Our bodies have an amazing built-in capacity to adapt to our surroundings. However, this adaptive capability is being threatened everyday. Predominantly, by the unintended consequences of using products that interfere with our inherent and deep reliance on our interaction with nature. Human health relies on a biodiverse external environment that informs our internal microbiome. Overuse of chemicals in agriculture as well as antibiotics are two modern phenomena known to reduce biodiversity, but did you know over-sanitizing your home can be just as harmful 1,2?
Defining the Microbiome
We have more bacteria/fungi in our bodies than human cells. These bacteria/fungi, known as our microbiome, rely on daily exposure to microorganisms in our environment to inform our immune system about harmful pathogens. However, our modern building practices, which focus on energy efficiency and tight houses, combined with our use of products containing EPA registered pesticides allow for nearly total removal of environmental microorganisms, prohibiting exposure to this rich diversity3. This limited exposure weakens our microbiome’s ability to support innate immune health. Our home interior, when disinfected, becomes a monoculture compared to the outside environment. This offers little opportunity for our microbiome to adapt to the changing ecology.
Keeping a Healthy Gut & Home
We clean our homes to enjoy a healthy environment but when we do this, we need to consider what happens if we use disinfectants that kill 99.9% of bacteria and fungi. We call using such disinfectants “clearing the forest”. A cleared forest is a piece of land where all trees, grass, plants are removed. Over time, this cleared forest will naturally re-populate with grass, plants, and trees as it will not stay barren and neither will a disinfected home. You may get rid of most bacteria/fungi with strong disinfectants but just as with a “cleared forest”, the bacteria/fungi will return with much less diversity. Only the few types of microbes that can survive the disinfecting will populate your home. Your microbiome will adapt to this much less diverse environment which under prepares your immune system for the pathogens in the world’s ecologically biodiverse environment. With sufficient diversity in your microbiome, your immune health is supported, even in an ever-changing ecology.
Instead of leveling our microbial forest, let us look to natural cleaning products that support a healthy microbiome and do not completely “clear the land” but instead more or less “trim back the overgrowth”. We suggest working to clean and remove germs, following these practices. This thoughtful balance in our home cleaning rituals will allow the microbiome around us and within us the opportunity to continue to adapt to our ever-changing world, keeping us healthy and thriving.
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