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Is The Use of Bleach In The Home Leading To Increased Infections In Children?

Hands of child full of wet sandAdvertisers have greatly aided and abetted a household trend in recent years to free our homes of the slightest possibility of any germs being allowed to lurk - undetected. The sales of disinfecting cleaning products has rocketed as a result.

New research from Europe

Now researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium have raised health concerns about the use of bleach, saying: “The frequent use of disinfecting cleaning products – caused by an erroneous belief, reinforced by advertising, that our home should be microbe-free – makes the effects (reported in our study) a public health concern”. Researchers looked into the potential impact of exposure to bleach in the homes of more than nine thousand children (between the ages of six and twelve) who attended more than fifty different schools in the countries of Spain, Finland and the Netherlands. Their parents were given a questionnaire to complete, asking them how often their children had suffered from flu, tonsillitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, otitis (ear infections) and pneumonia in the previous twelve months. This was linked to a question on whether they used bleach to clean their homes (at least once a week). Spanish households are frequent users of bleach products in their homes while the citizens of Finland are rare users. In the same way, Spanish schools are cleaned with bleach while those in Finland are not. Although not stated, it would appear that the Netherlands sat somewhere between the two extremes. The results of the study found that the children living in homes (regularly cleaned with bleach) had a 20% higher rate of developing flu and a 35% risk of recurrent tonsillitis. The likelihood of any other recurrent infection was 18% more. The research did not elaborate on whether (a) the homes were too clean or (b) the bleach itself (a toxic chemical) was the cause of the higher incidences of infections

Are our homes too clean?

We have written before on how children who are too clean are more likely to develop eczema. There is a “hygiene hypothesis” which says that by protecting children from exposure to dirt and germs, and by preventing disease from taking its full course in childhood, we are inadvertently destroying the immune system’s ability to respond appropriately to infection and other stimuli. Of course, better hygiene is responsible for many gains in human health and there is a thin line between sensible hygiene and obsessive measures toward cleanliness, killing germs and suppressing illness. This same hygiene hypothesis points out that being exposed to viruses and other environmental factors like dirt, germs and parasites helps you build up your immunity naturally. And there is more... Asthma, allergies, eczema, heart disease and even depression have been linked to the hygiene hypothesis. There is growing evidence that trying to keep your environment overly sterile could backfire and actually increase your risk of acute and chronic diseases.

The dangers of chlorine bleach

Contrary to popular belief, chlorine is not a safe substance as it has unintended byproducts (organochlorines and dioxins).
  • These byproducts remain in the environment
  • They do not break down readily
  • They bio-accumulate
  • If chlorine byproducts get washed down drains, finding their way into streams and waterways, they come into contact with other organic materials, combining to form extremely toxic organic chemicals.
It has been found that chlorine contamination is so widespread that today most people have detectable levels of dioxin in their blood. Safer alternatives to chlorine include hydrogen peroxide and ozone. If you go to our earlier post, we share 6 homemade cleaning solutions that are safer for using in your home.

How can you avoid being too hygienic with your children?

  • Let your child get dirty, allowing them to play outside freely and with animals too. As unpleasant as it may seem, apparently it is not a train smash if your child even eats boogers from his or her nose from time to time! More on this subject here...
  • Giving up on the antibacterial soaps and other antibacterial household products. These just wipe out the micro-organisms that your body needs to be exposed to for developing and maintaining proper immune function. You only need simple soap and water to wash your hands. Unfortunately, those antibacterial chemicals (typically triclosan) are toxic, even promoting the growth of resistant bacteria.
  • Disallowing unnecessary antibiotics and remembering that they do not work on viral infections but only on bacterial infections if really needed.
  • Changing to locally grown or organic grass fed meats that are without antibiotics.

Finding the right balance regarding the whole cleanliness issue

Of course, many people attribute the decline in infectious diseases to better hygiene standards and yet we are seeing a rise in other conditions because now we are too clean. There is no getting away from the fact that in the past, humans used to be very dirty and germy with many dying from disease and of course improved hygiene played a huge role in the decline of those diseases – even before the arrival of vaccines. It is no wonder that today there is so much confusion.