New patients often bring me a list of their prescription medications. I have to ask a few more questions to find out which vitamins, herbs and other supplements they are taking. It takes a few more questions to find out that they are using antibiotics without a prescription. Yes, many of my patients are using antibiotics without the advice or prescription of their physician. They use them every day, just in case. Does this sound crazy or irresponsible to you?
It’s more common than you think and you might be doing it, too. Antibiotics have been added to everything from hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap and socks to children’s toys, clothing, bedding and furniture. If you aren’t carefully checking labels, you and your family are likely dosing yourselves. You wouldn’t be alone in asking what’s so wrong with that and for some products, the answer is nothing. For example, bamboo textiles are naturally antimicrobial as an inherent property of bamboo itself.
Other products range from hype to harmful. The addition of silver nanoparticles is another natural sounding way to create antimicrobial effects in fabrics, but studies have shown that 20-30% of silver particles leach out in the first wash and more than 50% are lost by the second washing. These particles are so small they may be absorbed through the skin or through inhalation and the health effects of these small particles is unknown as the technology of nanoparticles is such a recent development.
The addition of actual antibiotics, commonly the chemical antibiotic triclosan, has been a stroke of marketing genius with unfortunate effects for human and environmental health. The overuse of antibiotics in consumer products have been linked to hormone disregulation in human and animal studies and are suspected to have a greater effect on the health of children.
The American Medical Association (AMA) stated in 2000, “Despite their recent proliferation in consumer products, the use of antimicrobial agents such as triclosan has not been studied extensively. No data exist to support their efficacy when used in such products or any need for them, but increasing data now suggest growing acquired resistance to these commonly used antimicrobial agents.”
In layman’s terms, this means that our daily use of antimicrobials just makes them less effective and creates “super bugs,” infectious agents, bacteria and viruses, that are harder to kill. Bacterial resistance is a serious problem and the medical community is responding by prescribing antibiotics with greater care and specificity than in the past.
But what about being exposed to dirt and germs? Well, first off, it might actually be good for you. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that exposure to dirt and germs trains the immune system to function properly. If futher postulates that excessive cleansing of our internal environments and limiting exposure to mild, often harmless pathogens, results in immune system disorders and irregularities, contributing to allergies, autoimmune diseases, autism and even cancer in the form of leukemia. Remember the chant when you were a kid, “God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt”? The wisdom of children may turn out to hold more than a grain of truth.
Additionally, washing your hands, dishes and laundry with soap or detergent is as effective or more so at removing bacteria, dirt or other impurities than using antimicrobial products. Natural products such as alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, lemon juice and essential oils can aid in cleansing, dislodge or kill bacteria and do not create antimicrobial resistance or the same negative environmental effects.
Remember, your skin is your largest organ and absorbs up to 80% of what you put on it. If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, should you really be putting it on your skin? To learn more about natural skin care and first aid options, including topical treatments and homeopathics that you can affordably add to your home or camping first aid kit, come to True Health’s free monthly wellness talk at the VFW at 18820 Southwest Boones Ferry Road in Tualatin on Wednesday June 8 at 6:30pm. This month’s talk, presented by Dr. Devo is: More Than Skin Deep: Natural Skin and Wound Care.
This article was originally published in Tualatin Life in June 2011. The original text is presented here without editing or updates.