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Kids' Health Kids' Health

In praise of germs: Why common bugs are necessary for kids

Posted by on Mar. 29, 2012 at 5:48 AM
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1 mom liked this

In praise of germs: Why common bugs are necessary for kids

Attention, germaphobes. Exposure to the microscopic bugs is crucial for keeping kids healthy, according to new research in the prestigious journal Science. The study strongly supports a growing body of evidence that you need to put away the disinfectant and expose children to the real world of germs and microbes. 

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We're meant to encounter some microbes and dirt when we're young. It's how we build our immune systems.

Scientists Richard S. Blumberg and Dennis L. Kasper and a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that in mice exposure to germs in early life helped reduce the body’s inventory of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells. These cells help protect us against diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and asthma. But, if there are too many of them with too much time on their hands, they can actually cause these conditions. By exposing young mice to common microbes the scientists saw that the animals were protected from accumulating T cells -- and were healthier than those who were not.  

The scientists reached an admittedly geeky conclusion: “These results indicate that age-sensitive contact with commensal microbes is critical for establishing mucosal iNKT cell tolerance to later environmental exposures,” they wrote in the journal Science. In other words, exposing baby mice to common germs got their immune systems appropriately busy and able to not over-react when encountering nasty bugs and other biological stuff later in life.

The rapid rise in food allergies, asthma and other immunological diseases is due, at least in part, to our modern obsession with cleanliness, scientists increasingly believe. The 'hygiene hypothesis', first advanced in 1989 by the British epidemiologist David Strachan, contends that these diseases are becoming more common because young children are not exposed to them at an early age. We spend so effort trying to prevent exposure to germs with antibiotics, antibacterials and soaps that letting kids get dirty seems like a violation of basic parental duty.

Parents are constantly being told to make their kitchens spotless, to kill 99.9 per cent of the germs lurking in their bathrooms and to wash themselves and their babies all the time.

This world of purity sounds good but it does not fit how we are designed. We are meant to encounter some microbes and dirt when we are young. It is how we built our immune systems. We need a certain amount of grunginess as kids to be healthy adults. 

As the Harvard study shows, filth can be good -- at least in tiny amounts when you are very young.

by on Mar. 29, 2012 at 5:48 AM
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Replies (1-10):
TigerofMu
by Sonja on Mar. 29, 2012 at 7:11 AM

It makes sense that our bodies need to build immunity and antibodies to defend against the new things that come.

TonyaLea
by on Mar. 29, 2012 at 1:08 PM
Amen, lol. I heard about a study once that showed daycare kids get sick less later in life because of their early immune exposures.
new_mom808
by Andrea on Mar. 29, 2012 at 7:58 PM

 Of course. But be prepared for glares, and judgment from germaphobe moms.

PrincessZ20
by on Mar. 29, 2012 at 8:38 PM

I've heard that as well.  My kids are definitely exposed to plenty of germs, lol.  They know to wash hands after they go to the bathroom, before they eat dinner, etc, but they also pick up and eat food they've dropped on the ground. 

corrinacs
by on Mar. 29, 2012 at 10:34 PM

I always wonder how much its my fault that my sons have such bad food allergies.  I am OCD and cannot stand a dirty house :/.  Was I wrong in providing such a lcean house for them?

But on the other hand, I never sterilzed bottles (just the first time) and if a paci fell on the floor at home....back in the mouth it goes.....so I guess I wasn't "that bad".

Gailll
by on Mar. 30, 2012 at 5:36 AM

I've read that it may be because we aren't exposed to farm animal feces as children. Someone could collect feces and somehow process it so we can put it in our yard or something so our kids could be exposed as a business. How gross is that. Why can dogs and cats lick their buts and be fine and we have to scrub our hands after we urinate (urine is sterile)?

My grandson has lots of allergies and he was exposed to germs and animals. He lived with me from about 4-8 months and we had 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 2 foster mini kittens. He ended up allergic to cats and bunches of foods and environmental things. Once they got their own place I still watched him while his parents worked. I had to give my cats back when we found at he is allergic:(

Vertical15
by on Mar. 31, 2012 at 10:49 AM

I think it makes sense.  Being too clean is bad-another reason to put off scrubbing the kitchen floor today?

gcstar42
by on Mar. 31, 2012 at 10:56 AM

I have always heard this and always felt this way. My kids love to get dirty and play in the dirt lol. They have been sick before but not often. And they dont have any food allergies or animal allergies or anything like that.

starreyedcutie
by on Mar. 31, 2012 at 3:05 PM
Makes sense to me :)
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PrincessZ20
by on Mar. 31, 2012 at 4:24 PM
1 mom liked this


Quoting Vertical15:

I think it makes sense.  Being too clean is bad-another reason to put off scrubbing the kitchen floor today?

I like the way you think ;)


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