Just when you thought parenting couldn’t get any more confusing, a researcher challenges a begetter belief to be as conventional as chocolate cake.
Lately, it’s harder and harder to be a parent. A March study in the journal Pediatrics proffered that the long-term cognitive benefits of breastfeeding were negligible to non-existent. This past February, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Dr. Brett Finlay suggested that our obsession with hygiene and a squeaky clean water supply could be responsible for the upsurge in childhood asthma. None of the hypotheses offered are as damning as the news out of Canada by biochemist, Scott Napper Ph.D., that eating boogers may boost children’s immune systems. What?
Since Neanderthal times, parents have sternly chastised children to “Stop picking your nose!” If a toddler took the additional step of eating picked nose spoils, parents have been known to explode with shame, rage and disgust as they physically restrained youngsters from further digging and dining. But in this topsy-turvy world of political mayhem and virtual reality, it’s no wonder that our most reliable tenets are being turned on their ears.
According to Dr. Napper, all kids try to taste things that come out of their noses. Perhaps nature is pushing kids to adapt this very behavior. Accepting that nose picking can boost one’s immunity to illness is a more unconventional view of human biological processes. Dr. Napper told his college biochemistry class at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada that the reason snot tastes so sweet is a signal to the body that it should be eaten and that perhaps the immune system was dependent upon information obtained from the pathogens contained in the mucus. Maybe toddlers are just fulfilling their bodies’ true evolutionary destiny.
Mucus is secreted by tissue lining the mouth, nose, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tracts. It traps bacteria, dust and other unwanted pathogens before they enter the body. Dried out mucus and its collection of undesirables are what we’ve come to know as boogers. He harkened back to the whole “hygiene hypothesis” by James T. Li, M.D., Ph.D. of the Mayo Clinic that claims that early exposure to germs and certain infections boost children’s immune systems.
“From an evolutionary perspective,” Dr. Napper told reporters, “We evolved under very dirty conditions, and maybe this desire to keep our environment and our behaviors sterile isn’t actually working to our advantage.”
Dr. Napper’s plan to test his theory is to set up a clinical study where all volunteers get an immune-boosting molecule delivered up their noses. Half the group is instructed to pick and eat the molecule while the other half leaves the molecule intact inside the nose. Then the good doctor plans to measure immune responses, and if they are higher in the booger-eaters he’ll be able to validate his hypothesis. (I’m really not making this up.)
When asked about the theory, William Schaffner, M.D., past president of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, expresses doubt. Dr. Schaffner contends that people ingest boogers all the time without actively picking and eating them. “Because it’s part of your own body fluids,” explains Dr. Schaffner, “You swallow nasal secretions all the time during the day and while you’re asleep.”
Thus, the great booger debate continues. Scientific findings may evolve and change, but there remains important parental advice that cannot be questioned surrounding this critical issue. Remind your young ones that you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose. However, you still can’t pick your friend’s nose.
Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother, blogger, actor and playwright. For more of her work, visit unmotherlyinsights.com