Hi Readers! I know, I know — there are probably another zillion studies that contradict this one, and there’s a danger in being whipsawed by every new “discovery” but as this one SO dovetails with the Free-Range outlook, who could resist? Voila:
THINK AGAIN ABUOT KEEPING THE LITTLE ONES SO SQUEAKY CLEAN
RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT EVERYDAY GERMS MAY PREVENT DISEASES IN ADULTHOOD
Yes, so reads the headline on a study just released by Northwestern University that suggests that raising kids in too antiseptic an environment could lead to heart trouble (of all things!) down the way.
The problem seems to be that when the body isn’t exposed to the usual pu-pu platter of pathogens at a young age, the inflammatory system doesn’t develop quite right.
“Contrary to assumptions related to earlier studies, our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases,” said Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, associate professor of anthropology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.
Relatively speaking, humans only recently have lived in such hyper-hygienic environments, he stressed.
The research suggests that inflammatory systems may need a higher level of exposure to common everyday bacteria and microbes to guide their development. “In other words, inflammatory networks may need the same type of microbial exposures early in life that have been part of the human environment for all of our evolutionary history to function optimally in adulthood,” said McDade, also a member of Northwestern’s Cells to Society (C2S).
This is so interesting not only in terms of chucking the Purell, but also because it is the perfect metaphor for all the other interventions we’ve been sold on — products and programs to “help” our children do what they’ve been doing for millions of years without ’em. Things like baby knee-pads to “help” them crawl. Educational placemats to “help” them get interested in words. Marionette-like harnesses to “help” them learn to walk. What the whole baby-industrial complex ignores is that evolution has seen to it that our children come pre-equipped for the world. So they don’t need baby knee pads — they have baby fat on their knees. They don’t need flash cards at birth — they come pre-programmed to find the world stimulating. Moreover, if we pad and pamper them through every normal stage of development, when do they develop normally? They don’t!
As this study notes:
“In the U.S we have this idea that we need to protect infants and children from microbes and pathogens at all possible costs,” McDade concluded.
“But we may be depriving developing immune networks of important environmental input needed to guide their function throughout childhood and into adulthood. Without this input, our research suggests, inflammation may be more likely to be poorly regulated and result in inflammatory responses that are overblown or more difficult to turn off once things get started.”
The same goes for an overprotected childhood: Keep our kids away from real life and don’t be surprised if they can’t deal with it later on.
And I say all this not just because Purell always grossed me out. — Lenore