Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baby finds a piece of dirt on the floor ... but don't worry; experts say that immune system helped

LEBANON -- I was watching a beautiful young lady -- 11 months of age -- crawl today on the floor and suddenly put something in her mouth.

Her "Mammy" and "Pappy" were quick on the scene but whatever was on the just-swept floor made it into baby's mouth.

While parents and grandparents might consider this moment as a failure, The New York Times tells everyone to calm down. Dirt is good for children. Yes, you read right.

Consider this excerpt:

Ask mothers why babies are constantly picking things up from the floor or ground and putting them in their mouths, and chances are they’ll say that it’s instinctive — that that’s how babies explore the world. But why the mouth, when sight, hearing, touch and even scent are far better at identifying things?

When my young sons were exploring the streets of Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but wonder how good crushed rock or dried dog droppings could taste when delicious mashed potatoes were routinely rejected.

Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.

In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.

These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries.

Now experts aren't saying "go out to the flower bed and scoop up several portions in a bowl for baby at lunch." They're just saying that kids may be doing something that is good for them -- directed naturally from what the Almighty built.

Now we should keep the floor swept and the carpet vacuumed. But a piece of dirt is not going to kill a young one. And if research is right, it may help baby.

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