Grandma always said, “God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt.” But this advice has become long ignored in today’s age of cleanliness. Vaccinations, anti-bacterial products and airtight ventilation have kept us clean and germ-free, but apparently such hyper-cleanliness comes with a cost. Studies reveal hyper-cleanliness may be responsible for increased allergies among children, particularly wealthy ones.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology released a study citing “children from affluent families are more likely to develop life-threatening peanut allergies, in part because they’re not exposed to enough germs in early childhood.”
Hygiene Hypothesis + Allergies: A Case in Favor of Dirt
These findings affirm the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” a theory that stipulates being “overly hygienic” is only healthy to an extent. Studies find children who were exposed to more dirt and germs “experienced fewer allergies in adulthood, compared to children who grew up in cleaner environments.”
As if that’s not enough, cleaning products that destroy germs may also destroy our health. Studies show that some of the most common chemicals found in disinfectants are linked to chronic health problems like asthma, hormone imbalance and immune system problems. Soap and hot water for general cleaning purposes have been found to keep germs at bay. For a stronger clean, natural agents like vinegar and borax have natural antibacterial properties that can be used in place of harsher cleaners.
This is compelling. Here is a distinct link between socioeconomics, wholesome nutrition, health and cleanliness. There are so many discussions on healthy eating and providing a clean environment for impoverished children in the ghettos of America and around the world. Understandably, bringing your child up in as much privilege as possible is something to strive for but there’s still this concept called moderation.
Our biological systems were perfectly fashioned to adapt to our surroundings and the risks of nature; it’s how we’ve survived so many years. Over time, we’ve impeded our natural functions with technologies to make everything as clean, safe and sterile as possible – and we abuse it on ourselves and overload our kids with it. But as we sit around hemming and hawing in pity for the level of poverty and squalor, James and Jimmy survive as they play in the dirt and eat off the floors in the projects and trailer parks they live in. Their bodies are adapting and strengthening them through natural function. It’s the rich little kids like Mike and Johnny who live in exclusive gated communities that are a cause for concern. They’re so sheltered their bodies are shutting down natural protective functions – and making them practically allergic to their own mothers!
Dirt is steeped with bacteria, true, but this filth aids an infant’s immune system. (That’s why having an appendix served a purpose in the human body until recent history.) As a result, your child’s immune system strengthens to mature and develop tolerance to environmental elements like pollen and animal dander, as opposed to allergies.
You know what the cure for peanuts allergies is? Peanuts! When kids get peanut allergies, doctors inject peanut extract right into their system. That’s how kids’ bodies adjust until they can tolerate peanuts. Allergies are then cured. There are inoculation shots for everything. The cure against dirt is more dirt. Build immunity toward dirt by allowing for the exposure. These poor kids – rich or not – don’t need to be placed in a luxurious plastic bubble; they’re not suffering from anything but Neurotic Mom Syndrome! That’s the source of their issues.
Can we stop being so paranoid as parents? Can we unzip our pants and relax our gut and breathe? Letting your kid get dirty is not going to kill him or reflect on your parenting skills. Again, the word here is moderation. Say it with me: Mod-er-a-tion.
The FDA has stated antibacterial soap products aren’t any more effective than conventional soap and water. Since this is the case, don’t you think it’s time to back off the hyper-cleansers and soaps whose antibacterial properties perform more harm than good? I’m just sayin’: Why stock up on expensive antibacterial products if plain soap and hot water are fine, and many cause numerous health and environmental problems in the first place?
I say stick to the environmentally friendly green soap and don’t be afraid to crack a window and let your children get dirty. Being a kid is one of the best times of your life. You’re learning, you’re growing and you’re freely exploring the world around you with the protection of adults who love and care for you. It’s not the time to avoid every germ and pathogen in hopes of avoiding disease, only to grow up so sheltered that the sniff of a peanut or dust microbe could signal a high-level terror alert in your immune system.