I always heard that kids need to eat a pint of dirt by the time they are five. No problem in my family, as my two boys spent most of their youth outside playing in the garden. Kevin, in particular, loved to smear his whole body with mud- the messier, the better.
Scientists have suggested that exposing people to germs (i.e. dirt) at an early age helps build proper immunity. They have called it the hygiene hypothesis, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have to take a bath or wash your hands before supper. (sorry, kids) Rather, it supposes that the overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial cleansers reduces our exposure to microbes that are involved in the proper regulation of immune cells.
Recent research on mice published in Science on March 22, 2012 by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital brings evidence to the hygiene hypothesis. Mice raised in sterile environments had an abnormal quantity of specialized immune cells called iNKT cells. These cells help fight infection, but can also turn against the body, causing autoimmune diseases such as allergies, asthma and colitis. Mice re-introduced to the proper bacteria reduced their symptoms of inflammatory disease and lowered their iNKT cell population. But this only happened when the mice were young. Once they were adults, exposing them to the microbes did nothing to reduce inflammatory effects.
So let your kids play in the dirt.* It’s good for their immune system. And, it’s fun, too!
Olszak, T. et al. Science http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1219328 (2012).
* my environmental chemist husband warns us to make sure it is good, clean dirt. Not a joke! Inner city kids may be exposed to high levels of lead in dirt, and rural kids shouldn’t play near fields treated with sewage sludge or persistant toxins from pesticides. So sad, what we have done to our planet.
If you didn’t have your time in the dirt, or even if you did, and you still have allergies, you will be interested in my article Natural Allergy Relief for some great hints on how to manage your allergies without drugs.
Robin Thomas spent 22 years in medical research at the University of North Carolina focusing the last 7 years on the inflammatory process of chronic degenerative diseases. In 2004 she left the laboratory to start her own health and wellness business. Both her experience working with participants of clinical studies and caring for a child with multiple health challenges has given Robin a passion for helping others improve their own health. Robin shares informative articles about new research discoveries in nutritional medicine and adopting lifestyle changes aligned with a healthful and passionate life at her blog, http://robinthomas.biz
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