Our relationship with microbes, a love-hate relationship

Our relationship with microbes, a love-hate relationship

Suppose you buy a crate of oranges and at home you find that there are two rotten ones among them. Do you just suddenly throw the whole box on the compost heap? Not so. And yet that is exactly what we do with the classic way of cleaning. "Kills 99.99% of all bacteria", says the spray can of all-purpose cleaner that you just brought back from the supermarket with convincing screaming letters. It's still in the shopping bag, along with the strawberry yogurt you love, the bottle of kombucha you brought for your son, and the fermented kimchi that Dad sometimes uses when he's indulging his culinary talents in the kitchen. And these are three products in which bacteria play a major role.

Unknown is unloved

What is it about our love-hate relationship with bacteria? Haven't we lost our footing a bit? It does seem that way sometimes. Perhaps the cause lies in the fact that we are not really aware of how much we depend on these microscopically small one-celled creatures and how much good they do for us. The fact that they are busy working in our intestinal flora to keep it in optimal condition is no longer such a big secret, thanks to all the promotion of probiotic drinks.

But even our skin has a microscopic layer of bacteria and fungi: the human microbiome. And a lot fewer people know that. On every square centimeter there live a billion of them! And there is a huge diversity of different species, which are harmful as well as healthy and medicinal. You may be surprised to learn that the skin actually needs some of the bad guys to keep our immune system working properly and efficiently. The trick is to maintain diversity and find the balance with good bacteria dominating the bad. After all, these natural microorganisms protect us from inflammation and irritation.

Out of Balance

When the balance of this natural protective layer is disturbed, things go wrong and unpleasant ailments such as acne, athlete's foot and even vaginal infections can appear. We often treat these with strong remedies such as antibacterial soaps, antifungal sprays and even antibiotics. At first glance, the results are good, but the microbiome is further affected and new problems can occur, because the natural protective layer of good bacteria also disappears.

You can put as many antibacterial ointments between your toes and on your feet as you like, but that fungal foot will pop right back up at the slightest contamination from your environment that your feet come into contact with. And that's because you haven't addressed the underlying problem of a disturbed microbial balance.

Have you been suffering from dry hands lately? All those antibacterial gels completely undercut that balance there too. Of course, with corona, we can't help but wash our hands a lot, but a mild soap does just as good a job here.

Allies

We carry a kilo and a half of them with us day in and day out. And fortunately so, because without bacteria we simply would not survive. Isn't it high time that we start regarding them as allies and no longer as the enemy to be thoroughly eradicated?

Despite their image, most bacteria are not harmful to our health. In fact, many species do very useful work, keeping rivers clean, providing a rich layer of humus in the forest, playing an important role in the development and production of medicines and in breaking down organic material in nature.

The set of organisms such as plants, animals and microorganisms, and the area in which they live, is called an ecosystem. It is a dynamic system in which the organisms and their habitat interact with each other. At the base of every ecosystem are microorganisms. As food for other organisms, but they are also the ultimate recyclers. For example, they clean up organic material from dead animals and plants, among other things, and make their building blocks available again to other organisms in the ecosystem. Thus, without microorganisms, life on earth would not be possible. And that undeniably makes them our allies.

Search-and-destroy

But back to our shopping basket for a moment. Would that screaming all-purpose cleaner still be in it if we were aware that literally everything is full of billions of microbes and we also inhale millions of them day in and day out? Because if 99.99 of those microscopic single-celled creatures were also bad for us, then logically we should be pretty sick 365 days out of a year. And yet, most of the time, we're just perfectly healthy.

So it's not quite right with our search-and-destroy mentality. The war term is used in a policy aimed at "search and destroy" MRSA bacteria in hospitals. And we do the same in our homes. We throw an atomic bomb, as it were, that kills and destroys everything around it, to eliminate one troublesome disease-causing germ.

Is it not better to strengthen the system around it so that this germ has no chance to manifest itself? In the past, conventional medicine often focused on the ruthless approach. But the biggest breakthroughs are one level higher. A good example is immunotherapy in cancer treatment.

Respect

Of course we have to respect the minority of bacteria that can do harm and not give them free rein. And we don't throw the idea of a clean living and working environment overboard either, but we do define "clean" in a different way.

But the war we've been celebrating against bacteria in the home for almost a century now may be about to end. There is nothing wrong with a clean home or office, but in our zeal to make everything shine like a mirror, we make it a sterile and dead mess. Because the good bacteria have to go too, and that's bad for our health.

So it's time to restore balance in the home. Time for a healthy indoor flora. Time for YOKUU.