Want a Healthy Baby? Feed It Dirt!

by DavalosMcCormack on December 3, 2010

My sister Finola probably won’t appreciate me telling you this but when she was a kid she used to eat soil. To her credit Fin didn’t just eat the soil whole, she always made sure to pick out the worms first. She was a discerning dirt digester.


A down and dirty diet


Now, I don’t think this was any reflection on my mum’s cooking (honest mum!) even though we grew up in Ireland which, at the time, was not exactly renowned for its cultural brilliance. So why did she eat dirt? There are many possible reasons. I’ve seen some theories to suggest that kids have this instinctive understanding of what they are missing nutritionally so she was trying to find some essential minerals that weren’t in the heavily processed food she was getting at the kitchen table. Or she may have been a normal kid who just liked to put stuff into her mouth.

Whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t seem to harm her. She grew up into a fine, handsome, smart, healthy woman. Which is more than can be said for many people who grew up in ultra squeaky clean households. In fact, maybe she is the fine, handsome, smart, healthy woman she is today because she didn’t grow up in one of those kinds of homes.

Not that my mum’s house was dirty (honest mum!)

The dirt on healthy living

Think that’s going too far? Well, a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that adolescents who live in homes where there is regular use of antibacterial soap may be more likely to develop allergies than adolescents who don’t grow up in that kind of squeaky clean home. The researchers says this might suggest that being too clean could increase the risk of individuals becoming sick.

Here’s what the researchers found. They crunched some numbers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2003-2006) and found that young folks who were exposed to higher levels of triclosan – which is commonly found in antibacterial soaps and even some toothpastes – were more likely to be diagnosed with allergies, such as hay fever, than people who didn’t grow up exposed to the chemical.

Now this is not the first study to suggest that a dirty upbringing has definite health benefits.  There are many other studies – the so-called ‘hygiene’ hypothesis – which say a lack of exposure to dirt, viruses and other every day environmental factors prevent children from building up a healthy immune system.

For instance, while most other diseases of childhood are on the decline asthma is on the rise, not just in the US but throughout western society. As Prof. Peter Oppenshaw of Imperial College in London observes, the increase cannot be caused by genetic factors so it must be something environmental. Namely, we are doing something that is increasing our kids risk of developing a life-long, life-threatening disease.

As if to prove Prof. Oppenshaw’s point Brazilian researchers earlier this year found that household dirt – and that includes exposure to dust mites – does not increase a child’s risk of going on to develop asthma.

Filth fires up the immune system

There are studies that have shown that most common colds can help protect against wheezing in later childhood – so while your kid may be miserable now they’ll be a lot less miserable in future. Other childhood infections, such as chickenpox, also help fire up the immune system and offer protection against more serious problems later in life.

So, maybe Fin wasn’t quite as silly as we thought she was as she sat down in the garden munching on the top soil. Maybe her only problem was that later in life she didn’t figure out a way to market organic soil as an essential part of a child’s diet, selling it to Whole Foods or Safeway or Tesco or some other supermarket giant and earning a gazillion dollars.

But there’s still time……….

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