Yes, it’s important to wash your hands. It’s critical during cold and flu season and especially if you visit someone at the hospital.
The problem is — in the West at least — parents have taken the business of keeping clean way too far.
New science shows that blasting away tiny organisms called microbes with our hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and liberal doses of antibiotics is having a profoundly negative impact on our kids’ immune systems, says microbiologist Marie-Claire Arrieta, co-author of a new book called Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World.
Germs and dirt are serious concerns for anxious parents but Professor Gilbert, co-author of “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System” says that we need not worry.
“Most parents think all germs are bad, that is not true. Most will just stimulate your immune system and make you stronger,” Prof Gilbert told The Independent.
Prof Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Centre at the University of Chicago, says that parents can often over-sterilise environments for their children. When children are in the garden playing in mud for example, it’s not necessary to immediately sterilise their hands and worry that the mud may have got close to their faces.
It’s the basic nature of young children to touch the very things in their environment that their parents find most disgusting. Just try to keep your 1-year-old from sticking the dog’s bone in their mouth!
Epidemic-scale flu seasons havehealth authorities imploring regular hand washing, and with talk of sanitizer gel like it was liquid gold, it’s tough not to worry about what your children are getting into and the ultimate impact it will have on their health.
Infectious diseases are a legitimate cause for concern, but some would argue that our society has gone overboard when it comes to protecting our kids from germs.
This line of thinking, called the “hygiene hypothesis,” holds that when exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses is limited early in life, children face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.
In fact, kids with older siblings, who grew up on a farm, or who attended day care early in life seem to show lower rates of allergies.
Just as a baby’s brain needs stimulation, input, and interaction to develop normally, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself, notes Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University.
Exactly which germs seem to do the trick hasn’t yet been confirmed. But new research offers clues.