Clean Hands and Good Health
Why You Should Wash Your Hands
Science has been telling us for years to wash our hands and disinfect surfaces to prevent the spread of disease. With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and novel viruses, it’s more important than ever.
Our hands are hosts to millions of microbes. Most of these microbes are relatively harmless until they enter the body through an opening like a cut or the eyes and mouth.
One such bacteria is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This bacterial infection used to be found only in hospitals but is becoming more prevalent in other various places like schools.
MRSA is a type of staph infection that is resistant to most antibiotics, making it difficult to treat. It spreads through contact and can affect any part of the body.
Another potentially deadly bacteria that use hands as a middleman to spread is Clostridium difficile. C. diff is a bacteria found in feces that causes diarrhea. It’s estimated that 1 out of 11 people over the age of 65 dies within a month after contracting C. diff.
Viral infections are often transmitted through the air, but hands are an important link in the chain of transmission. Virus-laden droplets land on surfaces where they are picked up by hands and then brought to the mouth or eyes. Washing your hands can prevent the virus from entering the body and starting an infection.
If those are still not enough reasons, here are some other consequences of not frequently washing your hands with soap and water:
- Your kids miss school: Kids don’t wash their hands often enough. Teaching kids how to wash their hands may reduce absenteeism from gastrointestinal problems by 57%.
- You miss work: Flu costs America up to $7 billion each year because of sick days and unfinished work.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children under 5. Regularly washing your hands may prevent up to 4 out of 10 cases of diarrhea.
- Eye infections: 6 million Americans contract pinkeye each year. Bacterial eye infections can lead to blindness.
- Sepsis: This severe illness, where the body’s immune system turns on itself, affects 1.7 million Americans each year. When caring for a sick person, prevent sepsis by washing hands before and after contact.
- It costs you money: Americans spend upwards of $4 billion a year on flu treatment. This includes medicine, doctor visits, and hospitalization.
Cleaning and Gut Health
Cleaner is not necessarily better when it comes to the gut microbiome. We know antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria, and it’s the same for antibacterial cleaning products.
Is it really necessary to disinfect our hands and other surfaces with antibacterial soap? While there is no doubt that antibacterial soap has its uses, consider the impact it may have on the gut:
The Hygiene Hypothesis
According to the hygiene hypothesis, reduced exposure to bacteria is a significant factor in the rising incidents of allergies, asthma, and other diseases. Exposure to certain types of bacteria, especially during childhood, may help develop the immune system.
Looking at the gut microbiome of children, researchers noted children with Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria spp., didn’t have allergies. These types of bacteria may protect gut mucosal integrity and prevent immune-related conditions.
Most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan. This compound is also found in antiperspirants, toothpaste, and household cleaners.
A study found low doses of triclosan changed the composition of gut bacteria in rats. Another study found it altered microbial communications networks, leading to more negative interactions.
This means exposure to triclosan, even at low dosages, may alter the gut microbiome composition and dynamics.
Exposure to some bacteria is good for us. Killing all bacteria and non-pathogenic microbes with harsh chemicals may negatively impact our health.
3 Do’s and Don’ts of Washing Your Hands
Don’t: Overdo it
Washing hands too frequently dries out the skin and damages hands. Scrubbing too vigorously can also damage the skin.
This can lead to cracks and cuts which harbor more bacteria. Dry hands may spread more germs because skin flakes off, carrying bacteria with it.
How often should you wash your hands? That depends on different factors. A good guideline to follow is:
- Before and after preparing food
- It’s good practice to wash hands during food preparation as well, especially switching between types of food. For example, wash hands after handling meat.
- Before eating
- After using the restroom
- When you sneeze or cough
- After petting or playing with animals
- Wash hands more frequently if you or someone in your household is sick.
Do: Use hand lotion
This is especially important during winter when hands are prone to more dryness. Hand lotion prevents skin from cracking and flaking off.
Don’t: Use harsh chemical cleaners
Harsh chemicals may wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. Look for natural alternatives that will kill germs but won’t harm beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Do: Get out in nature
Country dwellers have a more diverse gut microbiome than their city counterparts. Work in the garden and play outside with your children to get exposure to more beneficial microbes.
Beneficial microorganisms will help prevent infections in the future.
Washing your hands regularly is a simple yet effective way to protect yourself and others from infection. Washing hands the right way can break the chain of transmission and protect the balance of the gut microbiome.
Have any more questions about health and washing your hands? Ask us in the comment section below!