© Tim Schutsky for wired
One chemist thinks he’s found a way for us to outrun the lethal juggernaut of antibiotic resistance.
Humanity has become completely obsessed with the idea of cleanliness - antibacterial soaps and cleaners, hand sanitizers, antibiotics... The misguided hygiene hypothesis has done us a serious disservice to humanity, convincing us all that 'germs are bad'. It's reported that many millennials won't even touch raw meat. It seems we've become unnaturally afraid of the microscopic component of our reality.

Is there legitimate concern here? Are we floating in a sea of evil microbes that are just waiting to infect and kill us? It's more likely that we're looking at a serious overreaction. Like it or not, we are completely surrounded by an unbelievably diverse ecosystem of microbes that live in almost every habitat on the planet. There is no escape, so perhaps we should all get more comfortable with this particular reality, drop the OCD need to control every aspect of the environment and learn to make microbes your friends.

Join us on this episode of the Health and Wellness Show as we explore the benefits of playing in the dirt! Find out how soil microbes helped us to evolve, keep us healthy, treat depression and may even fight antibacterial resistance.

Running Time: 01:03:08

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Jonathan: Welcome to the Health & Wellness show everybody. Today is Friday, May 11, 2018. My name is Jonathan. I'll be your host for today and joining me in our virtual studio from all over the planet we have Doug, Gaby and Elliot. Hey guys.

All: Hello.

Jonathan: We're missing Tiffany and Erica today. We wish them well. We hope to see them soon. Today we are talking about getting down and dirty-the health benefits of dirt. I like it.

Doug: Eat some dirt.

Jonathan: We can go deep on dirt. {laughter} So it seems like this obsessions with the idea of cleanliness, sanitizers, antibacterial soaps, all that kind of thing has arisen fairly recently in human history, obviously to great benefit but also to great detriment. So we're not dying from a cut anymore necessarily but we are damaging our biological ecosystems to the point where we can't handle things that are coming up now. I think that that's kind of interesting. It's kind of a Faustian thing where everybody is trying to be really clean and actually hurting themselves in the end.

But it's not just the surface of your hands or the interior of your mouth. It's your entire body and so that's what we want to delve into and talk about the microbiome and what you need and what you're unwittingly getting rid of. There's a bunch of interesting aspects to this. There is something called the hygiene hypothesis that we were reading and talking about being too clean, that being too clean can actually hurt your health. It says the triclosan findings in the younger age groups may support the hygiene hypothesis which maintains that living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to microorganisms that are beneficial for development of the immune system.

So we're being super basic here. The idea is you need microorganisms. What does it actually mean. Gaby and Elliot, you were talking before the show about h-pylori. I wonder if you could just go into that, maybe explain briefly what it is and how a lot of people might think it's bad but that we actually need it.

Gaby: Maybe I can give first the mainstream line. {laughter}

Jonathan: Yeah, totally.

Gaby: Well it is considered bacteria, self-infection in the sense that a lot of the population has it. Some people are not affected by it. But others, it's estimated that h-pylori is behind stomach cancer and a lot of diseases that might seem related to the digestive system. The one thing is that if a person has a stomach ulcer or a duodenal ulcer and they find h-pylori, they treat it, they eradicate it with a potent antibiotic protocol involving three or four antibiotics for even two weeks. It's absolutely brutal. But if you eradicate the bacteria, the person heals from the ulcer.

In the 1990s the typical emergency room problem was a young person with acute abdominal bleeding from an ulcer who needed emergency surgery, that's considered a thing of the past since these eradication protocols were introduced. People don't get that anymore. Maybe a stomach ache, but if they discover the bacteria they will treat it and supposed it has prevented it. That's the mainstream thing. {laughter}

Elliot: There was a guy actually who hypothesized that this bacteria, h-pylori, helicobactor-pylori was responsible for producing stomach ulcers. No one believed him at the time so what he cultured h-pylori and ingested it and he got stomach ulcers. Then he took his findings and he eradicated it and he eradicated the h-pylori and the stomach healed. I believe that he actually got a Nobel prize for that. And ever since then...

Doug: Way to go.

Elliot: ...well exactly.

Doug: Pretty hard core. {laughter}

Elliot: And so to some extent the h-pylori can be detrimental for some people but what many researchers have actually found is that some people can be asymptomatic and still have an h-pylori infection. So many doctors, if they're specifically in functional medicine as well, will test for h-pylori and even if someone doesn't have ulcers and they come back positive, then they will eradicate the h-pylori. As Gaby said, they'll put them on one of these antibiotic protocols. What the current research is actually showing is that in some people h-pylori is actually protective somewhat and that the people who do have it and then get rid of it actually have a higher likelihood of developing esophageal cancer.

