Monday, June 15, 2015

How Gross Are You Really?

Our world is both cool and a little gross. (The proof: There are more microbes in your gut than there are cells in your body. !) But conventional wisdom isn't always enough to keep you healthy. Or even worse, it can lead you down a germy path.
Not sure what's clean anymore? Let's start with the things that sound gross, but really aren't.
5 Things That Sound Gross, but Aren't
• Not Using a Toilet Seat Liner in a Public Toilet: Not Gross
"Our skin forms a fantastic barrier against microbes, so sitting on a toilet seat won't cause an infection unless you have a breakage in the seal, like a cut," says Jason Tetro, microbiologist and author of The Germ Code. In fact, you may be better off not using one. "When you flush the toilet, you create aerosols, and those aerosols will be chockful of your 'contribution' if you go number two." And you know what's sitting directly in the line of fire of the dreaded toilet flush? That liner paper. Doesn't sound so clean anymore, does it?
• Looking in the Toilet After You Go: Not Gross
While you might not want to stick around long after you flush, taking a glance in the pot before hand isn't gross. Rather, it's a good idea. Looking at the color of your urine can help keep you hydrated, and you can learn a lot about yourdigestive health from looking at your stool. For instance, it lets you check for food intolerance, allergy, or infection, which show up as broken-up, watery stools, and red or black stools can be a sign of ulcers or hemorrhoids.
• Being Sweaty: Not Gross
When you're working out, being drenched in sweat means that you're probably a healthy, well-hydrated athlete. Plus, research suggests that bacteria that eat ammonia (a major compound of sweat) can improve your skin, including reducing inflammation and healing wounds (all good things, especially for those suffering from acne).
• Eating "Expired" Food: Not Gross
"Use-by" and "sell-by" dates are basically meaningless, says research from Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School. These dates are used to indicate freshness, not food safety, and state-by-state, the standards are different.
• Not Cleaning Out Your Earwax: Not Gross
Earwax is in your ears for a purpose: To keep germs out of your ears. In fact, cleaning your ear can do more harm than good as you push the wax further into your ear and risk blocking or scratching your ear canal. If you think they're especially waxy, go to a doctor for a cleaning.
More From Rodale News: Is There Poop on Your Toothbrush?
10 Things That Sound Gross and Are
Make sure you stop these bad habits immediately.
• Using the Automatic Hand Drier in a Public Toilet: Gross
This wouldn't be nearly so bad if everyone washed their hands the right way. Unfortunately, they don't. Instead, these air-jet blowers spread the bacteria left on hands around the room. Researchers have found that there are 27 times more airborne germs around a hand drier than around a paper towel dispenser.
• Leaving Your Toothbrush on the Vanity: Gross
Not only is your toothbrush vulnerable to the spray from the toilet flush, but also splashes from the sink, says Tetro. Fortunately, it's an easy fix. He says that running your brush under very hot water for about 10 seconds can help protect you, and keeping your toothbrush in the medicine cabinet or a drawer can limit its exposure to microbes.
• Washing Raw Chicken: Gross
You probably wash raw poultry thinking that it's a good habit. Not the case. Rinsing raw chicken splashes bacteria around your kitchen—as far as three feet from your sink. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacteria that hang out on your poultry infect about 1.3 million per year in the U.S., resulting in about 76 deaths.
• Chewing Your Nails: Gross
Not that there isn't anything more pleasant than the sound of someone chowing down on their cuticles (cue sarcasm), but this habit goes on the ditch pile. "Our nails don't get washed the same way we do our hands, so there's a good likelihood that there are bacteria or viruses under them that could cause infection," says Tetro. Be especially wary if you're guilty of the previous gross habit.
• Getting a Mani-Pedi: Gross
Unfortunately, manicures aren't the solution to your nail-biting habit, as many nail polishes contain chemicals dubbed "the toxic trio," including formaldehyde. Pedicures aren't any better. "Our feet are full of bacteria," says Tetro. "If you're not cleaning and disinfecting the tub between soaks, you're risking contamination."
While salons may say they disinfect (which, if they're doing it using products that contain triclosan, is also problematic), Tetro says that this isn't always reliable. "A disinfectant has instructions, but most people are probably not following them," he says. "If you're just spraying it on and not letting it soak, you're not achieving the levels of cleanliness you need."
• Getting Kisses from Your Dog: Gross
