Do Your Children Eat Dirt?

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Eat Dirt... She Says
Mums, what is the most important thing that your kids should eat ? I hear you saying fruit and veggies…. But guess what? According to recent research by two Canadian microbiologists, B Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta the answer would appear to be some plain good old healthy dirt according to their recently published book “ Let them eat dirt: Saving your child from an over sanitized world.”

They are not advocating that kids “chow down on filth, but we all need to come off our high horses on hygiene. For hundreds of years we have thought that cleanliness is next to godliness. It’s only in the last five or so years that we’re beginning to realize all the many ways in which over sanitization is actually damaging our children’s health.”

When my kids were young, I refused to buy into the TV ads that were promoting anti-bacterial household sprays…. These ads make us think that our kitchens need the same level of sterilisation as a hospital operating theatre and that all surfaces have to be shiny squeaky clean. Somewhere deep down I just knew this was wrong and that there was nothing wrong with a good old fashioned wipe of a cloth. I was right.

In terms of small children good hygiene is absolutely necessary and because of good practice, life expectancy has risen from the age of 40 in 1841 to 79 in 2011 .… In the past , the huge numbers of women dying of infection after childbirth were greatly reduced when the simple solution turned out to be good old hand scrubbing with carbolic soap. At the time, the doctor who first suggested this was ridiculed by his colleagues.

However, in recent times we have gone overboard with too much sanitization with the result being a huge increase in chronic non- infectious diseases such as : allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and many auto-immune diseases.

From 1990 to 1998 ( only 8 years !) in the UK the wheezing rates of pre-schoolers aged 1 to 5 has doubled and each year the number of British allergy sufferers increases by 5 %, and those with food allergies had doubled in a decade! It is predicted that by 2025 asthma will be the most common chronic childhood disease in the UK. What is going on ?

In an effort to find the answers, Arrieta and Findlay undertook a study which showed that 3 month old babies with 4 specific microbes in their faeces were significantly less likely to develop asthma. Whilst acknowledging that asthma has genetic components some other factors are also crucial. Microbes were the answer. They say that, “In our quest to get rid of the bad bugs we have been getting rid of the good ones too and we desperately need these. Our modern hyper-clean lifestyles are contributing to the rise of these diseases.”

This “ hygiene hypothesis” is not new and was first suggested by Prof. David Strachan in 1989 when he linked the lack of exposure to germs and the surge in allergies

When a baby is born, it has a gut full of immature immune cells and it spends the first few months of its life being colonized by bacteria. If over sanitization prevents this natural occurrence from happening the immune system does not mature and the child is unable to fight off diseases efficiently.

A study by the Centre for Environment and Health in Belgium in 2015 concluded that exposure to bleach in the home was associated with a 20% rise in the risk of flu and a 35% rise in recurrent tonsillitis in schoolchildren. In 2016 the US Food & Drug Administration banned some of the chemicals used in anti-bacterial products.

So maybe it’s time to get rid of all those man -made products that super-squeaky clean our homes. Our grannies used to use good old lemons, baking soda and lavender oils to keep the home fresh.

Findlay and Arrieta also advise parents to limit white flour and sugar in children’s diets as these starve the good microbe and to limit the use of anti-biotics

Findlay says, “ let them play in the dirt .Don’t wash toys unless they are visibly grubby, don’t panic about washing hands unless they are about to eat, relax about sanitizing your home. Oh, and get a dog. Dogs reduce your children’s risk of getting asthma by 13%. It doesn’t work that way with cats as they are too aloof with kids. Dogs on the other hand, will slobber all over them.”

So, your kids need to get out of doors and get dirty! My granny used to say,” A bit of dirt never hurt anyone.” Turns out that she was right all along.

Ref: Findlay & Arrieta. “ Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child From A Sanitized World.”
Finally, natural , chemical-free household and beauty products from your local health food shop are better for your health and the environment.

Written by our in-house psychotherapist Judith Ashton BA ITEC MFPhys IMTA


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