So they're kind of coming to the idea that maybe this person has a bacterial infection but is it always a bad thing? How do we define infection because every surface of our bodies is laden with these bacteria. So to just pinpoint one kind of bacteria, you see a correlation that it may be implicated in some other pathology and you see that someone's got it, you automatically assume that it's bad. This is the kind of mainstream view of the human body, that we're almost meant to be sterile and if there are certain bacteria then you need to get rid of them because bacteria are bad.

But what we kind of know now, is that couldn't be any further from the truth. It turns out that by weight I believe that the DNA of the various bacteria populating our bodies is 100 times more than the weight of our own DNA.

Doug: 150.

Elliot: Yeah, 150. So it turns out we're more bacteria than we are human beings in some respects.

Gaby: That's an obsessive/compulsive person.

Doug: Yeah, exactly. It comes back to this idea of balance. It's like candida and giardia. Those are naturally present in all of our digestive tracts. They're always there. The only problem comes when there's a shift in the balance. Suddenly there's more of this bacteria than there's supposed to be and with candida it grows into a fungus and then it can start causing all kinds of problems. But you can't just label that as bad and then try to eradicate it because it's important to have this balance there where you have a very diverse microbiome because these things are probably serving functions that we aren't even aware of when they're in their proper balance in there and they're held in check by other good bacteria.

Elliot: As Jonathan was saying before, there's this thing called the hygiene hypothesis. What this basically states is that when children are introduced into the world would naturally come across or come into contact with various different types of bacteria, fungus, viruses, protozoa, etc., all of these different life forms, and their immune system needs to learn how to live cooperatively with them. The problem that's sort of come about is that for the past 100 years or so, while we've made great steps towards sanitation and things like that, we've gone over onto the other side of the spectrum. So it's almost as if we've become too clean.

Now it's so common to use antibacterial hand soap, sprays, keep everything clean, washing our food...can you hear us?

Jonathan: Chatters, can you guys hear us now? Okay, there we go. So we're back.

Doug: What's the last thing you heard? {laughter}

Gaby: Super sterile cleaning.

Jonathan: Yeah, something about having real eggs in the hospital.

Gaby: Yeah, they don't use real eggs in the hospital because of the risk of salmonella infection.

Doug: Oh my god.

Gaby: So they use a substitute liquid made out of a protein.

Elliot: So we've basically drastically changed the quantity and I guess the diversity of different bacteria that we come into contact with. I think it's no coincidence that the rates of allergies have absolutely skyrocketed. So we look at all the other factors like vaccinations and all of these other things, but I think that one of the factors involved here seems to be this over-sterilization of the environment. If you look at the way that the immune system actually develops in the first place, you have various arms of the immune system and two of the main ones that researchers focus on. So yeah, there's a lot of research in immunology which focuses on what is called the TH1 side of the immune system and the TH2 side of the immune system. This one arm of the immune system is involved in regulating cell-mediated immunity. This is what helps you clear out cancer cells and attack intracellular pathogens, so pathogens inside of the cell. Then this other arm is the one that is responsible for regulating antibody production and is involved in allergies and everything like that.

So if someone has a particular kind of condition, say they have lots of allergies, atopic eczema and respiratory difficulties and stuff, then that would be classed as the TH2 autoimmune or TH2 immune-driven issue. On the other hand, if you have someone with an autoimmune condition like multiple sclerosis, this is considered a TH1-driven condition. But without going into the details, the way that the body learns how to regulate the differences between those two different kinds of immune responses is by the interaction with bacteria in the gut because a lot of the immune system actually resides in the gut.

So many of the foods that we're eating, if they don't have soil on them, for instance if you were to pick a lettuce and then eat it with loads of dirt on it, you would be sampling a large variety of the bacteria in your environment and those bacteria actually help to communicate to the body what is safe and what isn't safe. Based on that information, the body can determine what foods it wants to react against and what foods are safe and likewise what pathogens it wants to react against and what bacteria are safe.

This whole process of immune development is really quite dependent on the diversity of the bacteria that we come into contact with very early on. If you look, for instance, at the way that children are birthed, you can find various research which cites evidence showing that children who are born by Caesarean section are much more likely to develop various autoimmune conditions, have allergies, etc. They think that that is because when the baby comes out of the vaginal tract it gets a large dose of the vaginal fluid into the mouth and onto the face and this contains lots of bacteria and it's those bacteria that build the immune system.

Gaby: There is also a school of thought asking "Should we do an enema before giving birth or not?" The last place I visited they did not do enemas.

Doug: As gross as it is, I have actually read that because birth tends to be pretty messy and the baby is going to get exposed to fecal matter, that that actually is good because they are getting some of that bacteria as well, as distasteful as that might sound. It's a messy process.

