There is an ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, tiny spiders, and fungi living on every human – from our toes to the tops of our heads.
That’s billions per square centimeter. While our automatic response may be to grab the nearest bottle of sanitizer or jump in the shower to soap up, we actually need these communities of teeming microorganisms, known as microbiomes.
Yes, keep washing your hands after handling raw meats or during flu season. It’s important to keep bad bacteria in check. But we want a balanced biome that’s not over-sanitized, where the good bacteria can flourish.
Bacteria are essential to our well-being. For instance, beneficial bacteria, like Staphylococcus epidermis, boosts our immune cells’ ability to fight off the pathogens that cause a wide range of infections and diseases. Acinetobacter bacteria is another ally, found to help protect against allergic reactions. Several other bacteria affect the production of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory molecules; if they aren’t in balance, the inflammatory response can run rampant, triggering autoimmune diseases like arthritis and psoriasis.
There are highly specialized microorganisms living in different parts of our bodies that are meant to coexist with us and keep us healthy.
The microbes living in our armpits, for example, fight to keep body odor in check. By using antiperspirants and harsh synthetic deodorants, we block the detoxifying effects of sweating and disrupt the environment that fosters friendly bacteria. Natural deodorants are a better choice because they don’t inhibit perspiration and gently combat bad bacteria. In fact, if you are a healthy person you probably don’t even need deodorant – your good bacteria, inside and out keep you stink free.
The mouth has its own unique environment, hospitable to many microorganisms. It is warm, nutrient-rich, continuously bathed with saliva, and has a pH of between 6.75 and 7.25. Therefore the oral cavity is home to a rich microbiota, most of which are beneficial organisms, living in harmony with each other and the host - the presence of microbes is, in fact, essential to good health. For example, a common resident of the mouth and respiratory tract, Streptococcus Salivarius K12 is known to produce substances that deter harmful bacteria and greatly reduce bad breath. While the symbiosis is usually stable and mutually beneficial, external factors such as ingredients in toothpaste (like Triclosan or foaming agents/SLS) and harsh mouthwashes (with alcohol and chlorhexidine or other antiseptics), can change the balance and can kill off ALL bacteria (including the good guys). The result can be gingivitis, dental caries, halitosis and/or periodontal disease.
The bottom line: support your microbiome and it will support you - make love, not war.
It’s simple if you follow these principles:
1. Less is more.
All we really need to do to keep our body clean is rinse with water and use a mild natural soap on the armpits, groin, and feet and shampoo the hair about once or twice a week. Keep in mind, all soaps (even natural soaps) physically bind to microbes and sloughs them off, including beneficial bacteria.
By using soap and shampoo minimally, we avoid stripping away sebum, the body’s natural oil. Made by the sebaceous glands, sebum helps create a healthy level of moisture on skin and scalp, which favors beneficial bacteria while also delivering the powerful antioxidant vitamin E for youthful hair and skin.
Soil contains beneficial bacteria that can add to your microbiome and improve your health.
2. Dirt is good (mostly).
Studies show that people living with pets, who garden or otherwise have regular contact with soil, tend to have more diverse microbial communities, better allergy resistance and stronger immune systems than people who don’t.
Soil bacteria organisms (SBOs), such as bacillus subtilis, are key in building healthy gut flora which improves digestion and nutrient absorption. The SBO mycobacterium vaccae is found to trigger the release of seratonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that elevates mood and decreases anxiety.
Clay, a common soil material, not only carries beneficial bacteria and minerals, but it binds to disease-causing bacteria, viruses, mold and parasites that can be present in the soil, on our bodies or in our mouths. Historically, many ancient cultures ate clay for its nourishing and cleansing properties. It is especially helpful for oral care and can be found today in some natural toothpastes, including Akamai Mineral Toothpaste.
3. Choose good (natural, nourishing) ingredients & read labels.
Deodorant soaps are among the harshest, unnecessary, personal care products. They typically include antibacterial agents and detergents that destroy the natural biome and weaken the immune system.
Look for botanical and nutrient-rich ingredients like coconut, olive, jojoba or almond oil and clays. These simple but powerful basics do their work to clean, feed and balance your body. Avoid anything with “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. Fragrance can be a Trojan horse for a wide range of toxic chemicals such as phthalates, known hormone disruptors. Essential oils are a safe alternative for scenting personal care products while mitigating bad bacteria.
Products like Akamai will “feed the jungle” of your microbiomes. Check out our blog on toxics to dig deeper: 7 Disturbing Facts About Chemicals in Personal Care Products & How to Avoid Them and our Akamai ingredients page.