While it is important to rid your body and home of bacteria, you don’t want to exterminate all bacteria from your environment. Some bacteria are good, and even essential to our well-being. Bacteria on our skin, in our airways, and in our digestive tract are the first line of defense against pathogens which can cause infections and other issues. You do not want to be like Bubble Boy, sterilized from your environment. If you’re never using your immune system, then it will be ill-equipped to deal with pathogens or other complications down the line.
How clean is too clean? Many parents believe that their children should be kept in a nearly sterile environment that is as clean and germ-free as possible, but research suggests that being exposed to unclean conditions is beneficial for a child's immune system. Research has indicated that children who are kept in very clean environments have a higher rate of hay fever, asthma and a wide range of other conditions. This theory is called the hygiene hypothesis.1
The hypothesis was first introduced in the late 80’s by David P. Strachan, a professor of epidemiology, in an article from the British Medical Journal. Strachan found that children in larger households had fewer instances of hay fever because they are exposed to germs by older siblings. This finding led to further research that suggests a lack of early childhood exposure to less than pristine conditions can increase the individual's susceptibility to disease.
For example, in the late 90s, Dr. Erika von Mutius, a health researcher, compared the rates of allergies and asthma in East Germany with those of West Germany, which unified in 1999. Her initial hypothesis was that East German children, who grew up in a dirtier and generally less sanitary environment would have worse allergies and suffer more from asthma than their Western counterparts. However, her research found the opposite: the children in the polluted areas of East Germany actually had lower allergic reactions and fewer cases of asthma than children in West Germany.2
Further research has found that children in developing areas of the world are less likely to develop allergies and asthma compared with children in the developed world.3
The hygiene hypothesis, while still a hypothesis and theory, says a child's environment can be too clean, and the lack of exposure to germs does not give the immune system a chance to develop resistance to diseases.
While many essential oils are antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, and make great cleaning agents, it is important to not get fixated on killing every last bit of bacteria and sterilizing yourself and home. Some germs can provide benefit to our immune system and body and are essential to our well-being.
1 - Bradford, Alina. "What Is the Hygiene Hypothesis?" Live Science, 17 Mar. 2016, www.livescience.com/ 54078-hygiene-hypothesis.html.
2 - "Hygiene Hypothesis." Evolution Library, www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/10/4/l_104_07.html.
3 - Rettner, Rachael. "Asthma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment." Live Science, www.livescience.com/ 41264-asthma-symptoms-treatment.html.