Parents: Let ’em get dirty! Research shows that the best immune system booster for kids might just be dirt.
“A Little Dirt Builds the Immune System”
“I can barely watch you put those veggie chips back into my granddaughter’s bowl.”
Pretending to be scandalized, my mom averted her eyes as I scooped up a handful of veggies sticks that had fallen on the floor.
“A little dirt builds our immune system!” I said with a grin.
Wise words from a wise woman — my Granny (my mom’s mom) was never one to make a fuss over germs and dirt. This was (and is) one of her mottos that stuck with me, and that I’ve adopted as one of my own.
We visited my Granny and Grandad’s farm every weekend. There I spent hours with my cousins building forts out of sticks, swinging on grapevines, and just generally being wild, free, and dirty.
And I was almost never sick.
Today we are bombarded with antibacterial everything.
However, new research shows what my Granny already knew — dirt isn’t always the enemy.
The Hygiene Hypothesis: How Dirt Builds Kids’ Immunity
Yep, that’s actually a real thing.
More and more evidence backs what my Granny told us growing up. A little dirt does build the immune system.
When our bodies come in contact with germs and bacteria at an early age, our immune response is created and strengthened. Essentially, this is how our bodies learn how to fight off harmful microbes.
When kids’ exposure to germs are limited, they may not develop the same resistance to illness later in life.
Furthermore, the overuse of antibacterial products and antibiotics could be doing more harm than good. Destroying benevolent microbes that teach our bodies how to fight the “bad” bacteria leaves our children more vulnerable to disease.
The chemicals used in antibacterial products might also be dangerous in themselves. The FDA recently banned 19 chemicals commonly found in antibacterial soaps. Why? Scientists say that these compounds can disrupt our bodies hormones and cause muscle weakness — pretty nasty stuff.
How to Boost Kids’ Immune Systems
The answer might be the opposite of what you’d expect, or what you’ve previously been told:
- Let your kids get dirty. Dirt may actually be the best immune system booster, or at least one of them!
- Don’t panic when they crawl on the floor.
- Stop slathering their hands in sanitizer every five minutes.
- Don’t yank that chip out of their mouth if it hits the floor briefly.
- Buy plain old hand soap. (It works just as well and probably costs less too).
- And for the love of all things good — stop looking at antibiotics as the magic cure-all to every little sniffle and sneeze.
Your kids are going to get dirty whether you like it or not.
Getting dirty is an essential part of childhood, kind of like your first bike wreck. It’s a lot less stressful if you learn to accept it.
For the record, I DO support regular hand washing.
There’s a difference between encouraging outdoor play and letting kids spread germs all over the place.
Related: For a fun way to teach kids about the spread of germs and healthy hand washing habits, try our Glitter Germy Hands Experiment!
However, I also think you’ve got to take a deep breath and relax a bit.
You’re not a bad parent if you abide by the “5-second rule” …or even the “10-second rule.” In fact, you might just be the good parent — you’re following the latest scientific advice.
You’re also following the age-old wisdom of our Depression-era generation. They are survivors and they might actually be wiser than the scientists.
After all, they had this figured out decades ago!
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