Jonathan: It's the OG fecal transplant. {laughter}

Doug: It's interesting too because when the baby comes out of the vagina, it is getting all of that good bacteria from the mother. It's funny because they've done studies and they've found that the microbiome of the infant resembles the mother at first and then over the course of a few months - and this is not only internal, it's also external - it starts to get more out of the environment and its microbiome starts to shift and everybody on the face of the planet has a different microbiome. It doesn't matter, even amongst twins or people who are raised in the same environment, everybody has a unique microbiome. So it's really interesting that at first the infant has one that, if not identical, very, very similar to the mother's and then as time goes on it starts to get this unique microbiome that mimics the environment, mimics what's on the mother's and father's skin, anybody who's holding the baby. I thought that was pretty interesting.

Jonathan: Yeah, we're just sharing our environments with each other on a daily basis, right? I know I've told this story before on the podcast but it's relevant here so I'm sorry listeners if you've heard this and you're bored. I can personally attest to this and gravely so and I would recommend that nobody actually try this, but at one point I decided I was going to do a detox. I didn't look up any protocols. I knew that oregano oil was antifungal and antibacterial so I just started taking oregano oil internally. I was doing CrossFit at the time so I was feeling really good. At first I started to detox a little bit and I felt great but I was doing 10 drops internally a day and within four or five days I started to feel sick. I broke out in really bad hives over my entire body. I had no energy at all. I was really depressed for two weeks. Then finally it dawned on me, "probiotics".

So I started taking probiotics and it went away within two days. I'm pretty sure what I did was just completely wipe out my gut microbiome and everything went haywire. I felt like I was in chemo or something. It was awful.

Gaby: Oregano oil.

Jonathan: Oregano oil, yeah. It's really potent stuff. But that microbiome is really important. Everything in your body goes out of whack if that's gone.

Doug: Yeah.

Gaby: So it basically makes you a snowflake. {laughter}

Doug: Yeah.

Gaby: Because you're not dealing with it.

Doug: Completely. The environment becomes too hard to take because you've gotten rid of your protective microbiome.

Jonathan: The depression I thought, was a really interesting aspect because that was very real and it was psychological and it was really disturbing.

Doug: Well it's interesting because they've been talking about how gardening and getting in the dirt and stuff like that actually can help with depression. You'd think it's just a psychological thing, you're getting outside, you're in the sunshine. And those things probably are part of it, but apparently it is also because there are bacterial species in the soils that will actually help with depression. They have started to talk about this gut/brain axis where there are bacterial species that can help with psychological issues which is kind of mind-blowing when you think about it. But apparently this is something that they're starting to uncover. It is mind-blowing. Literally.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Elliot: I was at a seminar last night and it was on this very topic, the gut/brain axis. It's interesting because people have generally tended toward the idea that different psychological states are determined by the way that you're thinking or that it's in the realm of psychology. When you look at the biology of it, there's a very good set of evidence which would suggest that what is going on in the gut, even on the skin and in the nasal cavity, can really affect how the brain works. It's like there's an intimate communication between the bacteria and the body and ourselves.

I remember listening to an interview with Dr. Ted Achacoso and he was talking about some research being done about how the bacteria in the gut actually have the ability to communicate with the mitochondria of different cells and to be able to essentially tell them how fast to produce energy.

Gaby: Wow, that's fascinating.

Elliot: People have always thought if you're going to look at mitochondria, look at all the nutrients and things like that. But what they was actually showing was that no, there's a communication between the bacteria. So the bacteria says, "Okay, we've got a situation going on in the gut." Maybe there's lots of nutrition. Maybe there's not much nutrition. Maybe there's pathogenic overload. Maybe it's a relatively clean environment. So it tells the mitochondria, "Okay, you need to produce more reactive oxygen species or you have to produce more ATP or you don't have to produce much. You can shut down" essentially.

So it's like they can actually tell us what to do based on what is going on, I guess in the environment.

Gaby: You know it is thought that mitochondria was once bacteria in a symbiotic relationship with the cells it became incorporated as part of the cell.

Doug: Yeah, that's amazing.

Elliot: Yeah well it's its own DNA. It's like a cell within the cell.

Jonathan: Yeah, so we really are just piloting a ship in a weird way.

Doug: Yeah. I don't even know if we're piloting it. {laughter}

Gaby: Who's in charge here?

Doug: We're kind of like a passive passenger, really.

Gaby: I have noticed when I take probiotics which has lactobacillus rhamnosus, l-helveticus and saccharomyces boulardii, I felt better. My mood is better.

Jonathan: Yeah, I take a blend called Great Dophilus which is from Now Foods but it has a blend if eight different strains in it and same thing. I never feel better than when I'm taking probiotics or eating some kind of fermented food or something like that.

