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Boogers May Be Good for You

Boogers May Be Good for You

Photo Courtesy of:  iStockphoto / Thinkstock

If you catch a child with a finger up his nose, you probably discourage it. But could the nasty¯ habit of nose-picking — and booger-eating — be more sanitary and even health-beneficial than we’ve been taught?

A biochemist from the University of Saskatchewan has theorized that nasal mucus — commonly known as boogers — has a sugary taste that’s meant to entice children to… have a snack. But this may actually help introduce pathogens into the child’s immune system that will strengthen their body’s natural germ defense.

Other experts believe this theory (which has yet to be tested) doesn’t necessarily hold water, since people swallow nasal secretions every day, even in their sleep, even if they don’t eat their boogers.

Still, our culture seems to be somewhat obsessive about cleanliness, especially regarding children. But scolding kids for this particular habit may actually be counterproductive.

The Only Good Germ is a Dead Germ, Right? Maybe Not…

An interesting theory — the “Hygiene Hypothesis” — may explain why certain allergies and diseases have nearly quadrupled in recent decades. The premise is that children raised in an environment devoid of dirt and germs are less able to build up natural disease resistance.

Much worse, the growing tendency to ply children with antibiotics, which can kill healthy gut flora. Scientific evidence indicates that both practices contribute to increased vulnerability to illness later in life.

But how could dirt and germs keep you healthy?

Your immune system plays two main protective roles. Specialized white blood cells called Th1 lymphocytes assault infected cells throughout your body. Th2 lymphocytes produce antibodies to block dangerous microbes from invading your body’s cells in the first place, while using other white blood cells to drive allergic responses to foreign organisms.

How Dirt Helps “Pump Up”¯ Your Immune System

At birth, an infant’s immune system appears to rely primarily on the Th2 system while the Th1 system grows stronger. But the hygiene hypothesis suggests that the Th1 system grows stronger only through fighting infection or encounters with harmless microbes. Without such stimulation, the Th2 system flourishes and the immune system reacts with allergic responses more easily.

In other words, adults who never allow themselves or their children to be exposed to viruses, dirt, germs and parasites may be preventing their systems from kicking in natural disease resistance.

Allergies, Heart Disease and Depression Linked to “Clean Freak” Tendencies

If you’re healthy, exposure to bacteria and viruses may serve as natural “vaccines”¯ that strengthen your system and provide long-lasting disease immunity. If you don’t experience a healthy exposure to germs in your environment, you may end up sick.

Health problems associated with the hygiene hypothesis include:

One study even determined that childhood exposure to viral infections could reduce later-life heart disease risk by 90 percent.

Even depression has been connected to early pathogen exposure via an inflammatory connection. Neuroscientist Charles Raison, MD observed:

“Since ancient times benign microorganisms, sometimes referred to as ‘old friends,’ have taught your immune system how to tolerate other harmless microorganisms, and in the process, reduce inflammatory responses that have been linked to the development of most modern illnesses, from cancer to depression.”

Your Immune System Dictates Whether or Not You Get Sick

If you’re looking for further evidence that booger-eating may not be so bad after all, consider that it’s the state of your immune system that determines your health after germ exposure. In one study, when 17 volunteers were infected with a flu virus, only half got sick. Researchers found that certain changes in blood took place 36 hours before flu symptoms showed up.

While all the participants had an immune response even if they didn’t get sick, the responses were quite different.

Symptomatic participants experienced antiviral and inflammatory reactions, which may have been related to virus-induced oxidative stress. But in the non-symptomatic participants, these responses were tightly regulated. The asymptomatic group also had elevated expression of genes that function in antioxidant responses and cell-mediated responses. The scientists noted:

“Exposure to influenza viruses is necessary, but not sufficient, for healthy human hosts to develop symptomatic illness. The host response [emphasis added] is an important determinant of disease progression.”

The bottom line? If exposure to booger bacteria can help strengthen your immune system, a case could be made for their consumption — or at least, not scolding when you find a youngster with a finger up his nose.

Fortunately, healthy germ exposure comes in other ways, too.

How to Avoid Being Overly Hygienic

If the hygiene hypothesis is true — and there’s mounting research that it is — trying to keep your environment overly sterile could backfire and actually increase your risk of acute and chronic disease. You can avoid being “too clean,” and in turn help bolster your body’s natural immune responses, by:

  • Letting your child get dirty. Allow your kids to play outside and get dirty (and realize that if your kid eats boogers, it isn’t the end of the world);
  • Not using antibacterial soaps and other antibacterial household products, which wipe out the microorganisms your body needs to be exposed to in order to develop and maintain proper immune function. Simple soap and water are all you need to wash your hands. Antibacterial chemicals (typically triclosan) are quite toxic and have even been found
    to promote the growth of resistant bacteria;
  • Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics. Remember: Viral infections are impervious to antibiotics, as antibiotics only work on bacterial infections;
  • Serving locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics; and
  • Educating yourself on the differences between natural and artificial immunity, and making informed decisions about the use of vaccinations.

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Dr. Mercola

Dr. Mercola has been passionate about health and technology for most of his life. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, he treated many thousands of patients for over 20 years. In the mid 90’s he integrated his passion for natural health with modern technology via the internet and developed a website, Mercola.com to spread the word about natural ways to achieve optimal health.

68 comments

+ add your own
6:19PM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

Nooooooooooooooo ! ! ! !

My Gag reflex is causing me to have abdominal spasms !

Unchecking comments!

I'd rather read an article about TURDS !

5:28PM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

Nasal mucus has a sugary taste??...OK I'm not even gonna go there...

4:39AM PDT on Jun 29, 2013

EXACTLY Let your kid be a kid and stop being germaphobic

6:57PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

ewww. I might swallow what's at the back of my nose, but no way on Earth am I going to dig & chew or encourage this in school kids/grandkids!

10:38AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

Thank you Dr. Mercola, for Sharing this!

7:19AM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

Eww gross

5:44PM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

For me the essential / fundamental statement in this article is: In other words, adults who never allow themselves or their children to be exposed to viruses, dirt, germs and parasites may be preventing their systems from kicking in natural disease resistance.
Let the Biochemist eat his boogers, maybe share with colleagues... eeegattt and no,no, no!!!

5:34PM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

OOOOOOOkkkkkkkkkaaaaayyyyyyy...strange and interesting.

5:25PM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

I am sorry, but the only comment I can think of is EWWWWWWWWW.

6:32AM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

And perhaps swallowing tapeworms is the best way to lose weight?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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