Hygiene Hypothesis Proven True: Dirt is Naturally Good for Kids

Photo by Stinkie PinkieExposure to common bacteria in early childhood keeps us healthy

Exposure to common bacteria in early childhood keeps us healthy

My kids are clean, and I feel sorry for the dirty, stinky kids at school who suffer socially from this neglect. I let my kids play in mud, sand, snow, etc. knowing they are washable. I don’t slather my kids in anti-bacterial sanitizers and soaps. As EcoMatters reports, “The fact is dirt and bacteria are natural, triclosan and surfactants, toxic ingredients in many conventional soaps, are not.” Finally, there is scientific research to support the “Hygiene Hypothesis“.

A new study conducted at the University of California, San Diego has found that normal bacteria found on our skin, such as staphylococci, actually protects us from “excessive inflammation after injury”. UCSD explains:

The so-called “hygiene hypothesis,” first introduced in the late 1980s, suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents and microorganisms increases an individuals susceptibility to disease by changing how the immune system reacts to such “bacterial invaders.”

“These germs are actually good for us,” said Richard L. Gallo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics, chief of UCSD’s Division of Dermatology and the Dermatology section of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

“The exciting implications of Dr. Lai’s work is that it provides a molecular basis to understand the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ and has uncovered elements of the wound repair response that were previously unknown. This may help us devise new therapeutic approaches for inflammatory skin diseases,” said Gallo.

With every new illness plaguing humans, the response is more and more products aimed at protecting us from H1N1, AIDS, MRSA, etc. by killing all germs and bacteria, but these sterilizing products may be doing more harm than good.  Hygiene Hypothesis explains:

Viewed through the lens of the hygiene hypothesis the modern obsession or preoccupation with sterlity [sic], equating it with cleanliness and goodness, is revealed for what it is. An unhealthy cultual [sic] artifact that arose as a consequence of the more immediate and apparent benefits from adopting modern sanitary practices and technologies. Eliminating typhoid and cholera has saved millions of lives in the aggregate since sewers and clean drinking water was introduced in North American and Western Europe for instance. But in so doing we caused the rise of the modern diseases involving immune dysregulation.

Published in Nature Medicine, the UCSD study found a “previously unknown mechanism by which a product of staphylococci inhibits skin inflammation”.  The results prove that living in a sterile environment is not good for young children, and that exposure to bacteria keeps us healthy. It does not mean you should abandon natural soap and bathing your children, but your home does not need to mimic a surgery center.

Comments

  1. Dirt is good for Mom too, and especially while she’s pregnant, if she wants to have allergy-resistant kids. (http://blog.autoimmunetherapies.com/gut_buddies/2009/12/11/give-microbes-to-mum-for-less-allergic-young/)

  2. I love this :) This makes me feel ever so much better about standing my ground in the face of well-meaning (but misguided) relatives who gave me lectures about letting my kids run around barefoot outside or letting them dig into a picnic without thoroughly sanitizing their hands. (or sanitizing them at all!)

  3. It’s nice to know there’s an actual scientific basis for something I’ve long suspected! Basic precautions like safe handling of raw meat and washing your hands after using the toilet are one thing, but the American obsession with getting rid of every germ or fleck of dust takes it too far, imho.

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