Elliot: It's interesting because there are some researchers who are actually coming out with the term the hollow biome. So not referring to a being as the human being, being separate from the microbiome that is hosted in the human being, but rather that the human being is this conglomeration of all of these different species and I guess our native human cells are just one of those, but we're actually outnumbered in many ways. So if we take it back to the topic of the show and look at our modern day lifestyles, how could we get it so wrong? What are the consequences of killing all of the bacteria in our environment? What is this actually doing to us?

Doug: It's all a learning process. I agree with you. It's like when Pasteur came along. There's so much to talk about on that topic and there's lots of people saying he was a total fraud but discovering that we're surrounded by germs and stuff, the initial reaction of everybody was "Eewwwww. Let's kill these things. This is terrible. We don't want this around. This is what's getting us sick." There is some truth to that. With what we're talking about here, there certainly are instances where there could be food-borne illness, there are places where you don't want to drink the water because there certainly are pathogenic species out there that you have to be careful of. But people go overboard with it and just want to napalm the entire thing and have everything be completely sterile which clearly we're starting to discover is a really bad idea.

Gaby: I don't know if it's a myth or not but it was Pasteur who said at the end of his life apparently it was the terrain that is important.

Doug: Yeah. Not the germ. I don't know if it's a myth either but it almost vindicates him.

Elliot: What's really interesting about what you just said Doug, you said it about the drinking water. When I went to India and I drank some of the water I got really sick and I think that's common to get food poisoning and all that sort of stuff. But then if you look at natives, you look at the local population and they can drink it just fine and they don't get sick.

Doug: Yeah.

Elliot: I was listening to an interview with Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt. It was with Mercola actually. It's a really good one. He was talking about a kind of controversial subject. He was actually saying that he doesn't believe there is any such thing as a pathogen per se. I know it's a sweeping statement, but he was talking about how the microbiome essentially can deal with various other bacteria which we would call pathogenic. He was citing some of the work done by - what's his name? Not Louis Pasteur. We were just talking about him. He's the French researcher who discovered vitamin C. His name will come to me after a while.

Gaby: Linus Pauling?

Elliot: No, no Linus Pauling. It'll come to me. But this researcher has been studying the effects of the microbiome or the various interactions between the different bacteria and he was showing that they have their own electromagnetic signature. So for a bacteria to be incorporated into the microbiome it has to adopt or change its resonance to be able to fit into I guess you could call it the electromagnetic signature of your microbiome.

So he's saying that all of these different species have their own electromagnetic frequencies that they emit and the potential pathogenicity of a bacteria is its inability to be incorporated into your microbiome. Now he was putting this specifically in the context of EMF. So he was saying that when he sees clients - I know this is kind of off-topic but it's kind of on-topic at the same time. I don't want to detract too much from it.

Doug: No, it's good.

Elliot: When he sees clients, one of the first things that he tells them to do is reduce most of the EMF exposure that they come across and if they refuse to do so, he will not see them, even if it's about a gut issue. He was saying he believes the EMF is one of the biggest problems with many gut issues and issues which involve gut dysbiosis because of this quality or aspect, the way that they communicate and the way that a pathogen can induce an immune response is because of this electromagnetic quality.

Jonathan: That's fascinating. This speaks to me of the Royal Rife technology where they treat conditions with different light frequencies. I'm curious if that plays into that.

Doug: It makes sense. For one thing we know that EMF is extremely harmful and it affects people in weird ways that we don't totally understand. The fact that it would be interfering with the communication of the microbiome is pretty interesting and what you were saying about how the locals can drink the water without a problem is also interesting. There was an incident in Canada about 20 years ago. I forget the name of the town off the top of my head, but they were a town that was all on well water and there was some kind of pathogen that got into the well water and ended up killing people. But the weird thing about it was that not everybody got sick, despite the fact that everybody was drinking the water, not everybody was affected by it. Some people were completely laid out, some people died, and then other people were completely unaffected.

So it's really weird because the common thought would be that if a pathogen got in there and everybody got exposed to it, then everybody would have the same reaction to it. Maybe it's just that some people were more able to incorporate that foreign pathogen into the electromagnetic signature, that they were able to "vibe" with the microbiome and it didn't really have much of an effect.

Gaby: (inaudible)

Elliot: Sorry, when I said that I forgot where I was going to go with that. But it was back to the idea that maybe the adaptation to your environment allows you to be able to build up a symbiotic relationship with those so-called pathogens. Like when someone would go to a different environment, for instance when I traveled to India, my body or my microbiome is not in any way adapted to the various species that are present in that environment. So I think that can be problematic.

But the fact that some people can tolerate it and not get sick kind of suggests that those things aren't necessarily pathogenic in the black and white sense, if that makes sense.

