Your Kids + Germs = Healthy Future
We recommend all children are exposed to as many germs as possible so as they age their bodies are prepared for anything. Over sanitizing and sterilization does not make for strong healthy children. Ever wonder why Salmonella and E. Coli are such a problem for people now? Their bodies have not been exposed to those germs due to over sanitization and now they have no defenses. Here are some articles on why it is so important for your children to be exposed to everything at an early age.
What are some things that parents get wrong?
Some of the main things are over-sterilizing their environment, keeping their children from ever getting dirty. So going out into the backyard and playing in the mud, and then as soon as they’re filthy, bringing them in and sterilizing their hands with antiseptic wipes, and then making sure that none of the dirt gets near their faces. Also, keeping them away from animals. The dogs and cats, sure, but also, other animals. It’s fine to wash their hands if there’s a cold or a flu virus around, but if they’re interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that’s not a bad thing. In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child’s health.
What about hand sanitizer? Good or bad?
Usually bad. Petroleum based alcohol is harmful to everyone, but especially children. Hot, soapy water is fine. Even mildly warm, soapy water is fine, and it is less damaging to the child’s overall health.
How about the five-second rule? The idea that if something falls on the ground and is there for under five seconds, it’s clean.
The five-second rule doesn’t exist. It takes milliseconds for microbes to attach themselves to a sticky piece of jammy toast, for example. But it makes no difference. Unless you dropped it in an area where you think they could be a high risk of extremely dangerous pathogens, which in every modern American home is virtually impossible, then there’s no risk to your child.
Wash a pacifier or lick it if it falls on the ground?
Lick it. A study of over 180 children showed that parents who licked the pacifier and put it back in — their kids developed less allergies, less asthma, less eczema. Overall, their health was stronger and more robust.
Are things like allergies an unintended consequence of trying to protect our kids too much?
Absolutely. In the past, we would have eaten a lot more fermented foods, which contain bacteria. We would have allowed our children to be exposed to animals and plants and soil on a much more regular basis. Now we live indoors. We sterilize our surfaces. Their immune systems then become hyper-sensitized. You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.
Prof Gilbert also studied the immune profiles of Amish children to support his thesis. The 2016 study found significantly lower rates of asthma in immune profiles of Amish children who lived on small farms that were “rich in microbes.”
The immune systems of our ancestors were strengthened by a multitude of microbial interactions. Now, when there aren’t enough, the immune system starts to age “which can make it more likely to have a huge response to a simple allergen,” Prof Gilbert adds.
“Sterilizing your home like a hospital could lead your child to have a severely hyper sensitized immune system leaving them open to allergies and asthma, even neurodevelopmental problems,” Prof Gilbert says.
A mounting body of research suggests that exposing infants to germs may offer them greater protection from illnesses such as allergies and asthma later on in life.
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.
In a recent study, McDade’s team found that children who were exposed to more animal feces and had more cases of diarrhea before age 2 had less incidence of inflammation in the body as they grew into adulthood. Inflammation has been linked to many chronic adulthood illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Purging Germs: Health Booster or Bad Idea?
Most of the germs lurking about our environment and that live on our bodies are not only harmless; they’ve been with us for millennia, says Martin Blaser, MD, professor of internal medicine at New York University.
As human behavior has changed over the past half century, many microbes, such as some that live in the gut, are disappearing.
“These perform important physiological functions but because of modern life they are changing and some are disappearing,” Blaser says. “Those disappearances have consequences — some good, some bad.”
When we overly sanitize infants’ environments to protect them from illness, we may instead be depriving them the opportunity to build a strong immune system.
In addition to overzealous hygiene campaigns that may prevent kids from exposure to natural microorganisms that are good for them, there are other practices — like the overuse of antibiotics — that threaten to make us less healthy, not more.
Dirty Kids: How Germs Can Be Your Child’s Best Friend
To understand why I’m not too concerned about germs, and why you shouldn’t be either, you need to grasp a concept called the “hygiene hypothesis,” along with two other important hypotheses. In a nutshell, these hypotheses hold 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. But we’re going to delve into them in a bit more detail.
Three Important Hypotheses
Although the idea that exposure to certain infections may decrease the risk of allergy is not new, Dr. David Strachan was one of the first to formally propose it as the “hygiene hypothesis” in scientific literature, in a 1989 article in the British Medical Journal. In the paper, Strachan pointed out that the allergic diseases hay fever and eczema were less common in children from larger families, and that children from larger families were probably exposed to more germs through their siblings. Since then, epidemiological studies have confirmed the protective effect of not just large family size, but also of growing up on a farm.
Then, in a 2003 article in a journal of immunology, Dr. Graham Rook proposed the “old friends” hypothesis, arguing that the exposures necessary to increase immunity are not actually developed in childhood or during any other recently evolved infectious exposure, but instead are derived from microbes present since hunter-gatherer times, when the human immune system was evolving. Rook proposed that the microbes that co-evolved with mammalian immune systems are ancient, and that we have become so dependent on them that our immune systems can neither develop or function properly without these internal microbes. These microbes include species that inhabit our skin, gut and respiratory tract, and also inhabit the animals we live with, and even organisms such as symbiotic bacteria, viruses and helminths (aka parasites or worms) that establish chronic infections or carrier states that we can actually tolerate and that help us develop specific immunoregulatory responses.
Finally, in the past several years, the “microbial diversity” hypothesis has emerged, which holds that the health and diversity of the bacterial species in our gut mucosa a key factor for strengthening the immune system (vs. simply colonization with a limited number of bacterial species). This makes sense, since Dr. Rook compared the embryonic immune system to a computer that contains many programs but sparse data. During gestation and childhood exposure to diverse organisms, the immune system builds a “database” that allows it to identify and respond to harmful agents in the internal or external environment. This microbial diversity hypothesis is also why I recommend vaginal delivery of babies (vs. C-section) when it’s an option — due to the importance of exposing a newborn baby to the variety of bacterial species in the vaginal tract.
Each of these hypotheses is based on the general concept of upregulation of the body’s T cells in response to infectious agents — and appears to be well supported by epidemiological data. Studies have proven that a variety of immunological and autoimmune diseases are much less common in developing countries than industrialized countries — and that immigrants to industrialized countries from developing countries develop immunological disorders such as asthma and chronic inflammatory disorders in relation to the length of time since arrival in the industrialized area. Furthermore, while there’s no evidence to support the idea that reducing our modern practices of cleanliness and hygiene would have any impact on rates of chronic inflammatory and allergic disorders, there is a significant amount of evidence that it actually increases the risks of infectious diseases!