Is dirt good for a child’s health and immunity? An article was recently brought to my attention (thanks John!) “Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You” published by the New York Times. The article reports on evidence that shows eating dirt is good for babies and children. It’s an instinctive behavior that helps train the immune system by introducing important micro-organisms into a child’s developing body.
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
There is also growing evidence that shows that intestinal worms actually help aid the immune response. While they are disappearing from developed countries due to ultra-hygienic practices, most of these worms are harmless in well-nourished people and have good effects on conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should never bathe your child again, let the dishes pile up or eat out of garbage cans, but there is a balance to regain against the anti-bacterial, bleached environment we try to create for our newborns. Bottom-line, let your kids play in (or even eat) dirt (organic, pesticide/herbicide-free dirt of course!). And, when you compare what babies may be exposed to when they mouth their potentially lead-laden, phthalate-containing, plastic teething toy, a little dirt seems pretty harmless.