Five Common Hygiene Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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September 27, 2003 | 37,104 views

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Rachael Droege

Your daily routine is comprised of many lifestyle factors that contribute to how you feel. Some of the factors are obvious, such as diet and exercise, but other factors are easier to overlook as you rush through your daily grind.

Personal hygiene is one such lifestyle factor that deserves attention. Your choices about personal hygiene will directly impact your health, especially over time. Seemingly small details of your daily routine, such as what kind of toothpaste or hand soap you use and how you cook your meat, can add up to big changes in your overall health and well-being.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly if you've been following the newsletter), there are many common "illusions" about proper hygiene out there, and what you may think of as proper hygiene likely has some room for improvement. Check out these five commonly practiced hygiene mistakes that give people the illusion they are being healthy when in fact the opposite is true.

Get Rid of Your Antiperspirant

Most people use antiperspirant daily with good intentions, but using antiperspirant is a good way to increase your chances of getting Alzheimer's disease, as it is one of the common sources of aluminum. The aluminum in antiperspirant is absorbed by the body and wreaks havoc in the brain, where it contributes to the growing numbers of people coming down with Alzheimer's disease.

I stopped using antiperspirant nearly 20 years ago. I use soap and water instead, and it works splendidly. I even stopped getting underarm stains on my shirts, as it appears the stains were due to an interaction with the antiperspirant and my sweat, not the sweat alone.

Deodorants aren't as bad as antiperspirants, but I would also avoid using them unless you find a natural, aluminum-free variety made from some form of baking soda.

Avoid Cooking Your Foods 'Well-Done'

We've all heard it before--make sure you thoroughly cook your food to kill any food-borne pathogens. What you don't hear is that overcooked food is a prime way to get an extra helping of carcinogens with your meal.

When most foods are cooked they lose valuable nutrients, but overcooking food or cooking it at extremely high temperatures actually generates harmful chemicals. Many processed foods contain acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing chemical due to their high cooking temperatures.

When meats are cooked at high temperatures by frying, boiling or barbecuing, carcinogenic substances called heterocyclic amines are formed. One solution is to add organic blueberries to the meat (with hamburgers for instance), as blueberries contain many cancer-fighting antioxidants that may prevent the heterocyclic animes from forming.

Consuming only lightly cooked meat will also help you avoid carcinogens. You will, of course, want to purchase meat from healthy animals, as opposed to the antibiotic- and hormone-ridden meat sold in most supermarkets, to ensure you are getting only high-quality meat. You can find 'healthy' meat in some health food stores, or try the free-range ostrich and bison offered on this site--they are truly two of the best meats you can consume.

Overcooking not only applies to meat, but also to dairy products and eggs. I recommend that most people avoid drinking pasteurized milk since it's beneficial properties are destroyed through pasteurization, but highly recommend raw milk. Similarly, cooked eggs cause health problems with many people, but raw eggs are an incredible source of high-quality nutrients.

Vegetables also lose valuable nutrients when they are cooked. Vegetable juicing is an excellent way to add nutritious, raw vegetables to your diet.

Don't Use Antibacterial Soap

Somewhere along the way the public began to believe that regular soap wasn't good enough--they needed antibacterial soap. Well, antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good.

Triclosan, an antibacterial compound that acts as the active ingredient in most antibacterial soap, not only kills bacteria, it also has been shown to kill human cells (Eur J Oral Sci 1998 Apr;106:628-36). Antibacterial compounds are in nearly half of all soaps sold in the United States, which is likely contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Many traditional medical circles now accept the hygiene hypothesis, which centers on the idea that children need to be exposed to some bacteria in early childhood in order to strengthen their immune systems. Children who are not exposed to common bacteria, which are wiped out by antibacterial soap, may be more prone to allergies and asthma.

This is not to say that you shouldn't wash your hands, only that you shouldn't wash them with antibacterial soap. Instead, identify a simple non-toxic soap that you can switch your family to. Local health food stores typically carry a variety of natural soaps.

Use Only Non-Fluoride Toothpaste

There is enough fluoride in a typical tube of toothpaste to kill a small child if the entire tube was consumed at once. Not only does fluoride do little to prevent tooth decay, it is also damaging to your health.

Fluoride accumulates in the bones, making them brittle and more easily fractured, and in the pineal gland, which may inhibit the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the onset of puberty. It also damages tooth enamel (known as dental fluorosis) and confuses the immune system, causing it to attack the body's tissues. This can increase the growth rate of tumors in people prone to cancer.

This fluoride problem, with toothpaste at least, is easily remedied, as most health food stores carry natural non-fluoride toothpaste. Of course you will also want to watch out for other sources of fluoride such as tap water, dental fluoride treatments, mouthwashes, processed food, some vitamin tablets, and beverages like fruit juice, soda and tea. If you enjoy tea, you should confirm that your favorite brand does not contain excess levels of fluoride. If you are unable to do this, you can try Body Ecology Diet's pure green and black tea extracts, which are free of harmful levels of fluoride (and are caffeine-free as well).

Further, I highly recommend that you have your tap water tested for contaminants such as fluoride by a reputable water-testing agency. We have made arrangements with AquaMD, one of the nation's premier testing laboratories, and now offer the "Mercola's Recommended Water Tests" at an affordable price compared to other sources

Wash and Store Your Vegetables Properly

Once vegetables are picked they begin to lose nutrients. While there is no way to avoid this loss--other than growing the vegetables yourself and eating them right from the vine--you can easily increase the staying power of your vegetables by storing them properly.

The key is to keep as much air away from the vegetables as possible once you get them home. To do this, simply squeeze as much air as you can out of the bag that holds the vegetables and then seal it. The bag should look like it is vacuum-packed. I do this by holding the bag against my chest and running my arm over the bottom of the bag to the top, which bleeds the air out of the bag. This will double or triple the normal storage life of the vegetables.

Washing your vegetables is also important. This is especially important if you are unable to obtain organic vegetables, as you will want to remove as much of the pesticide residue as possible. Don't worry if you can't buy organic--any vegetables are better than no vegetables at all. To clean your vegetables, soak them in a sink full of water (ideally this should be filtered water, not tap) with 4 to 8 ounces of distilled vinegar for 30 minutes.

"Convection", Round objects appear to move around the squares slowly.  Copyright Akiyoshi Kitaoka