Our bodies are known to harbour billions of micro-organisms. In fact, these organisms outnumber our cells by a factor of ten to one, according to some estimates. It is further estimated that 1 to 3 per cent of our body mass is accounted for by micro-organisms.
This means that a man or woman weighing 100kilos would be carrying around about 2kilos of micro-organisms! Such micro-organisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi and other species.
But what’s their use? Science has long realised the symbiotic relationship between the human species and micro-organisms. These microbes, also known as microbiota or microbiomes, influence your body’s function, ranging from immunity to proper functioning of the digestive system. They also influence various disease states, so much that a multi-billion research project aimed at mapping the human microbiome is ongoing. What’s all this got to do with taking a shower?
You see, anything that disturbs the stable balance of micro-organisms within our bodies will have a knock-on effect on our overall health. You may have heard of good bacteria within your digestive system that protect you against intestinal infections.
Misguided use of some antibiotics will destroy the good bacteria, and predispose you to infective conditions. A link between disrupted intestinal organisms and other disease conditions like Type 2 Diabetes has even been described.
When you take a shower, you inadvertently wash off colonies of organisms from your skin. This is especially so with the use of shampoos and other antiseptics that leave us feeling really clean.
Washing off essential natural oils and sweat from your skin, interferes with the natural environment where the microbes flourish. The more frequent the shower ritual, the greater the interference with colonies of organisms on your skin, and by inference in other related organs. This then becomes a recipe for skin conditions, and other related disease states.
However, solid scientific data about the link between frequent showers and disease is hard to come by, yet. There is no clear reason to believe shower-free individuals are any less healthy compared to the rest of us.
A solo experimenter tried the shower-free approach. At first, his body odour was nauseating. But became less so with time, possibly after a reboot of his body organisms that started secreting more pleasant scents!
Another journalist tried it too, but showered with products intended to promote a healthy skin microbiome. Just a week of showering thereafter destroyed all the newly developed colonies of organisms on her skin.
So should you cut down on your showering routine for the sake of all-round health? Well, you still need to wash off obviously visible dirt on your skin. But you don’t have to scrub yourself off into a sterile state. Taking a middle ground till science advices otherwise is a reasonable choice.
Dr Alfred Murage is a consultant gynaecologist and fertility specialist. [email protected]