Kids & Allergies

If your kids come in from outdoors covered head to toe in dirt from playing with their dog and maybe even snuck in a bite or two of dog food, relax – their immune system loves it.

It seems all the fuss and worry of keeping kids clean and germ-free may backfire in terms of a greater risk of developing allergies and asthma. A new study from the University of Melbourne’s Shyamali Dharmage is suggesting that exposing kids when they are young to germs and potential allergens might provide protection from allergies later on.

Over 10,000 adults in 14 countries in Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia were analyzed by the research team who found that participants who spent their early years on a farm were less likely to have allergies, nasal symptoms or over-reactive airways as adults than people who grew up elsewhere.

Of the participants in the study, 64 percent spent their first five years of life in a rural village, small town or city suburb, 27 percent grew up in a city while 9 percent lived on a farm growing up.

It was the farm kids who had been exposed to having pets, sharing a bedroom with a sibling or just being around dirt, hay, and weeds that had fewer problems with allergies. Up to 54 percent were less likely to have asthma or hay fever while 57 percent were less likely to have nasal allergies than kids who grew up in a city with less exposure to nature and dirt. 

Another interesting finding from the study was that women who had grown up on a farm had stronger lungs than women who lived in a city until 5 years of age. 

This study goes along with the recent release of a book called Let Them Eat Dirt – Saving Your Child From an Oversanitized World by authors Marie-Claire Arrieta, PHD and B. Brett Finlay, PHD, that discusses how keeping kids overly clean is not a good idea.  It delves into recent scientific studies of how early exposure to microbes can be beneficial to children and how the emphasis on hyper-cleanliness and poor diets are taking a toll on their lifelong health. 

We all have millions of microbes living in our body and this book explains how they can influence childhood development.  If there is an imbalance of microbes it may be linked to leading to obesity, diabetes, and asthma.  One way an imbalance can come about is from not allowing kids to get dirty or not having much contact around animals from an early age.  Another is feeding kids a nutrient poor diet composed primarily of white sugar and white flour foods.  Our bodies need fiber which is obtained from eating more plant-based foods of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.  These type of food feed the microbes living in our intestinal tract keeping them healthy leading to a stronger immune system and a healthier child.