“Let Them Eat Dirt” reveals fascinating modern misconceptions regarding daily hygiene and sanitization.
Parents, authors and microbiologists, Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta, explain the importance of having contact with germs from birth onward. “Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World” discusses how living in a hygienic world has changed the human corporal response to bacteria.
Arrieta speaks in an interview about the importance of letting kids interact with microbes. The microbiologist refers to the necessity of this interaction in the early years— not only for children to develop a strong immune system, but as the only way for the body to learn to work properly.
In the womb, the fetus is fully protected by the mother; however, when babies are born, it is necessary that they begin to develop their own antibodies. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), human immune systems need to be exposed to different contaminants, in order to mature and fight against diverse infections.
In this context, Arrieta debates for the “hygiene hypothesis”, which suggests that extremely hygienic environments are counterproductive to a developing immune system and increase our chances of later developing “Western society diseases”.
Asthma, diabetes, obesity and allergies are only some of the so-called Western society diseases. This term is attributed to diverse illnesses and health conditions, mainly instigated by modern diet pitfalls and the sedentary lifestyle.
According to the hygiene hypothesis, the exposure to germs and microbes is required to train human bodies and activate the immune system defenses so the organism can defend itself effectively from infectious organisms.
Evidence shows that kids growing up in a hyper-hygienic and overly sanitized environment are more likely to contract diseases. Children that live in less clean environments (i.e. a farm) are shown to be healthier and less affected by germs and microbes.
While it’s important for kids to maintain hygiene habits, it is advisable to lose extreme measures, such as obsessive hand washing. Having early contact with germs is the only way for kids to develop a strong immune system and lower the chances of contracting autoimmune diseases and other illnesses that have huge repercussions in adulthood.
A different study, published in Science, also supports the hygiene hypothesis. This study performed a laboratory investigation using mice and explains how germ-free (GF) conditions can exacerbate disease symptoms. In this case scenario, investigators compared two different groups of mice.
One group was raised in a GF environment, while the other was raised under normal laboratory conditions. Investigators induced asthma and ulcerative colitis in both groups. GF mice generated more severe symptoms than those raised under normal conditions.
Another important fact revealed through this experiment is that an early exposition to germs is completely necessary because there’s no possible way to reverse the process as an adult. Childhood is the only stage in life to become stronger against several diseases.
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