Uncloaking your invisible roommates

5/23/2014

On "Star Trek," when a cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey suddenly materializes in the same quadrant as the Starship Enterprise, it's a pretty good bet that conflict is in the stars. But when researchers uncloaked millions of bacteria living on your skin, what they found was not an evil force plotting your destruction, but a vast colony of good-natured roommates.

On "Star Trek," when a cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey suddenly materializes in the same quadrant as the Starship Enterprise, it's a pretty good bet that conflict is in the stars. But when researchers uncloaked millions of bacteria living on your skin, what they found was not an evil force plotting your destruction, but a vast colony of good-natured roommates.

Your gut's trillion-bacteria biome can strengthen your immune system, influence your glucose levels, affect aging and protect your heart. Your skin biome also is home to countless bacteria that are essential to your health. Researchers on "The Belly Button Project" found more than 2,300 distinct species living there! And interestingly, fast healers had lots of helpful skin bacteria, but slower healers seemed to have fewer, possibly because of elevated blood sugar levels.

So you want to go easy on the phaser fire: Blanketing your skin with antibacterial compounds may vaporize bacteria that are there to make you feel better, not worse. And here's more info about the nasty side effects of triclosan-containing antibacterial soaps and other products: That bacteria-slayer not only lays waste to the "just here to help" microbes on your skin, but it's more than a rumor that it's an endocrine-disrupting chemical that promotes the growth of breast cancer cells in the lab.

We believe (and so does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that hand-washing with good ol' soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers is the essential defense against colds, flu and other easy-to-spread infections. You want good-for-you invisible roommates to thrive so they can help you live long and prosper!

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.

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