Contrary to what your mom taught you, picking your nose and eating your own booger is actually good for you, says Dr.
Meg Lemon, a dermatologist based in Denver, Colorado.
And when people drop food on the floor, they should eat that, too, she adds.
While those statements seem to go against everything we’ve been taught about hygiene, there is a compelling logic behind that argument.
Research has suggested that periodically exposing bodies to a host of germs helps boost its natural defenses and makes the immune system more adaptable to resisting infections and allergies.
With the strong drive towards becoming cleaner and more antiseptic, it’s up to people to strengthen their own immune systems.
Dr. Lemon tells science author Matt Richtel in his new book “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System”: “I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it.”
Richtel is also a journalist at the New York Times and the publication ran an excerpt where Dr. Lemon is quoted as saying, “Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Immunize!
“If a new vaccine comes out, run and get it. I immunized the living hell out of my children. And it’s O.K. if they eat dirt.
“You should not only pick your nose, you should eat it.”
Dr. Lemon is a practicing dermatologist certified by the American Board of Dermatology.
Her advice is in line with the theme of Richtel’s book which hints that modern immune systems are becoming too sensitive to once-harmless germs.
He cites past research that has shown that children with fewer siblings are more likely to develop allergies such as hay fever.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal in 1989, reasons out that catching infections from older siblings strengthened the immune systems of the younger siblings.
Those children who don’t have older brothers and sisters bringing home bacteria and viruses that they acquired from outside had less battle-hardened immune systems. These were the ones who were more likely to develop allergies.
The modern trend has leaned toward smaller families and Western societies are practically obsessed with keeping everything sterilized, from homes, bodies, food, water, and milk.
But the rate of allergies has also risen.
In 2011, there were 50 percent more children with food allergies in the US than in 1997, said Richtel.
The same period also saw a 69 percent rise in skin allergies.
Richtel says that over-prescription of antibiotics may also have contributed to the trend because they can destroy healthy bacteria when they are given when not needed.
Too many antibiotics give bacteria more chances to mutate and become more deadly and resistant to treatment.
The British Journal of Homeopathy published an article more than a century ago that said hay fever was “almost wholly confined” to the upper classes who for the most part had better hygiene. The information suggests that poor children who had more contact with germs were less vulnerable to hay fever because of their strengthened immune systems.
To be clear, Richtel says that advances in hygiene have been very beneficial for society as a whole but at the same time suggests that our immune systems could benefit from activities that keep them sharp and ready the same way one needs exercise to prevent one’s muscles from atrophying. Picking your nose or eating dirty food could provide that stimulus.
“Our immune system needs a job,” Dr. Lemon said.
“We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.”
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