Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kill the bastards

Ever since microscopes powerful enough to enable us to see germs were invented, we've been against them - the germs, not the microscopes. It makes sense. Creepy, crawly, alien-like things they are, indeed. If you doubt it, google "germs microscopic pictures." Yuck!

It makes sense that once we saw them, we developed a strategy of total annihilation. The goal was to kill as many germs as possible when cleaning house, hence the rise of antibacterial soaps and sprays. Kills 99% of germs on contact. We in my society became germ killing zealots.

The scorched earth policy also applied to the body, externally and internally. The development of antibiotic creams and ointments, antimicrobial sock and shoe liners, etc. - as well as prescription antibiotic medicines - blossomed into a huge industry. We would not stop until every germ was dead.

Recently we discovered that without bacteria, we are toast. Our health, well being and sanity depend on zillions and zillions of bacteria. Some years ago, ironically at the same time we realized bacteria were becoming antibiotic resistant, scientists began to map the human microbiome. Good timing! As they learned more about the importance of bacteria to every healthy function, even thinking and behavior, it began to dawn on them that killing as many germs as possible has probably not been that great of an idea. Bacteria are clever little things; they evolve quickly. The 1% that survive the chemical shitstorm of destruction we call housecleaning and healthcare not only survive, they become stronger. This link is to an article about bacteria that feed on antibiotics.

Oops. In our efforts to be clean and clear, pure, free of germs, we have made ourselves so much sicker.

The good news is, the scientists we trust to know what's best for us are beginning to turn around the decades old common wisdom of utter destruction. This is great! The sooner the better.

If you're ready to shift away from the Kill the Bastards strategy, I suggest thinking in terms of interrupting patterns rather than destroying the bad bugs. When you wash, your goal should not be to kill every last bug. By scrubbing with warm sudsy water (just soap, no antibacterial crap please - it's very bad for you), you disorganize the bacteria. The same is true when you brush your teeth, wash your hands or mop the floor.

It's not possible to kill everything "bad" without also killing the beneficial bugs. Too many antibiotics will destroy the immune system. Weakened immunity makes possible situations in which "bad" germs become organized, are able to gain a foothold in the vastly complicated body/minds we inhabit. Weakened immunity means we have no defenses. With no power to disorganize these cells, things spiral downwards. We take stronger and stronger drugs. We get weaker and weaker. It's a terrible cycle.

But things are turning around. The way scientists think about bacteria is changing rapidly.

I should say I am not against antibiotics. They are powerful drugs that must be relied upon from time to time. A few years ago, I came down with "the flu." I had a high fever and terrible congestion + coughing. As usual I gave it some time to run its course. I drank warm liquids, stayed in bed and waited. After four days my fever was still raging and I was coughing my lungs up or so it seemed. At that point I went straight to the doctor. I had developed pneumonia. i was so sick. Within 48 hours of taking the antibiotics, I felt almost well. Wow. So yes, there is a place for these drugs.

Purity is overrated, it surely is. In fact, it isn't possible. Celebrate your bacteria, y'all. Without it, you could not prevail. Disrupt unhealthy patterns, but otherwise, please respect the complexity and wisdom of your humanity, including the germs. Please? You'll be happier, healthier, and more whole.



Kerry said...

Hear hear! People in this country need more exposure to bacteria, not less. Funny I say that right now as I finish a round of penicillin due to an abscessed tooth.

Reya Mellicker said...