemed that the world was finally starting to understand the consequences of our over clean, under germed, lifestyle.
And then came COVID.
When the COVID crisis started, you couldn't find any hand sanitizer and wipes in stores.
Prices on the internet were outrageous, due to price gougers and unscrupulous opportunists.
And even if you ordered hand sanitizer online, there was no guarantee that you would even get it in a reasonable time.
As a side note: I knew of someone who ordered masks in March and didn't receive them until well into May (but that's another story altogether).
The world, caught in the clutches of this new and deadly virus, forgot about that revealing 2018 Canadian study as gut health became less important than survival.
When COVID was first introduced to the world, we all saw it as the scary monster, the medical boogey man, the foretold pandemic, and the unknown virus that would ravage the world.
Four months later, we are starting to get used to a "new normal" of hand sanitizing, masks, and disinfecting everything we touch.
While many would say that this is a good thing, I'm not so sure that I would agree.
After all, humanity has faced viruses of pandemic proportions before and we survived, albeit at great cost.
So why would not using hand sanitizer after everything you touch be a good idea?
It all comes down to our gut.
As research gives us a deeper understanding of our own physiology, it has become increasingly evident that our gut microbiome plays a crucial role in overall health.
A healthy gut microbiome is needed for digestion and breakdown of otherwise indigestible substances like fiber to create short chain fatty acids as an energy source for our gut mucosa.
A healthy gut microbiome is needed for protection against nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections like Clostridium difficile induced diarrhea.
A healthy gut microbiome is needed for a healthy liver and protection against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is common in people with Down syndrome .
A healthy gut microbiome is needed to maintain a healthy mood .
A healthy gut microbiome is even now being studied for cardiovascular health with focus on bacteria found in the stool of vegans that prevented a plaque depositing metabolite from forming from dietary phosphatidylcholine intake, for goodness sakes !
And maybe, the most understated function of the gut microbiome during the COVID crisis, is to keep your immune system healthy, thriving even.
I believe that this is where we, as a society basing our decisions on fear of the unknown, continues to make a big mistake.
You see, your gut microbiome, when healthy and diverse, gives your immune system a huge boost.
A lack of diversity in the gut microbiome, meaning less numbers of beneficial bacteria in a range of species and more of the same species of harmful bacteria, has been linked to allergies, asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, and diabetes .
And disinfecting everything isn't helping.
In fact, disinfecting everything may be destroying our gut microbiome and our body's natural defenses, making us pay a higher cost than expected.
Research is starting to show that constant disinfectant use may be more harmful to our health than helpful.
For example, weekly disinfectant use, in the form of sprays (think spray cans), was found to exacerbate asthma in adults . Even typical household cleaning like dish washing, toilet cleaning, and doing the laundry was associated with higher BPA (Bisphenol A) metabolites in the urine of healthy adults .
BPA is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins. It has been in use since the 1960s and has been linked to male and female infertility, early onset puberty, PCOS, and breast and prostate cancers .
Is the constant use of disinfectants and cleaning supplies really keeping us from getting sick or is it making us sicker?
For example, hand sanitizer use has increased substantially since the onset of the COVID crisis.
In the first 5 months of 2020, over 9500 cases of alcoholic hand sanitizer exposure in children under the age of 12 was reported by the American Association of Poison Control Center .
In fact, the frequent (read excessive) use of hand sanitizers has been identified as one of the causes of the breakdown of the integumentary (skin) barrier which was made to protect us from infection.
Excessive hand sanitizer use further compromises your skin by increasing its permeability and potentially allowing in harmful bacteria and other viruses like the noro-virus. Excessive hand sanitizer use has also been linked to anti-microbial resistance.
Do you remember our old friend BPA?
Hand sanitizer has been linked to an increase in BPA absorption through the skin from rather mundane items like grocery store receipts .
We've already seen that increasing disinfectant use leads to a less diverse microbiome and obesity and we know that anti-microbials like triclosan (removed from antibacterials soaps through FDA ruling in 2016) has been linked to gut microbiome disturbances, colonic inflammation, endocrine disruption, antibiotic resistance, and tumor formation .
What about the other disinfecting agents that we don't know about, the one we haven't yet studied?
Triclosan, first created as a pesticide, has been in use since the 1960s and data about it's dangerous effects is just now coming to light through research.
What if other disinfectants are just as harmful but we just don't know it yet?
Am I saying that you shouldn't be cautious and hygienic when it comes to protecting yourself and your family from SARS-Cov-2 (or any virus for that matter)?
Not at all!
But when it comes to excessive use of hand sanitizers and disinfectants, there has to be a better way.
And I think that 2018 study from the CMAJ held the answer. The study found that frequent use of disinfectants led to obesity in children but the same effects weren't seen with eco-friendly products.
Using bleach or hydrogen peroxide responsibly can kill SARS-CoV-2 without the need to use hand sanitizers excessively. Proper social distancing and hygiene, i.e. proper hand washing with soap and water can also help to kill the the virus without constantly disinfecting everything around you.
A list of the EPA approved disinfectants for SARS-CoV-2 can be found here.
And of course, keeping your immune system healthy with vitamins, minerals, antiviral herbs, lots of exercise, fresh air, and sleep is the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID19.