Gut bacteria and your kid’s immune system

March 30, 2017 Karlee J. Ausk, MD

Karlee Ausk

As a culture, we have become pretty obsessive about cleanliness, especially when it comes to our kids. After the park, after school, after a playdate and even after kids play with toys at home, many parents are quick to the draw with hand sanitizer. Is it too much? Have we jumped the shark when it comes to cleanliness and our kids? 

Well I think in many ways we have. In a recent segment on Q13 Fox, I offered some advice on how to think about keeping your kids clean and healthy. Prompted by a new book by Brett Finlay, Ph.D., titled “Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World,” I feel the book makes some good points, but the key consideration for parents is finding a balance between letting them be kids and obsessing about cleanliness. 

Finding a balance is critical because gut bacteria is the workhorse that helps us digest our food. Gut bacteria is incredibly complex, but some of its functions include regulating how our bodies balance glucose in our blood and how they store fat. It also provides signals for hunger. As the Scientific American pointed out, “The wrong mix of microbes, it seems, can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes from the moment of birth.”

This balancing act has implications not only for weight and diabetes, but for asthma, allergies and even brain function. While much more research needs to be done, we are capturing some useful insights about microbes in rats as it relates to obesity. My counsel would be to use common sense. Here are some basic tips for parents: 

  • There’s no need to make sure your kids are super clean. Soap and water is good enough.
  • Consume good bacteria (for example, yogurt) if it makes you feel good.
  • Don’t literally let kids eat dirt!
  • Help train your baby’s immune system by exposing your child to a diversity of environments.
  • While antibiotics are life saving, use them responsibly with guidance from your physician.

Just avoid the obvious like licking the bathroom floor, use soap and water regularly, and chances are you’ll have healthy, thriving kids.  

If you’re interested to learn more, here’s the interview about this topic from Q13 Fox.  

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