Why Hunter Gatherers Wash Their Hands with Animal Guts Instead of Hand Sanitizer

August 27, 2020 at 4:08 pm

The Hadza of Tanzania wash their hands with animal intestines and have the healthiest gut bacteria in the world! “They don’t suffer from the diseases we suffer from,” researcher says.

You won’t find a single case of allergies, autoimmune disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes or cancer among the world’s oldest living tribe of hunter gatherers.

You also won’t find a single bottle of hand sanitizer, or even soap.

The Hadza of Tanzania have a different approach to health.

Instead of washing “germs” away with antimicrobial soaps, gels and wipes, they literally bathe in them.

In his studies of the Hadza people, anthropologist Jeff Leach, observed them hunt a zebra, gut it and then wash the blood from their hands with the microbial content of its stomach and intestines.

He soon learned that this was the hygienic ritual the Hadza repeated after every successful kill.

“While I was fascinated by the microbe-laden stomach contents being used as hand scrubber – presumably transferring an extraordinary diversity of microbes from the Impala gut to the hands of the Hadza – I was not prepared for what they did next,” Leach wrote.

“Once they had cleaned out – by hand – the contents of the stomach (“cleaned” is a generous word), they carved pieces of the stomach into bite-sized chunks and consumed it sushi-style. By which I mean they didn’t cook it or attempt to kill or eliminate the microbes from the gut of the Impala in anyway. And if this unprecedented transfer of microbes from the skin, blood, and stomach of another mammal wasn’t enough, they then turned their attention to the colon of the Impala.”

This may sound disgusting and barbaric to us “civilized” folk, but modern scientific research is proving the bushman’s instincts to be beneficial. A recent study shows they have the richest diversity of gut bacteria of any groups of humans ever studied. And that diversity seems to protect them from both chronic and acute illness.

“They don’t suffer from the diseases we suffer from,” says the study’s co-author and nutritional anthropologist Alyssa Crittenden.

Among the Hadza’s thousands of species of gut bacteria are those modern medicine has associated with disease, such as Treponema. Linked with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome in the West, Treponema is abundant in the bellies of the Hadza, among whom these diseases do not exist.

That’s because bacteria we normally think of as “harmful” like listeria and e. Coli are in balance/harmony/symbiosis with thousands of other species, Leach, co-founder of The American Gut Project, says.

Recent research has shown that disease is often associated with a fall in microbial diversity.

By that standard, the microbiome of the average civilized human is an “ecological disaster zone,” Leach argues. 

“Rather than think of ourselves as isolated islands of microbes, the Hadza teach us that we are better thought of as an archipelago of islands, once seamlessly connected to one another and to a larger meta-community of microbes via a microbial super highway that runs through the gut and skin/feathers of every animal and water source on the landscape (for those of you keeping up with your homework, this is Macroecology 101),” he writes.

“The same can be said for plants and their extraordinary diversity of microbes above (phyllosphere) and below ground (rhizosphere) that the Hadza, and once all humans, interact with on a nearly continuous basis. The Hygiene Hypothesis posits that a great many diseases (specifically autoimmune diseases) result from a disconnect with the natural world and its myriad of microscopic life. Microbes and other tiny things that once trained our immune system to distinguish between friend or foe and even Self. Our children are no longer born in the microbe-rich dirt, but rather hyper-sterile rooms where even the air is scrubbed with mechanical systems.”