As a child, did you ever get berated for biting your nails? It is a habit many of us have had to overcome at one point or another in our lives. But, apart from the aesthetic consequences of steadily nibbling and gnawing away at your fingertips, is biting your nails really as hygienically harmful as we’ve been told? In short, no.
While biting your nails certainly doesn’t evoke an image of unwavering confidence, it is not going to harm your health. In fact, it may even strengthen it. A recent study publishedin Pediatrics showed that children who bit their nails or sucked their thumbs developed less allergies and had stronger immune systems than children who didn’t shove fingers into their own mouths. The study specifically suggested that children who stuck their hands in their mouths had a lower risk of developing atrophy, asthma and hay fever.
How can this be? Isn’t the world a dirty, dangerous place? Well, yes, but it is nothing to be quaking in your boots about. A little dirt is actually good for you. Exposure to a wider variety of microbes earlier on in life has long been hypothesized to reduce the risk of developing allergies later in life. Known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, it has been theorized that the lack of exposure to microorganisms in early childhood actually works to suppress the development of a strong and healthy immune system. Essentially, it is similar to the concept that a lot of poison will kill you, but a little poison makes you stronger.
What other ‘dirty’ things naturally boost your immune system? Well, having a furry pal certainly helps. Children who grew up on farms or around a lot of animals generally have stronger immune systems in both childhood and later life than those who grew up in more sterile households.
Also, people who spend more time in nature, subjecting themselves to the natural diversity of microbes that exist in the wild world, have stronger immunity than those who spend most of their time indoors. They also experience lower rates of depression, obesity and cancers. To put it simply, spend time in nature with natural things and your immune system gets a health-boosting workout.
Does this mean you should start biting your nails? Certainly not. But, it is nothing to stress about if you or your child does. Embrace a little untidiness and dirt in your life, and your body will benefit.