Gaby: In mainstream circles, traveler's diarrhoea where you go to a new place as a tourist and you get diarrhoea, is considered very mechanically in the sense that you're just not used to that water, the poop water basically. {laughter} The poo in the water, but the locals are. You travel with some probiotics and that takes care of it. But this speaks of there being more than meets the eye. There's some electro-chemical signal.

Doug: I wonder if in the future, when people have all figured this thing out, before you travel, you'll inoculate yourself by having some of the water shipped from wherever you travel to and you slowly start to introduce it into your microbiome so it gets used to it and then when you travel you've already incorporated it and you did it in titrated doses so you're fine.

Jonathan: That's not a bad idea. I'd be hesitant to try it. {laughter} It's really fascinating. Elliot you mentioned earlier the consequences of ignoring your microbiome or even destroying it. To me in reading this stuff, one of the larger consequences is superbugs that we see. I think that that's a direct result of how this has gone on because it's not necessarily your average antibacterial soap or being overly clean in your life, but in the medical field using stronger and stronger antibiotics and using them a little more flippantly in cases where they may not be needed, has resulted in mutated strains.

I don't remember the name of this, but if you look up The Evolution of Bacteria on a "Mega-Plate" Petri Dish on YouTube, there's a video of a giant petri dish where they have bacterial culture on the end and then they have bands on the dish of various strengths of antibiotics with the strongest being at the middle and the weakest on the outside. Then they do a time lapse showing this bacteria growing and it hits the wall of the antibiotic and then a little bit pops through and fills up the entire next section. Then it hits the next wall and maybe two or three parts pop through the antibiotic and then it keeps growing. It shows how that works and it cover the entire dish of this really strong antibiotic solution.

Doug: Wow! So it's watching antibiotic resistant bacteria - well not in real time.

Jonathan: NO, but pretty close. It's really crazy.

Doug: Yeah, it is crazy. It really comes into the whole hygiene hypothesis and the idea that we are obsessed with this clean environment, that we just keep getting stronger and stronger antibacterial surface cleaners. In hospitals they're saying they need to use the strongest cleaners, everything has to be completely sterile. It even comes into antibiotic usage as well, just the idea that, 'You've got a bad bacteria. We need to wipe everything out. We need to napalm the whole thing. It's got to go down." We're really starting to see the consequences of this with these superbugs.

Gaby: It reminds me of that guy on the website...

Doug: Storm Cloud Gathering.

Gaby: Storm Cloud Gathering, yeah. He had methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and he got so many antibiotic protocols and it would always come back with a serious infection. And then he did something like bathing himself in...

Doug: In kombucha.

Gaby: In kombucha. That's incredible.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Doug: Kombucha which is a fermented drink so it has beneficial yeast and bacteria in it and he was able to get it under control by using it topically. That's amazing.

Elliot: That makes loads of sense.

Jonathan: I had folliculitis one time on my chest which is just basically an infection of the hair follicles and I cured it with raw honey. I just put raw honey on there.

Doug: Ah yeah.

Jonathan: It went away really quickly.

Elliot: The use of probiotics to achieve antibiotic activity is really well documented and I've done a lot of research over the past couple of years on a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) because I suffered from a lot of gut issues and it's only recently in the past couple of months that I've really started to deal with them. A lot of the ideas are similar to what you find in mainstream medicine. People think that if you've got a bacterial overgrowth or a bacterial infection, that you would use antibiotics to wipe it all out. But the problem there is that you're making the assumption that certain bacteria will respond to these very targeted antibiotics because not all antibiotics are wide-spectrum and there are lots of antibiotics that only have certain effects on certain different types of bacteria.

So you're making that assumption and it may not be correct. I know of a lot of people who go to their GP, they've got a urinary tract infection. They're given a specific kind of antibiotic but when it's cultured they find out that that antibiotic doesn't even work for that infection. So they've been put on loads of rounds of antibiotics and it's not even suitable for that particular infection that they've got. But to take it a couple of steps further, say you do wipe it all out, you're potentially paving the way for something else to come in. When we understand the beneficial, protective effects of the natural bacteria that populate various parts of the body, if you look at various strains of bacteria, they produce their own antibiotics. They produce chemicals called bactericides. There are certain strains of probiotics that you can take which are like intelligent antibiotics.

So what we'll do is synthesize an antibiotic which is targeted to work in one way but with these probiotics, what they can actually do is go into a specific area, say in the gut and they'll sample what is going on intelligently because they are living beings. So they will intelligently assess the situation and then come up with an antibiotic or bactericide and that will be almost targeted at the overgrowth specifically. So it's happening in real time.

Gaby: They're informed.

