Published Sunday, August 12, 2012
The modern health care industry now routinely produces wonder drugs, miracle therapies and equipment that seems right out of “Star Trek.” With all those things at their disposal, people should be healthier than ever.
Most adults are. But you can’t say the same about kids.
They’re not falling out from bubonic plague or coming down with rickets on a regular basis, but today’s kids are clearly more susceptible to allergies than their parents and grandparents.
Now doctors have figured out why. Kids are too clean.
Parents used to shoo the kids out of the house and tell them not to come back until they broke a bone or sundown canceled the sandlot ball game. Kids came home covered in dirt, grime and garbage. A quick splash in the tub and they were good to go. Allergies were as rare as honest politicians.
Not any more. Modern parents seem obsessed with cleanliness. And if my kids had been exposed to today’s political ads, I would insist they spend more time soaping up, too. But child-raising experts from Dr. Oz to Oprah have convinced parents the only way to protect kids is to cover them with antibacterial potions that keep kids so clean germs never have a chance to say “howdy.”Childhood allergies are racing toward epidemic levels.
People who study these things say when young kids don’t get enough exposure to things like pond scum, ragweed and boogers, they don’t build normal immunities. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
“What we’ve learned is that it may, in fact, be important to be exposed early on to a sufficient quantity of allergy-causing substances to train the immune system that they are not a threat,” says Andy Saxon of the University of California-Los Angeles.
The good news is, there is a great way to boost a child’s immune system that doesn’t involve a doctor’s visit. Let them get a pet.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said kids who lived with pets are not at greater risk of developing allergies. In fact, they may actually be at lower risk.
Dr. Dennis Ownby of the Medical College of Georgia, the study’s lead author, said he was “very surprised” by the results. “Parents don’t have to be concerned about keeping cats and dogs in the house in terms of increasing the risks of allergies to their children,” said Ownby, who did not mention household hamsters or pythons in his remarks.
These findings will not be a shock to a friend of mine who is strictly old-school when it comes to kids and critters. As soon as his grandkids get old enough to visit by themselves, he lays the kids on the floor, invites his flock of dogs inside and lets the dogs drool, lick and wallow on the tykes as much as they like.
He is convinced the exposure to animals helps build a child’s immune system. Now doctors are admitting he’s right.
Sure, some kids are allergic to pets. And pets can cause minor health problems like mange and rabies. But pets can also heal. At least according to my mother, who swore a dog’s tongue was antiseptic. I’m no scientist, but I can attest that having a good dog lick your scrapes and scratches certainly doesn’t do any harm. And I was never overcome with an urge to chase cars or lick myself in public.
Want a healthy kid? Buy ‘em a dog, buy ‘em a cat and let nature take its course. Remember: an ounce of puppy is worth a pound of prevention.
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