Thumb-sucker or a nail- biter?

Thumb suckerChildren who suck their thumb or bite their nails are less likely to develop allergies, a study suggests. But these habits have no bearing on asthma nor eczema.

The explanation, say the authors of a recent study in New Zealand, is the hygiene hypothesis – exposure to some germs strengthens the body’s immune system.

Thumb-sucking and nail-biting appeared to prevent some allergies among the 1,000 people in New Zealand assessed periodically between ages five and 32.

Thumb-sucking and nail-biting was assessed and recorded at ages five, seven, nine and 11, and allergies were tested for at age 13 and 32.

About a third of the children were frequent thumb-suckers or nail-biters, and these children were significantly less likely to have allergies at the age of 13.

The odds of these children developing an allergy to things such as house dust mite or a pet cat or dog was about a third lower than those of the other children who did not have these habits.  

And this protection appeared to last into adulthood, the University of Otago, Dunedin, team say – although this finding was less clear-cut.

Also, the way the study was designed means the researchers cannot determine whether the link is definitely causal.

This study adds to other research which has been carried out in other countries supporting the theory of the role the environment and gut microbiota play in shaping an individual’s potential to develop a food allergy.

Having pets at home, older siblings and living on a farm have also been identified as environmental influences that may have a role in the development of allergic disease.

So, as previously intimated, my older sibling getting me to eat dirt as a child did me a great favour!

Now I manage by gut microbiome by eating rather more tasty food – the fermenters like yogurt, miso, kefir and sauerkraut.

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