By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Spraying bacteria in your face for health reasons sounds like something straight out of a late-night TV commercial.
It sounds even stranger when you consider a potential health benefit was discovered while studying something else entirely, and that the bacteria-spray company’s founder uses it instead of bathing. (He went shower-free for more than a decade, if you’re wondering.)
Despite all that, new scientific research suggests a couple of spritzes of liquid bacteria every day may actually lower your blood pressure.
Results of a very small study on the spray—which initially was being studied as an acne treatment—were presented recently at the American Heart Association and American Society of Hypertension Joint Scientific Sessions in San Francisco.
In a poster presentation of this very early study looking at the safety of the spray, 36 adults with normal blood pressure tested the acne spray containing ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. Twice a day for two weeks, participants sprayed their faces with a placebo, or one of three concentrations of the bacteria spray. They stopped using it for another two weeks.
Blood pressure for everyone using the bacteria spray dropped. The biggest change came in those using spray with the highest concentration of bacteria, according to the researchers.
There are many bacteria in and on the human body, along with other microorganisms. People generally don’t like bacteria because they associate them with infections or being unclean. However, there are good and bad bacteria, and researchers are learning how the two co-exist. The spray that was studied is made up of Nitrosomonas eutropha, a kind of bacteria found in ponds, lakes and sewage disposal systems.
While much more study is needed to see if the spray might actually be effective in large groups of people with high blood pressure, the finding is “not quite as crazy as it may seem,” said Richard Gallo, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Diego, who was not involved in the study.
Still, he noted it’s hard to make a firm conclusion based on the limited data, and overall he’s skeptical about commercial products claiming to replace missing bacteria to promote health.
Immunologist Susan Prescott, Ph.D., M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Western Australia in Perth, who also was not involved in the study, likes the idea and hopes further research will support the preliminary findings.
“Any novel treatment that could curb the root of millions of annual deaths is worthy of study,” she said.
High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke—the two leading causes of death in the world. High blood pressure, known as “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms, also contributes to a host of other health problems.
AOBiome, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that manufactures the bacteria studied, claims it may lower blood pressure by converting ammonia in sweat to nitrite and then to nitric oxide, a molecule that regulates inflammation and the widening of blood vessels.
The company has already conducted a follow-up study of the bacteria’s effect on high blood pressure, said Larry Weiss, M.D., AOBiome’s chief medical officer. Those results are currently being analyzed, he said, adding that the bacteria spray is also being studied to treat acne, eczema and hay fever.
The research is one of many studies examining the “microbiome,” which refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms in and on the body.
Gallo’s studies of people with the most common type of eczema have shown that certain good bacteria on the skin fight bad bacteria. “We have to figure out how to save the good guys and kill the bad guys,” he said.
Some of those good guys can be found just by going outside, Prescott said. “Children should be encouraged to play outdoors, especially in vegetation-rich areas,” she said.
That idea was taken to the extreme by the chemist who founded AOBiome, David Whitlock. He got the idea to replace showering with a version of the spray after watching horses roll in dirt to clean themselves, according to the company website.
“Showering just isn’t worth it,” Whitlock told Motherboard. “If I took a normal shower, I’d have to use the spray all over my body after. I only need the spray on the parts of my body that I wash with water, because there the good bacteria gets washed away.”
Weiss said skipping showers is “absolutely not required” when using their product but that soap strips beneficial bacteria from the skin. “In general, the less you put on your skin, the better,” he said.
Gallo and Prescott aren’t exactly sold on the shower-free life.
“With all the hype about the microbiome, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that hygiene practices prevent transmittable diseases,” Gallo said.
“As far as a method to avoid bathing, I think I’ll keep holding my breath, both literally and figuratively,” Prescott said.