New research gives you permission to get down and dirty

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
April 05, 2015

Turns out there is such a thing as too clean-a growing body of research on hygiene shows that having some germs in your life is a good thing. For years, we've focused on killing nasty bacteria to prevent infection and illness, but scientists are now telling us that we should be working just as hard to create a healthy "microbiome" by surrounding ourselves with beneficial bugs. These bacteria can powerfully impact your brain and immune health, Charles Raison, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine told ABC News. Bacteria are powerful allies, helping us with digestion, boosting our immune systems and even improving our mood. So how do you cultivate the good bugs? Well, you have to get a little dirty! Here are seven "unhealthy" habits that are actually good for you.

Kissing Your Dog On the Lips

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Dog lovers, rejoice! You no longer have to feel guilty for loving those sloppy kisses from Fido. Not only is bonding with your pooch great for lowering stress, but a Berkeley study found that just petting a dog lowers your blood pressure and stress levels. But according to an ongoing University of Arizona study, the canine kisses themselves are beneficial too. Dr. Raison explained to ABC News that the dog works as a furry probiotic, helping build healthy bacteria colonies in the human owner. (And get your doggie fix with the Top 15 Ways Puppies Improve Your Health.)

Skipping Hand Sanitizer

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Anti-bacterial soaps and gels may make you feel better about using public bathrooms, but they may be doing more harm than good, according to a recent study in the Oxford Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases. These products do destroy the bad bugs, but they also wipe out all your good bacteria and may even contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, the researchers say. Besides, hand sanitizers were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms, says Allison Aiello, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Scrub Your Kitchen Sans Chemicals

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Good news for eco-friendly cooks: You can ditch the chemical cleaning products and still get a perfectly clean kitchen, according a study from the University of Arkansas. "Obviously, situations like handling raw meat or someone being sick would warrant a disinfectant," study author and microbiologist Kristen Gibson, Ph.D., told the Wall Street Journal. "But for everything else, plain water is fine." In addition, Gibson recommends using a microfiber cloth, since they've been proven to pick up both bacteria and viruses and prevent them from spreading to other surfaces. (You should definitely still clean these 7 Things You're Not Washing (But Should Be).)

Share Food with Friends

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Waiter, one dessert with three spoons, please! Not only will sharing a dish with your besties save you on calories, it can also be good for your immune system. Stanford researchers have found that a little saliva shared between healthy friends and family members can help you build up your stock of good bugs. Sadly, though, not even science has solved the problem of which person should eat the last bite of that triple-chocolate cake. (Our solution? Everyone orders their own Delectable Desserts for One.)

Don't Brush Your Teeth After Every Meal

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Brushing your teeth too vigorously or too often can actually hurt your teeth by eroding enamel and irritating your gums, says the American Dental Association. Even worse, brushing right after a meal can make the dental damage even worse, according to a 2012 study from the University of Chicago. When you eat acidic foods (soda is a major culprit!) the acid can stay on your teeth and eat away at your enamel. Turns out, brushing right away drives the acid deeper into your teeth instead of removing it. Rather, the researchers recommend waiting 30 to 60 minutes after eating before reaching for your toothbrush. (How to Whiten Teeth Naturally with Food.)

Get Some Dirt on Your Hands (And In Your Mouth)

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Gardening grows tasty vegetables, but according to new research from Cornell University, the dirt they grow in can be just as good for you. Yes, researchers are actually telling you to eat (a little) dirt. They think humans have been practicing geophagy, the act of eating soil, for millenia, because it protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens. "We hope people agree that it is time to stop regarding geophagy as a bizarre, non-adaptive gustatory mistake," says Sera Young, Ph.D., the study's lead author.

Leave Your Food Out

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Make no mistake, some foods (like meat) definitely need to be refrigerated. But allowing other edibles to be exposed to air and warmth can cultivate healthy bacteria, helping to create your own tasty probiotics, says a 2014 study published in Physiological Anthropology. Milk, bread starter (a natural leaven you can use in place of yeast), and vegetables were often fermented before refrigeration (and hygiene!) was common. And researchers found new benefits to the old traditions, discovering that not only does eating home-fermented foods boost your immune system and increase nutrient content in the foods, but it also has mental health benefits. (Ask the Diet Doctor: Should I Add More Fermented Foods to My Diet?)


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