Elliot: Yeah, they're informed, exactly. The thing is, if you look at the research on small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, it actually turns out that the use or probiotics like saccharomyces boulardii and spore-based probiotics, are actually just as effective, but more effective long-term. So people find short-term benefit from taking antibiotics then a couple of months down the line they get the same issue. I think this is the problem. When you wipe out everything, you're not necessarily fixing the root of the problem. But with the probiotics, they can intelligently deal with the situation themselves because it benefits them for you to be healthy. That's what you have to understand. You're not working against the bacteria. If you died, then they would die as well. They need you to live. Like Stephanie Seneff was speaking about, they're helping you out I believe.

Gaby: Yeah, and nowadays urinary tract infections are usually due to e-coli. This was unheard of in the past and nowadays it's very common to have multi-resistant e-coli.

Jonathan: Gaby, I had a question for you from a devil's advocate perspective since you work in medicine. What's the line because there is validity to bacterial infection and the need to guard against that. So I'm coming from a lay person's perspective where, 'I get it. Bacteria are not all dangerous but some are. So what is the line? Is serving real eggs in a hospital promoting the danger of salmonella? Really how real or blown up are these things?

Gaby: I think at least from a public health system perspective, it's just when a person has symptoms, specific, clinical scenario rules the treatment choice. The thing about the eggs in the hospital is just the hygiene hypothesis. If it happened in a hospital, there was a very bad salmonella infection and something went overboard and they forbid all eggs in hospitals.

Doug: It could be.

Jonathan: Well I get that doctors would be overly cautious. That's kind of the point. The whole point is to save your patient if you look at it at the core. So you would want to be overly cautious. But I think it has gone too far to the point where you're statistically at a higher risk of a lethal infection in a hospital than you are in the middle of a woods.

Gaby: Yeah. I'm often in a very tricky situation where a very old person, 80-somethings - in Spain we have relative good lifestyle and quality of life, but when they have pneumonia I'm divided. I'm not going to send you to the hospital because it's going to be worse. I think you can manage at home and I'll visit you often to make sure the oxygen is at acceptable levels and so forth. It is tricky though. I always try to avoid sending them to the hospital. It's a dangerous place.

Doug: You're lucky if you make it out of the hospital without some kind of brutal antibiotic resistant infection of some kind.

Elliot: Gaby, in your experience, what percentage of the patients that are in a hospital for a prolonged period of time, say a week or longer, how many of those are put on antibiotics?

Gaby: It depends on the specialty. I think if they are in the intensive care unit, yeah. This requires that they don't catch an infection. I know that some people are more conservative like pediatricians. They hear more about the microbiome research so they are wary of giving antibiotics to children because they're afraid that the child could end up with Crohn's disease or something like that. But dentists are famous. If you have a sinus infection they just prescribe the strongest antibiotic ever like the mouth is the dirtiest hole in the body and they have to sterilize the mouth. {laughter} But I think it's very, very frequent. If a person is in the hospital for three months, that's the kind of person who will have multi-resistant e-coli and stuff like that.

Doug: Or MRSA.

Gaby: Yeah.

Jonathan: I get worried about that sometimes. My OCD manifests with chemicals more so than with biological things, but I do get paranoid in locker rooms, thinking I'll pick up MRSA from the floor or something like that. I don't know how statistically likely that is in a locker room but I'm sure there's a possibility there.

Doug: Well just treat it with topical kombucha.

Jonathan: Bingo. Or you can make sandals out of kombucha. {laughter}

Doug: Walking on scobies.

Jonathan: Yeah. We have an audio clip about being too clean being harmful for you so let's go to that and then we'll talk a little more when we get back.


Today we're talking about personal hygiene, when we started doing it and if we were doing it wrong all of these years or maybe now and also how religion and laws have come into sanitation and hygiene over the millennia and what would happen if you just stopped being hygienic, if you just never showered again, what would happen. Anything? Would it be bad? But let's kick into it.

First we're going to talk all about being clean. And being clean and being hygienic has some very specific cultural and social contexts and social experiences but really overall hygiene is about making yourself clean, making your food clean and trying to be healthy and disease-free. We're not so much getting into whether or not people smell nice although that can be part of hygiene as well. It could be that we're just doing hygiene wrong. It comes down to bacteria, right? Hygiene has to do with managing our bacterial and viral load, making sure that we don't have bad bacteria infecting our bodies and making us ill.

The thing is, most bacteria that live on us and in us aren't bad bacteria. Most of it is good bacteria. Bacteria live in our mouths, in our intestines, on our skin, on our genitals, all over the place and some of these bacteria crowd out other bad bacteria so that they don't infect you. They will fight off bad bacteria that can cause illnesses. They are symbiotic with us. One bacteria called bacteroides fragilis can actually help keep our immune system in balance. It's just a piece of bacteria helping us out. Bacteria even help break down components of food you eat, produce B vitamins that's naturally helping you, and these "good" bacteria (I'm putting them in finger quotes) can keep us healthy.

Hygiene really just has to do with targeting bad bacteria and this is where the hygiene hypothesis comes in. It was invented by an epidemiologist. They look at patterns and causes of diseases and injuries and specifically Dr. Strachan, a hygiene hypothesis creator from 1989. The hygiene hypothesis proposes that there was an uptick in things like asthma, hay fever and allergies mainly because we were too clean. We weren't exposing our children to unhygienic environments. Early exposure to germs and bacteria trains our immune system in the long run and I love this theory. I used to run around barefoot all the time and I was always outside as a kid.

Now I have a really great immune system whereas a lot of people that I've known over the years - and obviously this is super anecdotal - who didn't run around outside too much, get sick more often than I do. There could be any number of reasons. I don't know why I ascribe it to this, but look, in my estimation kids, get dirty. Eat all the dirt! It's going to be fine. Dr. Strachan found fewer instances of hay fever, even in families with more kids. Younger kids were exposed to the germs of older siblings as they grew and those things helped boost their immune system over time.

A similar study was done in the 1990s looking at children who grew up in more polluted areas of Germany and they found that those children had lower allergic reactions and fewer cases of asthma than kids who grew up in a less polluted environment. Essentially, more pollution somehow helped these kids not have allergic reactions and asthma. You know, it's a correlation not a causation but it's still pretty cool and important.

And animals, having them around, can help you as well. Studies have shown living with pets or around farm animals can help decrease the changes of allergies. There's of course a line here. You don't want to literally live with animals. You just want to have them around. It comes down to your body learning to fight off bad bacteria and viruses and things that will make you ill. If you're too clean, your body is not going to be exposed to the bad things and it won't learn to fight them when they come and you will overreact to harmless substances potentially, like pollen and cause allergic reactions.

Now, I think I've said this already but I want to put this as a reminder, that this hygiene hypothesis is a hypothesis. It's a theory that was invented in the late 1980s so it hasn't been tested for a long period of time. It has been tested, but not over a long period of time. It's not a fact. It's just a theory.

The hygiene hypothesis is now referenced in a number of different ways however. It's a very heavily supported theory and now we use it for how adults can keep clean more properly and it's not just for kids and for raising. Things we do every day to keep clean might actually be hurting us under the hygiene hypothesis and it goes back to how we treat our bacterial buddies, our little good bacterial friends.

So the big one in this area, especially for adults - let me pull out my soap box, literally - antibacterial soap is the worst. It's the worst stuff ever. Studies say that using antibacterial soap creates bacteria that is resistant to antibacterial soap because over time you kill 99.9% of all germs but the ones that survive breed and then they make all these new germs. Then you kill 99.9% of the germs and the ones that survive that have survived potentially two rounds of this antibacterial soap. Now multiply that over decades, decades and countless tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of generations of bacteria. We are forcing them to evolve to fight this threat and they do and they create superbugs or anti-antibacterial soap bacteria, if you will.

Some scientist think that by using this, this is doing more harm than good and it comes down to one ingredient called triclosan which is found not only in soap but in those special wipes and hand gels and the instant clean gels and cutting boards and all sorts of things that we use to kill bacteria easily. A report by the US Food and Drug Administration found no evidence that antibacterial soap is more effective than regular soap. So why are we using it? Because it makes people feel better. Triclosan in the antibacterial soap is however, making some bacteria resistant to triclosan but also to antibiotics.

Bacteria are essentially mutating and getting stronger, specifically things like salmonella and e-coli which are very dangerous. And this isn't 100% proven, but many studies are finding the links between resistant bacteria and antibacterial soap. The World Health Organization has put a group together to study this further. As of today, they can't directly connect the two but this whole thing is very serious and we really don't want superbugs or bacteria that we can't kill with modern technology.

So we may be washing our hands wrong and cleaning our surfaces wrong, but what about the rest of our bodies right? The whole body is involved in hygiene. Some experts say that once you're in the shower you actually shouldn't wash your whole body. The armpits, the feet, private parts, those are all important. Those are the things you really need to be clean. So maybe we should all just get bidets. You know, bidets? The little sink thing next to the toilet? Nobody? Okay, just me.

All this goes back to the idea that good bacteria is important to protect and that bad bacteria is important to fight. But we have to target the bad bacteria. When you do something like antibacterial soap you're essentially napalming bacteria all over the place instead of selectively targeting the ones that are bad. Showering is sort of similar. We're washing away good bacteria as well as bad and yet that is keeping you healthy. But good bacteria actually trains your skin cells to resist bad bacteria so it's important to keep it around. And they create their own antibiotics to kill bad bacteria. We need those and we should stop scrubbing them away.

