There are a few ideas I’ve been toying with to do with how overt cleanliness is more closely linked with anxiety or desire for control and the effect this is having on our physical and mental health. It’s an extremely complicated area and there are so many variables at play that it is certainly difficult to unravel them from one another – so why unravel? Let’s look at the whole mess and see where we end up!
We live in a society that values cleanliness – I mean, we’ve all heard that “cleanliness is next to godliness”, right? There is also the obsession with ‘clean’ eating (which is not strictly the same kind of clean, but funnily enough also ties into the same areas of anxiety, desire for control and need to eliminate all ‘bad’ things from ones life). So why is it that we are living longer, yet the quality of our lives (especially in the last few decades) is plummeting? Increased rates of allergies and intolerances are certainly popping up in my clinic, but is it all down to better diagnostic techniques or is there something more to it?
Where antimicrobial gels and sanitisers were once only used in hospitals and labs, they are now staples in many handbags, nappy bags and backpacks. In Australian society, showering morning and night (or even more often!) using surprisingly harsh products is widely accepted, despite the massive amount of water used and detergent run-off damaging our water systems – those who shower less often or with minimal detergents are seen as inherently dirty and somehow even unvirtuous. The use of bleach or ammonia based cleaning products is standard in many homes, yet we still seem to be getting sicker.
Is the obsession with super-clean homes and bodies starting to kill us? Not only are we avoiding useful triggers in building a healthy immune system, increasing rates of allergies and adverse reactions to innocuous triggers (the hygiene hypothesis of allergy), but the massive rise in the use of chemically based anti-microbials in cleaning supplies and personal care products (as opposed to primarily mechanical cleaning using plain soap and water) is not only wiping out the bacteria in your home, but also on your skin and potentially in your gut.
Why is this important?
Coupled with the overuse of antibiotics, we are losing our most important companions – our bacteria. The bacteria that we have in our gut and throughout our bodies are essential for so many processes, from aiding digestion to producing Vit K to even modulating mental health. By destroying the delicate balance of microbes in and around us, we are perhaps doing far more harm than good. ‘Fixing’ a broken microbiome is not a quick and easy task, taking months or years to repair damage to a multitude of systems. Perhaps minimising the damage in the first place would be a far better (and more sustainable) option.