Hygien-noja: när rent blir för rent

Hygiene addiction: when clean is too clean

It has long been natural to be afraid of bacteria, diseases and viruses. We all want to stay healthy. After the pandemic, it probably became even more common to try to be as hygienic as possible. But we should know better - we also need bacteria and other microorganisms to live healthy lives. The truth is that we often go a little too far in our hygiene obsession, with both small and large consequences.

Increased risk of allergies and asthma
In the 1950s, asthma was rare in Sweden, but today about ten percent of the population struggles with it. According to Magnus Wickman at Karolinska Institutet, one reason is that our modern lifestyle has made us excessively clean, and when we fought certain diseases like cholera and polio, we also said goodbye to microorganisms that protect us from allergies. In fact, not only in Sweden, but all over the Western world, asthma and allergies are on the rise.

Diversity of microorganisms
Research shows that the genes in the body's bacteria play an important role in various biological processes. For example, gut bacteria produce a significant amount of serotonin, which helps us feel better mentally. Up to two-thirds of circulating substances in the body can originate from microorganisms, especially from gut bacteria.

One threat to the balance of bacteria in the body is antibiotics. Although antibiotics target disease-causing bacteria, they can eradicate a significant amount of bacteria throughout the body, disrupting the delicate balance of the microbiota. It is therefore very important not to overuse antibiotics.

Stress and anxiety

When we worry unnecessarily about hygiene, it can lead to poorer mental health. People can develop mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and health anxiety. Over-cleaning also takes up a lot of time and people can feel stressed about being "clean enough". Read more about how our obsession with cleanliness consumes energy and how we can feel when we worry about getting sick.

It's very natural to be afraid of getting sick, we all are from time to time. The important thing is that we learn more about how everything is connected - how we are connected to the microorganisms - and do more of what is actually good for us. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to cut down on washing and cleaning and take it easy for a while for both mental and physical health. A kind of a nice thought, feel free to hang on to it for a while!

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