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HEALTH REPORT - Why Getting Dirty Can Be Healthy for Children

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 -- Views:

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A new study suggests that early exposure to germs strengthens the immune system. That means letting children get a little dirty might be good for their health later in life.

The study involved laboratory mice. It found that adult mice raised in a germ-free environment were more likely to develop allergies, asthma and other autoimmune disorders. There are more than eighty disorders where cells that normally defend the body instead attack tissues and organs.

They include rheumatoid arthritis, which attacks the joints; Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition; and juvenile diabetes. Hay fever, a common allergy, is also an autoimmune disorder.

Children playing
Children playing
Richard Blumberg is a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. He says in nineteen eighty-nine, medical researchers sought to explain these diseases with what they called the "hygiene hypothesis." They proposed that the increasing use of antibacterial soaps and other products, especially early in life, could weaken immune systems.

RICHARD BLUMBERG: "The hypothesis has stated or suggested that early-life exposure to microbes is a very important determinant of later life sensitivity to allergic and so-called autoimmune diseases, such as hay fever, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and others."

Now, Dr. Blumberg and a team have what they say is the first biological evidence to link early exposure to germs to stronger adult immune systems. They say this exposure could prevent the development of some autoimmune diseases.

In the adult germ-free mice, they found that inflammation in the lungs and colon was caused by so-called killer T cells. These normally fight infection. But they became overactive and targeted healthy tissue -- an autoimmune condition seen in asthma and a disease called ulcerative colitis.

Dr. Blumberg says the mice raised in a normal environment did not have the same reaction. He says their immune systems had been "educated" by early exposure to germs.

RICHARD BLUMBERG: "What was really most remarkable to us was the fact that once the education event provided by the microbes occurred in early life, it was durable and lasted throughout the life of the animal."

Rates of autoimmune disorders are rising worldwide, but mostly in wealthier, industrialized countries.

RICHARD BLUMBERG: "I think one obvious question, for example, that's raised by these studies is the early life use of antibiotics and whether we need to be more careful in their prescribing."

Rob Dunn is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He says the new study does not mean people should stop washing.

ROB DUNN: "Wash your hands, but don't do it with antimicrobial soap. Let your kids play in a reasonable amount of dirt and get outside and get exposed to a diversity of things."

The study appears in the journal Science.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Jessica Berman

Reader's Comments (1):
Author: hunter
不干不净,吃了没病. 老祖宗早就说了
Author: 忙忙2012
that means letting children get a little dirty might be good for their health later in life
Author: 快乐
Author: may
some people like hunter above appear to own today's scientific attainments to china's ancester.
Author: May
My God. My son's hands are always too dirty.My son often rolls on the ground to make his clothes dirty too.Shouldn't I stop him?When he washes his hands ,he uses too much soap.Everything he touches has the flavor of the soap.
Author: sunflower
I agree.
Author: fling
yeah ,when i was a little child i knew it .
Author: dio
em, this is my childhood too,and i have a deep impression on it .i want to go the former day very much ,but now it only a dream .and we can't go to the former too
Author: zaiming
this explains why peasants are usually healthier than those raised up in cities.
Author: wuwei
we'd better not keep our children indoors. let them go out into the nature, and mix with it.
Author: aoshiding
Human belongs to a part of the diverse ecology system. Apart from the environment in which germ live, our body will easily get worse. we should actively go into the nature world.
Author: Jackie
Early exposure to germ is good for the children' health. so we need to know washing your hands and body is the best without soap and some other products, that is , in nature way to do some washing.
Author: vanessa
i know it, long time ago
Author: lia
i think that's nothing when you wash your hand with soap,because the soap can't kill all microble,maybe it can kill some of them.On the contrary,the else germs after you wash your hand with soap can even more strengthens the immune system,but those are a mere opinion of mine.
Author: yingley
When I was a child, I live in country, like other country childer, we ate insects,wild fruits and other so called"derty foods", but we never got sick. When I grow up, I finally realize that what we had done was so crazy, and I never dare to do that again. Now I know that these derty foods had stronghen my immune systems.
Author: 廖绪强
This article is very useful, they tell us some knowledges of normal life.
Author: pilgrim
human are a part of nature, and if human isolate from nature, we will feel uncomfortable. we can't cut close contact with germ world, and we need to fit and be old freind to germ.
Author: Dana
This article reminds my childhood...it's amazing to grow up in a village.
Author: Kelly
But I can't figure out what the reasonable amount of dirt is.
Author: alfred
uh,maybe there are some secret we dont know . the world is fantastic
Author: ga
Really ? I can't totally agree it .
Author: liangchen
Author: Candice
Letting children get a little dirty might be good for their health later in life. I decide to use less antibacterial soaps for my daughter as these could weaken the immune system.
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