We live in a world that is increasingly obsessed with cleanliness. Supermarkets are full of cleaning products for every room of your house that promise to ‘kill 99.9% of all germs’, the beauty aisles are teeming with products to keep your skin clean and fight spots (as well as keep wrinkles at bay!), and some doctors give out antibiotics like Smarties in order to fight bugs and illness. But could being too clean be upsetting your digestive system and causing constipation?
Our environment is actually a delicate balance of microorganisms, some of which are bad for us like certain bacteria, fungi and viruses, also known as ‘germs’, which can cause illness and disease, but overall when it comes to microorganisms, they can be good for us.
How microorganisms can be good for you
Our bodies naturally contain antibodies that circulate in our blood stream and can appear anywhere within the body. These antibodies are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize ‘foreign objects’ such as germs. As and when they come into contact with a germ, your body's antibiodies will go about destroying it, with the help of macrophages (cells that break down and digest pathogens), but the body will also remember that specific germ and create a 'memory' antibody for it so that you are not infected by it again. Hence why, you never get the same cold twice!
Every day, your body is responding to and protecting you from hundreds of thousands of germs by constantly creating antibodies and killing off any harmful germs before they can infect us, be it from your dog, coins in your purse, your mobile phone or travelling on the bus or tube, for example. In this way creation of these antibodies helps us to build a strong and healthy immune system.
Therefore, overuse of cleaning products, antibacterial hand soaps and gels, and even antibiotics, actually kills off these microorganisms that can help us build and strengthen our immune system. Antibacterial products in particular may help reduce some infections but they also promote the growth of drug-resistant organisms, which is why we have seen an increase in super-bugs such as MRSA over recent years.
So how does being too clean cause constipation?
We need to support and promote the growth of our antibodies in order to keep our immune system strong, however being too clean can start to kill all these germs before we have a chance to come into contact with them, recognise and destroy them, and protect us later in life.
Being too clean also means we are killing the good bacteria in our digestive system, as the array of cleaning products that we use are not able to recognise the good from the bad, they just kill them all. Not having enough good bacteria in our digestive system creates an imbalance and that’s when digestive problems such as constipation can occur.
We have talked before about the importance of good bacteria in ‘Healthy Bowel’ and ‘Fibre and constipation’ - supporting your immune system also helps support your digestive system as it allows it to create a healthier environment for the good bacteria to thrive and that will help you stave off illnesses, as well as constipation and other digestive troubles.
I'm certainly not suggesting for one minute that you don't clean or keep clean, but it is worth bearing in mind the idea that balance is key. Sometimes simple acts like washing your hands with simple soap rather than antibacterial soaps, letting your children play around in the mud in the garden, and not cleaning your house every second can all help your immune system to stay strong and the good bacteria to thrive, which will allow your digestive system to perform effectively and ultimately help prevent symptoms such as constipation.
To find out more about microorganisms and bacteria, you may also like to read ‘Benefits of probiotics and prebiotics’.