Immune System In Kids: Too Clean Can Be Harmful

A child's immune system is complicated but important

Too Clean Might Be Too Much For Your Kids’ Immune System

I was on the downtown train during one Manhattan winter when a concerned gentleman turned to me and said: “Excuse me ma’am, your daughter is licking the subway pole.”

“Yes,” I replied without looking up, “that’s what we do instead of vaccinations.”

Of course, I was joking. I’m generally a low-anxiety parent so I have situations constantly brought to my attention (and I mean constantly), most of which are generally un-concerning. But the subway pole is dirty, even for me. WebMD laments: “It’s the basic nature of young children to touch the very things in their environment that their parents find most disgusting.” But in our day of vigilant disease prevention with hand washing, sanitizer gel, (which is the liquid gold of most school environments) and preventative vaccination, are we going a little overboard? How clean an environment do our kids really need for a good immune system and healthy lifestyle? A mounting body of research suggests that exposing infants to germs may offer them greater immune system protection from illnesses such as allergies and asthma later on in life.

Understanding A Child’s Immune System Is Complicated But Important writes: “Recent research suggests that a kid growing up in a home that’s too sanitary may not get enough practice battling germs, which the kids’ immune system needs in order to learn how to properly react to bacteria and viruses that cause illness.” Kids who are regularly exposed to the sicknesses of siblings, who grow up in a bit of dirt (like on a farm), or who go to day-care, have less allergies and other chronic ailments. “Today’s children may be too clean for their own good, research suggests. Evidence is growing that dirt and germs can protect against disease – and that our indoor-based, ultra-clean lifestyles are bad for our health.” Because the kids’ immune system extends its resources past allergies, auto-immune diseases, and asthma to the sphere of inflammation and degenerative diseases, stimulation in early childhood is proving to be the best protection against chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. “The young kids’ immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself, notes Thom McDade, PhD.” Researcher Dr Richard Blumberg has found that many studies are now showing “the critical importance of proper immune conditioning by microbes during the earliest periods of life.” So do your best to keep your kids healthy, but remember that a little dirt and group play may do them more good than harm even if they do get a little sick—their body is strengthening its immune system which will richly pay off later in life. Don’t go overboard though—you probably don’t need to let your kids lick subway polls.

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