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How Cleaning Products Ruin our Microbiome

Hand sanitize image

If you’ve ever heard that cleanliness is next to godliness, you might want to read the latest research. It turns out that our obsession with cleanliness might actually do more harm than good. Those surface cleaners and room spritzers that are so popular on pharmacy shelves do more than simply kill a few germs. They also kill the bacteria in our guts. That can have a detrimental effect on adults and especially children. When the healthy bacteria in our gut are gone, a whole host of grimy problems can arise.   Our guts are home to trillions of bacteria, yeast, and viruses. These are the good guys and they’re called ‘gut microbiome’ or ‘gut flora’. They prevent intestinal problems, prevent inflammation, and make us tolerant of environmental conditions. Many of them have been linked to boosting our immunity. So, if you want to healthy, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t disrupt them. Learn how this generation’s obsession with the cleanliness and chemicals could alter this natural community of ‘healthy’ flora in your gut.

Household Cleaners Linked To Childhood Obesity

One problem with household cleaners is that they might upset the gut mircrobiomes that maintain a healthy weight. Researchers in Canada have found a link between household cleaners and overweight children. A 2018 study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, analyzed the gut microbiomes of 757 infants at three to four months. The researchers analyzed their exposure to disinfectants, detergents, and eco-friendly products. The children were again examined at age one and three years old. They found that those who exposed to the frequent use of household disinfectants and multi-surface cleaners experienced vast changes in their gut microbiome and weight.   Children who were excessively exposed to household cleaners had a lower count of the bacterium Haemophilus and Clostridiumbacteria and higher levels of Lachnospiraceae in the gut when they were infants. Their body mass index (BMI) was significantly higher at age three. Children who were exposed to eco-friendly household cleaners did not have the same results.  

"Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California commented on the results. “While it has been shown that gut flora can affect obesity, no study has made such a strong connection with the frequency of cleaning and types of product used with development of overweight/obesity.”

Anti-Bacterial Products & Microbiomes

Anti-bacterial chemicals aren’t only in anti-bacterial products. If you’re ever used deodorants, antiperspirants, or even some types of toothpaste and laundry detergents, you’ve likely been exposed to anti-bacterial chemicals. One of them is called triclosan and it is used as an ingredient to prevent bacteria, fungus, mildew, and odors. Your deodorant and toothpaste might not be labeled as “anti-bacterial”, but they sure are made to be one.   The problem is that triclosan is absorbed into the skin. Some studies suggest that it’s a thyroid and hormone disruptor. At low levels, it’s considered safe. But, if you use several of the aforementioned products continuously over a long period of time, you’re exposure adds up to a level that could be considered hazardous.   Even worse, is that triclosan is often combined with other chemicals that you’ll come in touch with through beauty, cosmetics, cleaning, and other household products. Two of these ‘everyday’ chemicals diethyl phthalate (DEP) and methylparaben (MPB)) have been tested on how they interfere with the gut microbiome of rats when combined with triclosan. Rats were exposed at low levels experienced significant changes in their gut microbiomes.   Another study tested how triclosan affected the microbiome population in the gut of zebra fish. Again, exposure to triclosan altered the composition of the microbiomes in their guts.  

Obesity Begins In The Gut

Weight gain is more complex than simply eating an excess of calories. How our bodies’ processes those calories play a bigger role. And, that begins with the trillions of microbiome, or healthy bacterias, living in our gut. These microbiomes control our weight by monitoring safety, nutrient absorption, waste elimination, metabolism, and even the release of stress hormones. Infants are known for putting their hands in their mouths. It’s one of the reasons that many parents consistently disinfect and try to keep surfaces clean. Yet, when infants and young children are consistently exposed to household cleaners that kill off both the good and bad bacteria, they could also expose their gut to these same ‘bacteria-killing’ chemicals. And, if they’re exposed to the chemicals that manage their weight, they’ll have weight-gain problems later in life.  

The Gaps In Science

Still, there are gaps in research explaining exactly why this is the case for some household cleaners yet not for eco-friendly household cleaners. More studies are needed to fully understand which ingredients and chemicals are killing off these gut-healthy bacteria. And, researchers need to know exactly which and how these bacteria affect the BMI.  

The Hygiene Hypothesis

Some researchers believe that excessive cleanliness is the reason that diseases like allergies, autoimmune diseases, and obesity develops. We’re allowing ourselves to be exposed to viruses and bacteria to develop a natural resistance to them. And, we are also using products that kill off good bacteria that could protect us from diseases like obesity.  

"One study tested this theory. It showed that increased handwashing decreased the microbiomes haemophilus and clostridium. These microbiomes lead to infections like ear infections, meningitis, and bloody diarrhea."

Yet, like most research on the gut microbiomes, more studies need to be done to fully understand the connection between our gut microbiome, health, and how excessive cleaning can affect both. You should still clean your house and wash your hands to stay healthy. Also, eating a healthy varied diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise should be part of your daily lifestyle. The key is to choose products and foods that are close to nature. And, do all things in moderation.  

How Should You Clean Your Home?

Before science begins to answer some of these questions it could be helpful to note that eco-friendly cleaning products have different ingredients than standard cleaning products. And, they don’t seem to alter the gut microbiome or contribute to obesity in children. It’s probably a good idea to make the switch to clean and eco-friendly cleaning products. Read the labels in cleaning products carefully. Or, get creative. Try whipping up your own natural cleaning products at home with simple ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda.   It’s also a good idea not to worry too much about dirt. New parents might be especially concerned about keeping surfaces clean for their newborns. Yet, sometimes exposing your child to a little bit of dirt can build up a healthy immune system. We need to have exposure to a variety of viruses and bacteria to keep us healthy. So, don’t be afraid to let your child get a little dirty!   While it’s good not to worry too much about exposing your child to dirty surfaces, you’ll want to make sure that you still practice good hand washing techniques. Later soap and warm water for 15 seconds. Just make sure to keep it traditional and use regular soap instead of reaching for a disinfectant soap.  

Reduce Bad Habits

If you want to keep your gut healthy then you’ll have to adopt good habits and say goodbye to the bad ones. Two bad habits that negatively affect your immune system are sugar and stress. Some might even say that they’re worse than having a little dirt in your home. And, yet today’s modern society is consistently exposed to sugar and stress. These also have a negative impact on gut microbiome.   A 2015 study suggests that the modern high fat, high sugar diet can deplete microbiome populations in the gut. This, in turn, affects the brain and behavior. An earlier study from 2014, suggests that artificial sugars negatively impact gut flora, which regulates blood glucose levels in the blood.   It’s well known that stress can impact our health. Yet, stress - environmental and pyhyschiological can also impact our gut. It’s important to regulate stress with exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation.

Keep Diseases At Bay With Probiotics

You might know what not to eat to maintain good health- excess sugars, processed foods, artificial sweeteners. But, do you know what foods to eat to maintain the health of your gut? If you want to improve your gut health and ensure that your body is working at peak performance, then you’ll want to make sure that you add healthy probiotic-rich foods to your diet.   Overexposure to cleaning products can destroy the microbiome in the gut. So, you’ll want to eat to repair that delicate balance. Recent studies show that regularly taking probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome. Studies also suggest that taking probiotics can prevent inflammation and intestinal problems. A few probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Fermented vegetables like cabbage in the form of sauerkraut or kimchi.
  • Kefir, fermented milk drink.
  • Kombucha, a fermented tea.
  • Miso, a fermented paste made from soybeans.
  • Tempeh, fermented soybeans that is similar to tofu.