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It's Dangerous to be Too Clean

Why do we have so much bacteria all over our bodies? One reason may be that they fight off viruses. That's why it can be dangerous to be too clean.

We've learned that the average human body is covered with millions of germs. Different types of bacteria lurk in different places on our bodies, such as under our arms, in our nasal and oral passages, on our skin and in women's vaginas.

Healthy humans harbor an enormous and diverse group of bacteria and other bugs that live within their intestines. These microbial partners provide beneficial aid in multiple ways--from helping us digest food to the development of a healthy immune system.

Microbiologist Michael Abt says, "From our studies in mice, we found that signals derived from these beneficial microbes are essential for optimal immune responses to experimental viral infections. In one way we could consider these microbes as our 'brothers in arms' in the fight against infectious diseases."

Signals from these bacteria influence immune-cell development and susceptibility to infectious or inflammatory diseases. Commensal microbial communities colonize barrier surfaces of the skin, vaginal, upper respiratory, and gastrointestinal tracts of mammals and consist of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. The largest and most diverse microbial communities live in the intestine. Is this where the term "gut instinct" comes from?

Conditions such as temperature and acidity, as well as the work being done by the human cells in the various places, influence which microbes live there. About 4,000 different species of bacteria live in our intestines, where they help digest nutrients and produce vitamins and anti-inflammatory compounds. The vagina has only about 300 species--which increase during pregnancy in order to provide for a healthy passage for the infant.

Regardless of sex or ethnicity, microbial inhabitants in our bodies are fairly similar in everyone. There are larger differences are between the germs that live on one person's skin and tongue than the germs that live on the skin and tongues of other people.

In the June 13th edition of the Washington Post, Alyssa Botelho explains this by quoting biologist Curtis Huttenhower as saying, "There are more similarities between creatures that survive in two different deserts than between (those that live in) a desert or a rain forest. The different regions of your body are these bugs' deserts and rain forests."

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