There is a world that goes unseen: an ecosystem made up of microscopic organisms depending on YOU for survival. Trillions of microbes like bacteria and demodex mites live on and inside of our bodies because we offer them food and protection. Indeed, you are harboring these very same microbes over every inch of your body. But before you run to the shower to wash these little critters off, you should know that many of these organisms are actually vital to your health – and are an important component of what makes you, you!
Take the demodex mite, for example: scientists believe that this bug keeps our facial skin looking fresh and healthy by consuming dead skin, oils, and even harmful bacteria. The demodex mite takes shelter in your pores during the day and is most active at night. Doctors have not found any evidence that demodex mites cause any health problems to humans, but they do believe that the mites might have a correlation to rosacea (the reddening of skin).
Aside from our very own personal dermatologist bugs, we are also hosts to many types of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are harmless and actually protect us by colonizing large spaces on our body that would otherwise be infected with harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. One of these helpful bacteria is S epidermidis, which produces antibacterial proteins known as “bacteriocins” to prevent the growth of other bacteria that can make us very sick.
It’s not all just skin deep: bacteria play a very important role inside our bodies as well. Flora bacteria that lives in our gut helps us digest food, produce vitamins, and even help break down carbohydrates that humans cannot digest. The bacteria transform the carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids that our bodies use as a source of energy, as well as nutrients like calcium and iron.
As you can see, many microbes are our friends, and we should take great care of them. This is why we should be mindful of our use of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. These products do not know the difference between good and bad bacteria, they simply kill all bacteria. What is worse is that bacteria reproduces quickly, so quick in fact that they may become immune to antibiotics.
It has also been discovered that triclosan, the active ingredient of many antibacterial products, is harming our environment. When we rinse our hands after using antibacterial soap, the suds containing triclosan are washed down the drain and are then introduced into streams and oceans. It has been discovered that algae is negatively affected by triclosan by disrupting the algae’s ability to photosynthesize.
Now, we’re not suggesting that you stop washing your hands. Obviously, washing hands kills bad bacteria that cause infections, disease, and death – so doctors, keep on scrubbing! But just don’t overdo it. You don’t need to use hand sanitizers every ten minutes, you don’t need to be afraid of every germ.
We are a walking ecosystem inhabited by trillions of microbes. Some can harm us, but most help us stay healthy by maintaining a delicate balance of bacterial colonies and aiding digestion. Without our tiny friends we would be infested with harmful microbes, and we would be in a constant state of sickness. Thankfully, we are a nation of trillions, and with the help of our friends we continue to live a healthy, wonderful symbiotic life with them.