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Dirty Kids = Healthy Kids = Happy Kids

05/06/2013

 

As concerned parents, we always preach the benefits of cleanliness and good hygiene to our children. We carry sanitizers in our handbags, stack up on the anti-bacterial soap in the house, forbid our children from jumping in a rain water puddle or petting a dog and take them to the doctor at the first sneeze. So why then, are our children falling sick so frequently and why has the incidence of immune-related diseases such as asthma, colitis and allergies increased to scary proportions in all developed countries?

 

Is it because our kids are getting too clean for their own good?

 

Bacteria and Us

It is a physiological fact that 2.5% of our body weight consists of bacteria. Bacteria-both good and bad has lived in our throats, nasal passage, digestive tracts and genitals since millennia.  The microbial flora and fauna of our digestive tract keeps it healthy while helping to break down food. The bacteria in our body is responsible for boosting our immune system, protecting us from invading pathogens and also helps in producing Vitamins B12 and Vitamin K.

 

Assimilating bacteria is a process that starts right at birth when the baby passes through a mother’s vagina. The baby then gets large doses of good bacteria from his mother’s breast milk. Once the baby starts crawling, he explores by touching everything and putting in his mouth. As every parent knows, the weirdest and dirtiest things find their way into a crawling baby’s mouth and surprisingly, the baby most often does not take ill. Rather, this natural growing up phenomenon adds to the baby’s bacterial count and strengthens his immunity.  When a child in day care is exposed to a friend who has the flu or cuddles up to a sick sibling at home, he may contract the infection but the episode serves to boost his immunity against future contagions.

 

The Hygiene Hypothesis

Research has also conceded this much- under-exposing our kids to allergens such as dust is leading to heightened allergic reactions in children when they are exposed to them later in life. Proponents of this school of thought have come up with the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’. The hygiene hypothesis proposes “that a lack of early childhood exposure to microbes increases susceptibility to certain diseases by suppressing development of the immune system.” Tests have been conducted that prove that reduction in the number and variety of micro –organisms that populate our bodies have resulted in the rise of autoimmune disorders and immunological disorders such as asthma, colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and various allergies.

 

Indiscriminate and excessive use of antibiotics is widely regarded as the biggest destroyer of good bacteria in our body. The other factors considered responsible for robbing children of useful bacteria are under-exposure of children to germs, excessive use of soaps and sanitizers and a long slew of childhood vaccinations.

 

So what should parents do? 

As in everything, there is a need to strike a balance.  While it might not be a good idea to banish the hand wash from the toilets, it may be unnecessary, even counter-productive to sanitize everything in the house or to isolate a child from his sibling who is suffering from a common cold.

 

The bottom line is that some amount of exposure to dirt is necessary and can even be considered healthy for growing children as it boosts their immunity for life.  It may be time to stop mollycoddling our children and let them enjoy the great outdoors, get them exposed to elements of nature, allow them to fall and scrape themselves,  let them catch minor ailments and most importantly let them GET DIRTY if that is what makes them healthy and happy in the long run!

 

References/Source:

 

Hygiene Hypothesis- Living with Nature http://www.hygienehypothesis.com/

 

Bacteria in Your Body  http://www.growyouthful.com/remedy/probiotics-good-bacteria.php 

 

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