Parents are over-sterlising the environments of their children because they don't understand why dirt is good for us, a germ expert says.
Professor Jack Gilbert said that exposure to microbes prevalent in the great outdoors will establish a stronger, more robust immune system in young people.
Germs and dirt are serious concerns for anxious parents but Professor Gilbert, co-author of “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System” says that we need not worry.
“Most parents think all germs are bad, that is not true. Most will just stimulate your immune system and make you stronger,” Prof Gilbert told The Independent.
Prof Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Centre at the University of Chicago, says that parents can often over-sterilise environments for their children. When children are in the garden playing in mud for example, it’s not necessary to immediately sterilise their hands and worry that the mud may have got close to their faces.
The fear that children should be kept out of contact with animals because of germs is also unfounded, according to Prof Gilbert. Instances such as a dog licking a child’s face are in fact beneficial for their immune system rather than a cause for concern,
“Obviously raw meat should be treated carefully. But in a home where no-one is presently sick there is virtually no risk to children's health. Indeed, if it were not so unpalatable, poop is generally harmless. Thanks to vaccination and general sanitation our homes are extremely safe.” Prof Gilbert adds.
Prof Gilbert also claims that hand sanitizer is more damaging to a child’s health than soapy water. According to Prof Gilbert, children's immune systems were more healthy and robust than they are today because of more relaxed attitudes to germs. He explains that more fermented foods which contain bacteria, enable children higher exposure to animals, plants and soil more often.
Prof Gilbert also studied the immune profiles of Amish children to support his thesis. The 2016 study found significantly lower rates of asthma in immune profiles of Amish children who lived on small farms that were “rich in microbes.”
The immune systems of our ancestors were strengthened by a multitude of microbial interactions. Now, when there aren’t enough, the immune system starts to age “which can make it more likely to have a huge response to a simple allergen,” Prof Gilbert adds.
Prof Gilbert also says that the five-second-rule should be debunked. When you drop a freshly buttered sticky slice of toast on the floor, it takes milliseconds for microbes to attach themselves. But the only part we should care about is if you drop the food in an area where there could be a high risk of extremely dangerous pathogens, which the professor says is “virtually impossible” in most modern homes.
In a Swedish study of over 300,000 children who licked dummies after they had fallen on the ground and put them back in their children’s mouths, those who licked instead of washed them had children with less allergies, less asthma and less eczema.
“Sterilising your home like a hospital could lead your child to have a severely hyper sensitised immune system leaving them open to allergies and asthma, even neurodevelopmental problems,” Prof Gilbert says.
“Rescue a dog, let them eat food off the floor, play in the soil, dirt is Good!” he adds.