Scientists say that having guests over to your home can be good for your health. However, it is likely not for the reasons you suspect. In fact, researchers note that each house guest will emit 38 million bacterial cells into your home each hour they are present. Although it may sound disgusting on the surface, the scientists say it is actually beneficial to our health and can lead to an improved immune system.
The University of Chicago News reports that Jack A. Gilbert, UChicago associate professor in ecology & evolution and group leader for microbial ecology in the Biosciences Division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is encouraging people to expose themselves to the millions of bacteria that guests bring with them into a home. Gilbert says that we live in an “over-sanitized” environment that is obsessive about de-germing everything. However, exposure to many bacterial cells is good for the immune system, and over-sanitizing may lead to humans becoming weaker than their ancestors because we aren’t exposing ourselves to the plentiful bacteria around us.
“Nearly all of the germs graciously donated by our friends and family are not disgusting. They are probably good for us in many ways. Today’s environment is ‘over-sanitized,’ which may leave people weaker than their ancestors.”
In fact, Gilbert says that our over-sanitizing of our surroundings and decreased exposure to bacteria is paving the way for allergy, asthma, and hay fever epidemics. The professor notes that our ancestors were accustomed to encountering bacteria on a daily basis. From other humans to a wide variety of plant and animal bacteria, our ancestors evolved to expect these sorts of encounters on a daily basis. However, in our current sanitizing obsessed culture, we are no longer exposing ourselves to the numerous beneficial bacterias that are located throughout our environment in nature and in other human beings.
As a result of this lack of exposure, our bodies, which have evolved to expect bacteria encounters, “freaks out” and the result is asthma, hay fever, and allergies.
“Our ancestors experienced many different types of bacteria on a regular basis. When you live with such rich biodiversity, the body expects to see it and when it doesn’t, it freaks out, which is why we are seeing an explosion in allergies, asthma and hay fever. Our bodies are overreacting to the absence of these organisms.”
According to the Daily Mail, Gilbert is concerned about the indoor and sedentary lifestyle of many people today and says that it is causing our evolved immune systems to take steps backwards. He notes that many common practices, such as handshaking, kissing, and hugging to show affection, may actually have come about as a means to share our beneficial bacteria with one another and that we shouldn’t fear the 38 million bacteria that come along with human interactions. Instead, we should literally embrace them.
What do you think about the idea that we are no longer exposing ourselves to enough bacteria in the environment for proper immune system growth? Do you think that technology has contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle that is limiting human and environmental interactions negatively? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
[Image via AP/ Richard Drew]