Try not to wash your hands too too often. Your immune system will thank you.

It’s difficult to walk along any hall in UTM and not find a hand sanitizer dispenser. Traditional hand soaps in washrooms have been replaced with motion-sensor antibacterial foam machines. Hand dryers blast your hands with air for 15 seconds or so without you having to press a button. Many of the new bathrooms, including those in the IB building, have curved entrances instead of doors so you don’t have to grab any dirty handles.


Our world is becoming sterilized, sanitized, and “germ-free”.


Unfortunately, eliminating germs could be one of the worst things for our health.

Humans have always been around bacteria. In fact, the human body contains 10 times more bacterial cells than original human cells. Bacteria live inside us, on us, and all around us. Bacteria play a crucial role in getting us sick and forming zits, but also in getting us better, digesting our food, and providing us with nutrients.

Our immune systems are used to monitoring our bodies, learning how to distinguish friendly bacteria from threatening bacteria, and initiating immune responses to fight off infections. The constant battling of the immune system with evolving bacteria keeps our immune systems in shape and forces it to evolve new ways to combat disease.


So what’s the problem with getting rid of the harmful bacteria in our environment? Wouldn’t that just help our immune systems out?


Well, our immune systems tend to atrophy (weaken from disuse) when they are not adequately exposed to bacterial threats. It is believed that North Americans have some of the weakest immune systems because of our excellent water treatment facilities. Unlike in most third-world countries, the Canadian (and especially the Ontarian) water treatment eliminates most, if not all, bacterial threats. The problem is that when we finally do encounter pathogenic bacteria, we can have an extreme reaction.


The United Kingdom and North America are noting spikes in allergy sufferers. Over a third of the UK population and a fifth of the North American population reports allergies. Many doctors, including Dr. Oz, attribute allergy prevalence to increasing antibacterial products. Medical studies suggest that children and teens overexposed to antibacterial soaps develop weaker immune systems that lead to increased risk of hay fever and other allergies.


When a baby is born, it is essential that the baby be exposed to pathogens in its environment in order to develop a robust immune system. In your body, “T cells”, the cells that are responsible for initiating immune responses, must by produced in the proper proportions based on their different functions. Throwing off the normal development of these cells can overemphasize an immune system’s reactions to dietary threats, leading to food allergies.


Obviously, it would be a bad idea to go back to, say, the state of the water in undeveloped African villages where relief efforts are desperately trying to get clean drinking water that doesn’t make the people sick, but you can also err on the side of too sanitized. So if you forget to wash your hands now and again, don’t panic; you may have done yourself a favour.