As a society we’re pretty committed to maintaining a reasonable level of cleanliness, keeping the environment we inhabit and work in as germ-free as possible. Aside from dirt being unaesthetic this is also designed to reduce our exposure to any microbes that might make us ill. With the advent of the coronavirus, a potentially lethal micro-organism, understandably we’ve taken this obsession to a whole new level compulsively sanitizing every surface we encounter, washing our hands vigorously and repeatedly for extended periods of time even to the tune of a ditty like ‘happy birthday to you,’ masking up and distancing ourselves from our fellow germ spreaders. Now that we’re emerging from the fog of this nightmare and the vast majority of us have unmasked, at least in this country, and have become less concerned with keeping our distance and sanitizing scientists are now questioning how much we still need to be adhering to these practices and whether over-sterilising our everyday surrounds and limiting our exposure to microbes could be doing us more harm than good.
Aside from dangerous germs like the coronavirus a lot of the microbes we encounter daily are good for us. They help to maintain a healthy microbiome, which is the ecosystem of germs which inhabit the inside and outside of our bodies. It is this natural environment which is primed by the multitude of microorganisms our bodies are marinated in every day that contributes to a vibrant immune system, seeds the hormones orchestrating our wellbeing and allows our brains and our cardiovascular systems to function effectively. Uncoupling from this vital interface has the potential to make our microbiomes less robust which might weaken our immune capabilities and have adverse repercussions for the rest of our health. Research has even demonstrated that an unhealthy microbiome can lead to worse outcomes for those who succumb to the coronavirus and might even seed long Covid and such symptoms as debilitating fatigue, brain fog and other persistent difficulties that are unleashed by this pernicious organism.
With the coronavirus still lurking in the shadows, although in this country we seem to be remarkably fortunate and virus free, how much should we all plunge back into this microbial stew and reengage with those germs that can benefit us? That most of us have abandoned our masks and social distancing while bars are filling up is a testament to just how much we’ve thrown caution to the wind and rekindled our old behaviors. The rest of us more circumspect types might need to be less consumed with sanitizing as we reignite our flagging microbiomes with plant-based foods, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, avoiding excess sugar and following the other principles detailed in ‘Immune Apocalypse.’