It has been long believed that a clean house is a healthy house, now researchers are saying that a bit of dirt
According to the University of Cincinnati study, early life exposure to indoor fungal molecules – the kind commonly found in carpets and on floors – can build stronger immune systems and protect against the development of allergies. In other words, postponing “spring cleaning” may be as good for your baby’s long-term physical health as it is for your short-term mental health.
“If you keep your house too clean, you don’t provide the microbial components to stimulate the immune system,” explains Yulia Iossifova, lead author of the Allergy paper.
In a study group of 574 infants identified as having a risk for future allergies, health scientists found that babes exposed to high levels of “fungal glucans” and “bacterial endotoxins” in their primary activity rooms were nearly three times less likely to wheeze than those accustomed to more sanitized environments.
The epidemiological study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is the first to make the link between early life mould exposure and stronger immune systems.
Unfortunately, the positive effects only apply to the Teletubbies set.
“Whether you’ll be susceptible to allergies later in life depends on immune development during pregnancy and then in the first three to four years of your life,” says Iossifova.
“If people haven’t been exposed to microbial components as little children, being exposed to them as adults makes them develop allergies very easily.”
Sharon Moalem, a Canadian neurogeneticist and researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says the findings suggest parents who are trigger-happy with antibacterial sprays are doing their kids more harm than good.
“You don’t want your kid licking the floor in Grand Central Station,” says Moalem, who investigates the evolutionary component to illness in his book Survival of the Sickest. “But, most parents today are definitely going overboard as far as maintaining a sterile environment.”
The current mania for cleanliness has driven consumers to invest in everything from home air purifiers to hand sanitizers and antibacterial gloves. And though some 600 micro-organisms, bacteria, fungi and viruses are genuinely dangerous to humans – including salmonella and E. coli – scientists are constantly discovering “germs” that are beneficial.
When babies crawl across a dirty floor or stick less-than-sanitary objects in their mouths, for instance, Moalem says their bodies experience a kind of biological boot camp: it trains their systems to separate the good from the bad.
“Being exposed to these things is kind of like getting an immunization; it educates your immune system. If kids are exposed to dust as infants and don’t get an infection from it, then whatever is in that dust… will later be recognized by their immune systems as being harmless,” he explains.
“This goes with the dictum that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This is good news for our household. Before you have kids there seems to be more time to keep your dusting up to date. After they arrive quality time seems to take precedence and the vacuum gets less love.