This is a confusing time for those of us who are cautious of over-sanitizing our bodies. How do we live a “dirty” lifestyle to promote microbial and immune health, while protecting ourselves from infection, and more specifically, from the coronavirus? At Gutbliss, “live dirty” is still our motto, even during the pandemic. Here’s why… and how to do it.
As James Hamblin points out in his latest article published in the July/August issue of The Atlantic, You’re Showering Too Much, we have never been more obsessed with cleanliness, yet autoimmune-associated skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, and even acne, are on the rise and more unsolvable than ever with modern medicine. So, what’s the deal? Could it be that over-washing is causing a bacterial imbalance (or dysbiosis) on the skin, triggering these conditions to take hold?
Skin health, as with gut health, is all about microbial balance – not scrubbing away pathogenic bacteria, but allowing both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria to live on the skin in harmony. There is mounting evidence that in order to avoid disease, the body must learn to tolerate and overcome disease-causing pathogens. If we destroy them or avoid them before we give our bodies the chance to conjure up defenses to live in harmony with them, we can find ourselves sicker than ever. As Dr. Chutkan presents over and over again, germ theory – the idea that we get sick because of an exposure to a germ or pathogen – really doesn’t explain who gets sick. What explains disease risk better is something she refers to as terrain theory – the idea that is the richness and balance of our microbial terrain, in our guts, on our skin, and the microbial cloud that surrounds our bodies is what determines whether or not we get sick.
Building on this concept, in his article, Hamblin makes the point that all bacteria (pathogenic or beneficial) most likely play an important role in our microbial skin balance, which ultimately defines our skin’s health. He presents a fascinating study in mice split into two groups, each covered with a different strain of a common human skin bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis. Scientists then gave the mice suntans and found that one group ended up with fewer skin cancers. Why? Scientists hypothesize that those mice were covered with the specific strain that produces a compound that prevents tumor cell replication. If we scrubbed these thought-to-be harmful pathogens from the mice, their protection against cancer could be compromised. Another study looked at Demodex, a microscopic skin mite associated with rosacea. It turns out that these mites also serve a purpose – they feed off our dead skin cells making them natural skin exfoliators. It’s all about balance!
So maybe it’s not so much the “germ” that makes us sick – or causes our sky-rocketing skin conditions – but the “terrain” on which the germ finds itself that determines whether or not we get sick. We are seeing coronavirus studies unfold that highlight the idea that microbial health (or your “terrain”) may play a big role in who gets critically ill with COVID and who doesn’t. Microbial balance (as opposed to microbial destruction) has never been more important.
And remember, disease on the skin is no different. The skin, in fact, is porous and is the largest entry-way into the body. It’s vitally important to play close attention to optimizing skin microbial balance, just like we do for our guts. Let’s now turn to the question, how do we “live dirty”, and still protect our bodies from the coronavirus. Here are some everyday tips to live by:
- Eat “dirty” vegetables. More than ever, exposing our guts to healthy microbes is of utmost importance. And the best microbes around live on the vegetables you consume. Choose locally grown, organic produce to optimize pre- and probiotic bacteria consumption.
- Wash your hands, armpits, and private parts. Leave everything else alone. And minimize showering to only when you’re dirty. Even scrubbing the body with warm/hot water can disrupt skin microbes.
- Avoid anti-bacterial soaps and those with harmful chemicals. Theseadditives add fuel to the “over scrubbing” fire, and deteriorate microbial balance even more. Natural soaps kill coronavirus, so don’t be afraid to continue using these types of soaps to combat the virus.
- Get outside and come into direct contact with the earth. Every. Single. Day.
These 4 tips will take your skin, gut, and immune health far and will ensure that you’re doing everything in your control to “live dirty” in order to stay healthy.