We love dogs, but there are healthier ways to show your dogs you love them than to get covered in their slobber. "A dog's general mouth bacteria may be OK for us, but where the dog's tongue has been…it's not a clean environment," says Shelly Rubin, VMD, former chief of staff of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. If you really need your puppy smooches, consider brushing your dog's teeth using toothpaste specially formulated for our canine friends (never human toothpaste, which is dangerous for dogs).
• Failing to Cover Your Sneeze: Gross
If you didn't get the memo in kindergarten to cover your nose when you sneeze, here's your education: Large droplets from sneezing or coughing can travel more than a yard, and small droplets can go as far as four yards, according to MITresearchers.
• Not Showering Before and After You Swim: Gross
More than 10,000 Americans become infected by pool water every year because people treat swimming pools like their own personal bathtubs. Not to mention that pools accumulate all kinds of toxic personal care products that you may be trying to avoid.
And that's not even the worst part. Despite all the cleaning chemicals, chlorine can't clean out all of the pee. And considering that one in five people pee in the pool, you definitely don't want to skip the post-swim shower.
• Following the Five-Second Rule: Gross
The five-second rule is a straight-up myth, says Tetro. Once your food hits the floor, bacteria attach immediately, but there are some factors that can affect this, such as how wet or dry the food or surface is (wet will lead to more contamination) or if it's a hard or carpeted surface (carpets hold onto bacteria, so less of it gets on your food even if you pick up a dust bunny or two). Still, if it's on the floor and you don't know how dirty it might be, just throw it in the trash.
• Not Washing Your Water Bottle Frequently: Gross
"I'm not sharing my drink, so it's just my own germs, right?" you think to yourself. Not the case, says Tetro. "Not washing your water bottle frequently enough can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria from your mouth, as well as fungi and yeast from the environment," he says. You can get away with a day or two, but after that, you're taking a risk.
5 Things That Are Borderline Gross
Sometimes, there isn't a hard-and-fast rule. You just have to make a judgment call based on your environment, your immune system, and your tolerance for the ick factor.
• Not Showering After the Gym: Not Gross (Usually)
It kind of depends on what workout you're doing. If you're just going for a run (and not touching gym equipment or other sweaty people), skipping a shower isn't the end of the world. "You're just letting the microbes already on your skin get a little extra nutrients," says Tetro. "This would only be a problem if you work out every day in the same sweaty clothes and are failing to shower."
However, if you're using the weight machines, it may be a different story, as gyms have been under fire for being breeding grounds for MRSA. "If you’re going to be in a high-traffic area, then it's good to make sure that you've cleaned off the surfaces before and after you work out and cleaned off yourself," says Tetro.
• Kissing: Not Gross (Sort Of)
Swapping spit transfers 80 million microbes in 10 seconds, but before we stamp this fact as gross, researchers suggest that this may be healthy because it increases your bacterial diversity. Bacterial diversity, in turn, helps your body build more resistance against disease-causing microorganisms. Of course, if either of you is sick, then keep your germs to yourself.
• Double-Dipping: Not Gross (Technically…)
Going back in for a second dip with your chip or veggie may be a social faux pas, but it might not be as disgusting as you think. "The amount of bacteria transferred during double-dipping is minimal in comparison to a deep kiss," says Tetro. While the risk of infection is low, there's still a mental ick factor in swapping spit (even if it's miniscule) with strangers.
• Not Using Shampoo: Gross (Only if You Go Extreme)
While the idea of going "no-poo" is tempting (especially considering all the toxic chemicals in shampoos), you may want to rethink completely giving up shampooing. "Without shampooing, you allow the bacteria and fungi to grow, which can release smelly chemicals," says Tetro. "And if you have any pathogens, like the fungus that causes dandruff, it could lead to problems." However, he does agree that a daily lather is probably overkill. Every few days or even once a week may be plenty. Make sure your shower gets you cleaner, not more toxic, with one of these safe shampoos.
• Peeing in the Shower: Not Gross (Until You Think About It)
While researchers aren't sure if urine is totally sterile, Tetro says that it is typically safe, unless you already have some kind of infection that affects your urine, such as a urinary tract infection or certain sexually transmitted diseases. That being said, humans generally aren't a big fan of the smell of pee (from the ammonia), so if you're living with others, be kind and keep it in the toilet.

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