Nix the antibacterial soaps. Forget the hand sanitizers, antibiotic gels, sprays, and baby blankets. Research shows that antibacterial products actually make children and adults more likely to develop asthma and allergies and maybe even mental illnesses. The study from Colorado State University suggests that our love affair with antibacterial products is altering how immune, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems develop and function. Infection may play a significant role in many chronic aliments, including schizophrenia, ulcers, and obsessive compulsive disorder. What many people may not realize is that most infections ensure our health instead of compromise it. Humans have 10 times more bacterial cells in their bodies than human cells. Without bacteria, there would not be humans. Gerald Callahan, who studies bacteria and infectious diseases at Colorado State University, points out that there are more bacteria by far in this world than any other living thing. “We are a minority on this planet, and we must learn how to work with the majority,” he says.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.