Bad Habits May Offer Health Benefits
It turns out thumb suckers and nail biters are less prone to allergies.
Thumb sucking is a natural instinct for nearly all babies. Most children grow out of it at a very young age. Some continue the habit well beyond infancy, which is usually a source of great stress to parents. Thumb sucking and nail biting are viewed as unhygienic and bad manners by most adults, yet there is a bright side to the problem.
By constantly putting their fingers in their mouth, these children are exposing themselves to a greater variety and quantity of germs. That can be a good thing. A new study has shown that children aged between 5 and 11 years who engage in these habits are less likely to have allergies.
The study was conducted on children in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, in New Zealand. 1,037 children who were born in the years 1972 and 1973 were tested as they grew older. Researchers used the data to look at a possible link between children who often have their fingers in their mouth and allergic reactions.
The findings seem to support the hygiene hypothesis; an idea developed in 1989 which states that greater exposure to microbes in early life leads to less allergic-type diseases such as eczema, asthma, and hay fever in later life. So children who grew up with pets or on a farm are exposed to more germs and often suffer fewer allergies than kids who grew up in cities. Not all children have the opportunity to keep pets, but putting their fingers in their mouth seems to offer similar benefits.
Nail biting and thumb sucking can become a real problem in older children due to social stigma and potential issues with tooth development. A healthier way to consume healthy microbes is through eating fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement.