Playing in the Dirt: A Boost for Your Child’s Immune System

July 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm 1 comment

The following article was originally published in the PEPS July 2010 Newsletter

Playing in the DirtThe sun is (finally) out, and the kids can’t wait to get outside!  Young children love to dig in the dirt, play with shovels and pails, and particularly when paired with summer water toys, frequently start to resemble Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-Pen.  Like many moms, I wince when my toddler takes a break from his garden play and proceeds to grab some snack and shove it in his mouth, filthy hands and all.

But it turns out that a series of studies suggest that kids benefit from dirt – or more specifically (and frankly disgustingly), the bacteria, viruses, and worms – yes worms! – that live in less-than-sterile environments.  These organisms actually train our immune systems by providing a bit of a workout while allowing our systems to figure out what is harmless.  Most worms and bacteria are perfectly fine in our systems — indeed, beneficial.  But as we become increasingly anti-bacterial in our soaps and sanitizers and such, we may be hampering our development of robust immune regulatory systems which some researchers believe may be contributing to the rise in allergies and asthma, and immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, allergies, and asthma.

So as your child spends more time outdoors with the warmer weather, take heart when she experiments by shoving a fist full of dirt in her mouth.  In addition to learning that crackers taste better than dirt, she’ll be exercising her immune system in ways that yield long-term health benefits.


Entry filed under: Health. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Pesticides and Brain Development in Children « whizbit  |  August 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    […] anything that fits into their mouths, and playing in the dirt (indeed, that can be great for their immune systems!).  However, this constant exploration of the world requires that we, as caregivers, be […]


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