Are Germ-killing Products Harming Your Health?
By Dana Rousmaniere for Sniffle Solutions
Germ-killing toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, sanitizing deodorants, bacteria-banishing home cleaners. With all of these products on the market, you’d think everything in hand’s reach is likely to make your family sick. But are all germ-killing products really protecting us in the long run? To find out, we interviewed Jessica Snyder Sachs, author of Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World. Here, Sachs gives us the lowdown on which products are worth it … and which aren’t.
After making a career out of interviewing scientists and researchers about germs, Sachs is quick to advise that most germ-killing products on the market — including nasal sanitizing gels, toothbrush sanitizers and handheld UV-light germ zappers — aren’t necessary and may be harmful. Sure, they kill germs. But the bigger question is: Do we want them to?
Some germs are harmless, and exposure actually strengthens our immune systems. “When we lump all germs together and try to wipe them out of our lives, we end up with an increase in autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma and other disorders,” says Sachs. “We’ve gone about trying to over-sanitize our lives, when it’s really just a tiny percentage of germs that cause disease.”
Most experts agree that a few products do promote overall health by reducing the transmission of disease and infection.
Sachs suggests that nasal sprays meant to wipe out all the bacteria in our noses, good and bad, is “freeing up the ‘parking spaces,’ so to speak, for potentially dangerous bacteria to take up residence. We need to remember that our bodies are full of good bacteria that help keep out the bad ones,” she says.
It’s not just our bodies that may be suffering from sanitation overkill; germ-killing products may also compromise humans’ ability to fight disease-causing germs in the long run. Sachs suggests checking the label of antibacterial soaps for triclosan, a chemical shown to work like an antibiotic, which she says is usually listed as an active ingredient. According to Sachs, triclosan is ubiquitous in our environment now. “It ends up getting flushed down drains and is found in sewage plants, rivers and lakes,” she says. “There is concern that the widespread use of these antibacterial products is going to fuel drug resistance — a huge problem today — without giving any real benefit.”