Archive for January, 2014

Let’s get Dirty

I sit here in disbelief that another year has gone by. Christmas has come and gone and today is the start of a New Year. It is a season of joy, friends and family, great food and also a time that many of us get run down and sick. As adults we never like the inconvenience of being sick but even worse is when our little ones are not feeling well. We tend to do everything in our power to keep other sick people away so our little ones don’t have to deal with the terrible symptoms of runny nose, cough, throwing up, diarrhea, fever and more. Some of us wipe down the grocery cart before we put our kids in the front, carry disinfectant hand gel in our purse and often extensively clean our children’s soothers if they hit the floor. I have done all of the above. But what if exposing our children to dust, dirt, bacteria and parasites are all important to building healthy immune systems? Maybe we are too clean and our children need to get outside, play in (and eat) dirt more often?

When we studied the lymphatic system in Anatomy and Physiology last month we learned a few things about the thymus gland. Now you are probably wondering what the heck this has to do with anything…so let me explain. The thymus gland plays a big part in our immune system and most of us don’t even know where the thymus gland is located or what it does. To be honest…up until last month, neither did I. The thymus gland is located low in the throat and it is in charge of educating our T Cells (white blood cells), which are critical cells of the adaptive immune system. As antigens (toxins, foreign proteins, or bacteria) enter the body, T cells are trained by the thymus gland for each specific antigen that enters our bodies. This is where it gets interesting. The more your body is exposed to foreign substances, the more “specific” T cells your body makes therefore building up a pretty good army of T cells. What is even more interesting to me was that the thymus starts to degrade in our 20’s and 30’s (being replaced by fatty tissue) and eventually stops producing new T cells. Any new foreign substances introduced into our body after our thymus stops functioning do not get a T cell specifically trained to fight them off. Kind of makes you think twice about all those childhood illnesses you had. Maybe being sick as a child is not much fun but if it is training our body to fight for a good future…then maybe the odd flu, dirty door knob or cracker dropped on the floor is not such a bad thing?

There is a lot of talk about “today’s Children” and how their immune systems aren’t exposed to the large numbers of pathogens and toxins they once were. Maybe this has something to do with the dramatic increase of allergies. It is also said that people who have pets in their home help to increase children’s immune system as dogs can bring many bacteria into the home. In this month’s issue of Common Ground (monthly magazine dedicated to health, wellness, ecology, personal growth, and spirituality) David Suzuki talks about getting dirty. He says “Getting dirty may be healthy.” He talks about how we have become increasingly urbanized and many of us have moved away from nature. David said “they found people surrounded by a greater diversity of life (outdoors) were themselves covered with a wider range of different kinds of microbes than those in less diverse surroundings. They were also less likely to exhibit allergies.” David also says that “To work effectively, our immune system needs to be “primed” by exposure to a diverse range of organisms at an early age. In this way, it learns to distinguish between good, bad and harmless”. It is all starting to come together now – the importance of the thymus gland, the immune system, nature, biodiversity and our exposure to toxins and bacteria. So maybe a good New Year’s resolution is to get outside more, worry less about your home being perfect and avoid antibacterial products. Go outside and get dirty – especially our kids – our immune system will thank you for it.

Happy New Year to you all. May 2014 be full of wonderful memories, love, health and adventure.


Books to check out:
The last Child in the woods: Richard Louv

January 2, 2014 at 12:34 am Leave a comment

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