Can exposing kids to dirt be a good thing?
More evidence that keeping your kids in an ultra-sanitary environment might actually be doing them more harm than good.
A UBC researcher says people are getting sick today because as kids they weren’t exposed to the healthy microbes their parents and grandparents were.
“We are suffering from a hygiene hangover,” says UBC microbiologist B. Brett Finlay “We are not getting the microbes that our grandparents got. He says this may explain the preponderance of one condition, in particular.
“Asthma is a very prevalent disease in our society now, which wasn’t the case 50 years ago, Finlay recently told Consumer Reports.
Finlay recently published a Perspective Article that expanded on its past research by studying the role of proteases. The article, entitled “Sharpening host defenses during infection: Proteases cut to the chase” was published recently in the journal Molecular & Cellular Protemics. That paper followed on work Finlay had done in the field, including the comprehensive 2015 Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study, which examined the gut bacteria of 3500 children born after 2010. That study found that children having a certain type of bacteria virtually assured that they would not develop asthma.
“If you had them , you were basically protected against asthma,” said. Finlay. “If you didn’t have them, you had a very high risk of asthma.”
Writing for WebMD, Lisa Zamosky says the research such as the kind being done at UBC is adding to the “mounting” evidence that exposing kids to germs, sometimes called “hygiene hypothesis” at an early age is a good thing.
“We’re moving beyond this idea that the immune system is just involved in allergies, autoimmune diseases, and asthma to think about its role in inflammation and other degenerative diseases,” says Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University. “Microbial exposures early in life may be important… to keep inflammation in check in adulthood.”
So how to expose children to the microbes they need? Author Ben Greenfield has some ideas. Greenfield, a New York Times best-selling author and the father of two boys, says there are a numbers of ways. He says parents should avoid antibacterial soaps, increase their kids exposure to other kids, visit farms, avoid washing clothing too often, eat cultured foods such as yogurt and kimchi, and let their kids play outside.
“I must admit, when my shiny new baby boys were brought onto the planet nearly six years ago, I certainly had my doubts about the value of letting their soft and innocent bodies roll, crawl and toddle amongst the dirt and doggy-doo,” says Greenfield. “But since then — especially after learning what I’m about to share with you — I’ve become extremely lax, and my boys now clamber up and down farm animals near our house and elephants in developing countries, wallow like hogs in every mud puddle they find, and eat fistfuls of olives with faces and hands still stained from exploring every corner of the garage and backyard.”
A recent lecture by Finlay at UBC may be even more to the point. It was entitled “Let Them Eat Dirt: Raising Children with their Microbes”.