The Joys of Cross-Contamination:
So as children go back to school, one of the joys that comes with the territory is sickness.
Schools, ball-pits, & daycare-centers are like stock-exchanges for millions of short little typhoid-marys, infecting eachother with God knows what.
And as other scientists from Duke and IC-L have mystifyingly said before,
That may actually not be such a bad thing…
It’s Not Just About Adults:
Now most of the time, we see and hear about health-problems in adults.
But it turns out they can get their start in children.
And as The Hygiene Hypothesis suggests, there’s a good possibility the modern home is not just too antiseptically-clean for adults,
It’s the same for their shorter counterparts, too.
Disinfect The Baby?:
And to that end, Jack Gilbert, a doctor himself, found obsessive washing & sterilizing became a habit with his own first child.
But being a wily researcher, he went out and tracked-down the data to see if these byzantine practices were doing any good.
He found that the same set of truths for many autoimmune-diseases and their likely-causes in adults,
Were also true for children and their eventual development of things like allergies.
Believe It Or Not, Children CAN Be Too Clean:
So, as dirty as children are, many of us go around hyper-sterilizing them. [REP?]
And while this might be prudent during the very first stages of life, before they’ve got a functioning immune-system at-all,
It might really be misguided after it does become present. -Especially in those next 2-3 years of life.
And that’s why Dr. Jack’s recommendation for kids is the same one as Duke’s for parents:
Go play outside & don’t worry so much about getting dirty.
Most microbe-exposures are helpful instead of harmful.
Pacifying The Overactive Immune System:
There is at least one argument that children exploring their environment with their mouths is a beneficial evolutionary-adaptation.
And one great example of the benefits of a little dirt is with babies’ pacifiers.
Though it had an unfortunately-small sample-size, a Swedish study showed that children were much healthier & developed far fewer allergies of all types if their parents did one odd thing:
If the children dropped their pacifiers on the floor,
-Instead of sterilizing them, their parents just popped them in their mouths for a second or two and then gave them back to the child.
(Jack is also a fan of The 5-Second-Rule inside a “clean” house, even though it’s BS, for exactly the same reason.)
Baby’s Best Friend, Too:
This also goes for animal friends too, according to Dr. Gilbert.
Exposure to microbes from domestic animals like cats and dogs is probably beneficial.
Including when Rover decides to show his team-spirit and licks the kid’s face.
Even housepets that occasionally go outside should be safe, as long as they’re guarded against ticks & fleas.
Farm Children Are Healthier:
Remember, the original Hygiene Hypothesis found children who grew up on farms had healthier immune systems, fewer allergies and auto-immune diseases for their entire lives.
And in also in similar work, other researchers found by accident that once a test has been done and found that a baby has no life-threatening allergy to peanuts,
Exposing the child to small amounts of these products early in their lives can also reduce nut-allergies far into the future.
So there is another set of work right there that supports the more general thesis that Dr. Gilbert is building upon.
Dirt Isn’t Just Good For Your Kid’s Mud Pies:
On one final note, other researchers are coming out with an even more extended form of this hypothesis.
It’s not just about Activia, but increasingly Probiotics and even just Dirt itself is now being considered a new kind of nutrition/supplement that everyone should be getting regularly.
The idea is that between the pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, and other chemical agents in our food,
The gut-microbes of all of us are under assault on a daily-basis.
And they need to be reinforced on a pretty regular schedule to keep you healthy.
The number one way to do this is to find a Farmers’ Market & get some produce there every month or so.
Early Exposure Is Like Your First Savings Account:
So in-conclusion, if giving the immune-system agents an easy target to go after every once in awhile is still important for Full-Grown Adults,
Imagine how much good it can do to set up a child for a life with that many fewer allergies and auto-immune diseases.
There is even some research that shows it could permanently limit any out-of-control inflammation, too.
And with all the negatives being tied to that phenomenon recently, that might be another great gift to give to your kids for the rest of their happy, healthy lives.
Check out the details at the Links:
Photo Credits: “One Dirty Kid”, by Benjamin Chan
• Source: NPR
• More Coverage: Amazon-Dirt Is Good
• Source Study: J.Pediatrics-Pacifier Cleaning Practices and Risk of Allergy Development