Being too clean has killed beneficial bacteria and mothers should suck their babies’ dummies to wash them and keep their children healthy, research suggests
Mothers should suck their babies’ dummies to clean them, let children eat food from the floor, and get a dog, if they want to keep their families healthy, academics have claimed.
Experts from Cambridge University and University College London said that being too clean has killed beneficial bacteria, which keep the immune system strong.
They also advise frequent walks in the countryside; visiting farms and kissing family members regularly, and exercising in the park rather than at the gym, to top up on healthy bacteria.
Children whose mother’s sucked their dummies to clean them were a third less likely to develop asthma and eczema, Prof Graham Rook, told the Cheltenham Science Festival.
“If the parents pick up the dummy right away and sterilises it or replace it with a new clean one, that child has a considerably greater chance of having eczema and asthma,” he said.
“But if you’re the sort of parents that sucks it clean and it sticks it back in the baby’s mouth, then it actually protects them from allergic disorders.
“It’s because they have better bacterial development in the mouth and gut. And this is what protects them.
“We need micro-organisms from our family and the natural environment. Picking them up from birth, breast milk, kissing.”
The rise in antibiotics, caesarean sections, bottle feeding processed food and unvaried diets have all contributed to a lack of healthy bacteria, said Prof Rook.
Figures released this week showed that the number of people admitted to hospitals with allergic reactions has leapt by eight per cent in 12 months.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre said there were 20,320 admissions in 2012/13 compared with 18,860 the year before.
Some 5,068 were categorised as asthma and 4,052 as anaphylactic reactions – where the throat swells up – and 3,361 for rhinitis which includes hayfever.
It did not state exactly what triggered the reaction but the commonest allergies are for food – such as peanuts, milk and egg – drugs and insect venom.
Bacteria make up 90 per cent of the human body and are responsible for a huge number of functions such as digestion, brain development and can even influence mood.
Prof Rook claimed it was no coincidence that older generations had fewer allergies, because they were exposed to more microbes as children.
A recent study showed that elderly people who had a larger diversity of bacteria in their gut were more likely to be healthy and living in their own homes.
“Are we too clean? I would say yes.” added Dr Mark Veldhoen, of the Babraham Institute at Cambridge University.
“It has been shown that frailty is linked to a decrease in bacteria.”
Prof Rook said simple changes, such as spending more time outdoors in natural environments, and particularly around animals, could help rebalance the immune system.
“Keeping a dog is definitely protective against having an allergic disorder. The bring more microbiotic diversity into the home. Even families who don’t normally cuddle each other all cuddle the dog.
“Exposure to farms and pigs and cows are good. Exercise in the park and not in the gym.”
But he warned against taking supplements to boost the immune system.
“The immune system is a dangerous thing and the problem in the western world is our systems are trigger happy. The last thing you want to is boost the immune system.
“In many cases our immune system is going bonkers, trigger happy. You shouldn’t have a flare up just because you’ve been exposed to some pollen or cat hair.”
However Prof Rook said basic hygiene like hand washing was still important.
“But it is completely wrong to say that being dirty is good for you and stop allergies occurring. All it will do is make you ill.
“Hygiene protects you from bad things. Childhood infections do not prevent allergies, they make them worse
“The bottom line is that we need more hygiene, but you need to be targeted.”