Eating Dirt Good for the Kids?

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Babies, Weird But True

Is eating dirt good for you? Perhaps so. I've heard that in the course of a lifetime we consume and inordinate amount of dirt, and other things too, but is that something that perhaps we're supposed to be doing? Mud pies aside, it may be instinctive for small children to eat dirt, and good for them too. It's a trait humans have exhibited as long as they've been around. Little kids naturally tend to put things in their mouths. We've been told they do this in order to learn more about the world. That may be true, but what about using their senses other than taste for that? One would think that sight, touch and sound -- heck, even smell -- might give a child more of a clue about something than putting it in her mouth.

What scientists are concerned with, though, is what goes into the mouth along with the dirt. So called the "hygiene hypothesis," researchers look at the bacteria, viruses and worms introduced into the system along with the dirt which may promote a healthy immune system. Further research indicates that worms in particular might "redirect" an errant immune system resulting in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma. According to Dr. Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, eating dirt allows a child's immune system to practice its craft and also allow it to learn to ignore what should be ignored. Dr. David Elliott who practices gastroenterology and immunology at the University of Iowa furthers that notion by stating that worms are "likely to be the biggest player" in directing immune system response. In a study of mice with colleague Dr. Weinstock of Tufts Medical Center, used worms to both prevent and even reverse autoimmune disease,

It was noted in developing countries that a lot of the good organisms have been removed along with the bad ones. Children being raised in ultra-clean environments are not getting exposed to the good dirt and organisms. No one is suggesting throwing out the bathwater, but that using antibacterial products should be done in moderation and that cleanliness isn't necessarily next to godliness. According to Dr. Ruebush, author of "Why Dirt is Good," hands should be cleaned after changing diapers, when handling food, whenever they are visibly soiled and, of course, after using the bathroom. Dr.Weinstock also suggested giving kids two dogs and a cat to expose them to intestinal worms. Not sure that it would really take two dogs to have the intended effect, but I think you get the idea.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.