But it's more than just protecting that. Showering too much is also bad for your skin physically. Your outermost layer of skin is made up of hardened, dead skin cells. It's called the stratum corneum. But just because they're dead doesn't mean that the skin cells aren't helpful. These skin cells protect healthy cells underneath themselves from bad bacteria. The dead skin cells are held together with something called sebum. It's a lipid, a fatty, oily compound and it keeps moisture in that's excreted by your body naturally. It's on every hair follicle, all your pores. Basically it waterproofs our skin and holds this stuff together. But hot water that you probably have in a shower dissolves lipids, ruins the stratum corneum and can help bacteria have access to your skin.

Sometimes scrubbing your skin can destroy that protective layer enough and allow a path for bad bacteria to attack you. The good news is your body's awesome. It can repair itself really easily. But the more showers you take, the less time it has to repair itself which is why frequent showers are bad for you and can lead to dry, cracked, irritated skin because your skin can't repair itself. The American Academy of Dermatology says that you should take a short shower, use warm water instead of hot water, not lather with soap and air dry or blot your skin, don't scrape the towel across it.

The thing is, it's all about finding a balance and what works for you because we need to be clean. It's important and hygienic and healthy. There's a reason hygiene is connected to health because we need to wash ourselves and fight off that bad bacteria. It's one of the things that has helped increase lifespans and keep us healthy over a long period of time. There are germs and bad bacteria and viruses that thrive in places that can make us sick, not washing your cutting board after you've cut up some chicken could make you sick. Clean drinking water is super important. But there's a balance between being clean and being unclean and over time we started to figure that out.

It's not like that is something you can discover overnight, not just for yourself but as a society. It's something we've been working on for a long, long, long time. And that's what we're going to talk about tomorrow. When did humans start caring about hygiene?

We didn't talk about a lot of things that might not be good for us in terms of our hygiene. Let us know down in the comments if you can think of any factoids you may have. For example putting those cotton swabs in your ears. You're not actually supposed to do that. You use them to clean your ears but you are not supposed to put them in the ear canal. It's bad for your hygiene.

Jonathan: Okay. I have heard that about Q-tips.

Doug: Yeah, I've heard that too. When I get out of the shower and I've got water in my ears, I find I want to mop it up with something so I do use them. Maybe I'm destroying my ears or something. That was interesting though, particularly what he was saying about hot showers. I never knew that. The whole exfoliating thing never really rang true to me. "Rub your skin so it hurts a little bit and scrub like hell to get off all the dead skin cells." Well, why do you want to do that?

Elliot: I just wanted to add something. It was on something that he said. He was talking about how gut bacteria can help us digest food, they produce vitamins and stuff, again, I was listening to this interview by Dietrich Klinghardt and he was actually talking about Dr. Brennar, the guy who came up with muesli. He traveled the world to look for healthy populations and stuff like that and he found a population in the Caribbean - I'm not sure which island it was on - but he found that this whole subpopulation of people lived on a diet of 100% sweet potatoes. So they ate only sweet potatoes and then a couple of the insects that were living on the sweet potatoes. And they lived for a very long period of time. They were in great health and they completely go against everything that we think we know about nutrition, yeah?

So they had no protein, no fat. Well yeah, they had a little bit of protein.

Doug: Did they put butter on their sweet potatoes?

Elliot: No, it turns out that they actually have this specific species of clostridia that lived in the gut and it was a very rare species and it fermented all of the sweet potato and produced the whole spectrum of essential fatty acids and amino acids.

Doug: Really?! (sound problems again) Oh, they're hearing us now.

Jonathan: Okay.

Doug: So Elliot, that was a fascinating story.

Elliot: So basically there was this doctor and he traveled around the world. His name was Dr. Brennar and he was searching for healthy populations. He came across a subpopulation living on one of the islands of the Caribbean and he found that when he looked at their diet they basically consumed 100% sweet potatoes, all of the time. So he saw that these people were really healthy. They consumed a couple of insects which lived on the sweet potatoes, but basically no protein and no fat, yeah. So he was absolutely flabbergasted as to how this could be the case because it goes against everything that we think we know about nutrition.

It turns out that these people has a very specific kind of clostridia living in their gut and this species of clostridia could actually ferment the sweet potato carbohydrate and produce a full (lost audio again)

Jonathan: There we are. We are having some technical difficulties here. We've gotten bumped a few times so we're just going to wrap up the show. Any concluding thoughts you guys? Don't wash your hands too much.

Doug: Don't wash your hands at all. No, I'm just kidding! Play in the dirt. Don't be afraid of it.

Elliot: Maybe experiment with some spore-based probiotics. They contain bacillus. Bacillus can produce vitamin C. So you don't necessarily need to have so much vitamin C in your diet. They do lots of other cool stuff but we don't have time because the connection is not very good.

Jonathan: Before we get bumped one more time we're going to say good-bye. Thank you to everybody for tuning in today. We'll be back next week.

All: Byes.