Before I had kids, I was distinctly not a germophobe. Since then, though, I have gotten a lot more worried about germs. I hate housecleaning more than pretty much anything else in the world, though, and I carry hand sanitizer, but way too frequently forget to use it.
A recent study from Northwestern University confirms that a laissez-faire attitude toward germ eradication can actually help kids, versus hurt them. Being too aggressive in keeping clean actually depresses a developing immune system, which leads to higher levels of inflammation later in life.
Professor Thomas McDade, author of the study, says “In the US we have this idea that we need to protect infants and children from microbes and pathogens at all possible costs. But we may be depriving developing immune networks of important envionmental information needed to guide their function through childhood and into adulthood.”
He points out that it’s only recently in the whole history of humanity that we’ve lived in very clean and hygenic environments.
The study followed 3,327 pregant Filipino women until their children reached the age of 22. Reserachers tracked the children’s exposure to pathogens and to domestic animals, and found that the Filipino children, who generally lived in less strictly clean enviroments, had at least 80 percent lower levels of C-reactive Protein in their blood at young adulthood compared to similar American young adults. C-reactive protein is considered a marker for eventual heart disease.
So, parents, ditch the antibacterial wipes and constant handwashing, and relax a little. I know I will.