Every mother has watched in horror as her baby or toddler picks things up off the floor or ground and puts them immediately in the mouth. Relax, mom. There’s growing evidence that this instinctive behavior is not only okay, it may actually be a good thing.
In several studies cited in a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody, researchers are concluding that organisms such as the millions of bacteria, viruses and worms that enter the body along with the dirt assist in the development of a healthy immune system.
The studies may explain why immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, asthma and allergies are more prevalent in the U.S. and other developed countries. Our obsession with cleanliness may not be the healthiest policy.
Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor and author of Why Dirt Is Good, says when a child puts dirty objects in his mouth, it allows his immune system to explore his environment.
â€˜The typical human probably harbors some 90 trillion microbes,â€™ Ruebush writes. â€˜The very fact that you have so many microbes of so many different kinds is what keeps you healthy most of the time.â€™
Another leading researcher cited by Brody is Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He goes so far as to suggest that â€˜children be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands before eating.â€™ He also recommends letting kids have pet dogs or cats, which will expose the tykes to intestinal worms that can aid in the development of a healthy immune system.
We wonder, as word of this research gets out, will it become trendy for moms to tell their children NOT to wash their hands before dinner? Will sales of antibacterial soaps plummet? We’ll keep our ear to the groundâ€”and our hands, too.
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