Canadian microbiologist B. Brett Finlay has one word for parents concerned about keeping their kids clean: Relax — being dirty is good for them.
Finlay is a professor at the University of British Columbia and co-author of Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World.
Finlay’s fundamental message is that kids must be allowed to get dirty. Parents and teachers need to stop slathering their kids with hand sanitizer because it actually does more harm than good, killing off the good (of which there are many), along with the relatively few bad ones. The microbes found in dirt and dirty things play a crucial role in training a child’s immune system to respond correctly, and to populate the good microflora in their gut.
Finlay says studies have shown that kids who grow up on farms or have dogs at home are 20 percent less likely to develop asthma, the reason being that they’re always in contact with a greater number of microbes, often feces, which Finlay doesn’t see as a bad thing. Fecal transplants are being used successfully to repopulate good microflora in some patients whose intestinal microbes have been wiped out by antibiotic treatments. It’s the same idea behind swabbing C-section babies with their mother’s vaginal microbes, in order to populate their intestinal tract with the right microbes from the beginning.
Parents should adjust their perspective on what constitutes good hygiene for kids. If a little one fights bath time, let it go. In fact, aim for a ring of dirt around the tub; that’s when you’ll know it was really time for a bath!
Finlay says that diet is very important, since refined carbs leave little for the lower intestine to digest, which in turn does not feed its microbes sufficiently. Make it work by eating whole grains, fibrous fruits and vegetables, and nuts.