Saturday, February 05, 2011

Don't get too clean

You know what I think is hilarious? Things like this:

I am definitely not a germaphobe. I only worry about sterilizing grocery carts and washing up before eating, and I only sterilize toys after a major sickness or stomach bug.

Perhaps I am a slob, but that sounds germaphobey to me. Sterilizing toys? I went through 3 pregnancies and my doctor was reaching up into my cervix weekly with unsterilized gloves, and this person sterilizes toys every time a kid pukes?

Remember the first time you were told that a yeast infection was an overgrowth of a fungus that naturally lives in the vagina? Remember how yucky it was to realize that there's a normal amount of fungus in there even when everything's okay? Or how about when you read that douching is bad because it washes away the good bacteria too? Good bacteria?! See the problem is that a lot of people never realize that we are not alone on the top of the food chain. When public school teachers give examples of symbiosis, they often mention birds living on rhinos rather than the bacteria living within all of us.

Many bacteria living in our mouths (no, brushing doesn't kill them all) are there only to prevent more dangerous bacteria from moving in. And so many different enzymes and bacteria live in the intestines that in a very real sense, every single person is a giant walking petri dish. But the thing is, all that stuff, the gut flora, serves an important purpose. It helps us digest our food. Enzymes and bacteria break down food even better than stomach acid. And as it's broken down, nutrients are released and can be absorbed through the intestinal walls. Without bacteria living inside of us, parasites squirming around in our bellies, we would likely starve to death, or at least die of malnutrition if not outright starvation.

So the next time you start to feel all superior and independent and like you don't need anybody or anything, remember that you might just be one bout of cleansing diarrhea away from severe vitamin deficiencies. Humanity as a species is not a solitary one. We not only need each other, but we also need some of the lower links on the food chain, and not just to kill and eat. I wonder if people really understand that, that we would die on our own. I wonder, when people vote to screw the little guy, or exhibit the "Not my problem, every man for himself" attitude, do they realize that they only exist because they are involuntarily hosting billions of parasites, which are also involuntarily keeping them alive?

Sanitary does not equal sterile. Next time you're coating your hands with Purell or soaking toys in bleach, remember that. The cleaner we get as a society, the higher the rates of asthma and allergies get. It's not a coincidence.

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