Bacteria Left on Dishes From Hand Washing Helps Children Resist Allergies


Besides the labor-saving aspect, one big selling point for using dishwashers was their ability to thoroughly clean and sanitize items, whether baby bottles or dishes from dinner last night. Research now suggests, however, that any dirt or bacteria left behind on dishes from hand washing may be a good thing and helps children resist developing allergies.

The message that over sterilizing kitchenware is bad for kids flies in the face of conventional belief that avoiding germs and microbes helps keep one healthy. However, a paper published in Pediatrics reports that children raised in homes where dishes had to be hand-washed were less likely to develop hay fever, asthma or eczema than those whose homes sterilizing dishes and silverware in their dishwasher.

These findings imply that excessive cleanliness hurts children in the long run. Many now blame over sterilization, anti-bacterial soaps and other modern-day methods of eliminating microbes on the growing number of allergic people. As a result, the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that exposing children to different microbes and germs stimulates their immune systems, thereby reducing their risk of allergies as they grow older.

One study showed that babies were less likely to develop allergies if they have pets early on, grow up on farms or have their parents suck on their pacifier to “clean” it. Several studies have delivered similar results.

The study in the new issue of Pediatrics involved more than 1,000 Swedish 7- to 8-year-olds. The parents were asked to complete questionnaires related the child’s health history, particularly things like asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, eczema and such. In compiling the results, the research team determined that those children living in houses that washed dishes in the sink versus dishwasher had fewer allergies.

Eczema was reported in homes of 23 percent of children of parents who hand-washed dishes compared with the 38 percent found in homes that employed a dishwasher. Only 1.7 percent of the kids from hand-washing homes had asthma, but 7.3 percent of those in homes that used dishwashers did. The difference was not as great for rhinoconjuntivitis (3 percent difference), but still favored exposing children to germs.

Led by Bill Hesselmar from the Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital located in Gothenberg, Sweden, the researcher did urge people to realize that the hygiene hypothesis concept is more complex than it seems. They noted that different asthma and allergy risk and protective factors exist in different settings and countries. How that affects specific people “depends on their genetic/epigenetic susceptibility,” the team pointed out. “We know, for example, that early day care attendance may protect against sensitization, but only in children without siblings.” They found that buying produce from farms directly and eating fermented food also impacted results.

Accordingly, they analyzed the data after controlling for mitigating factors like attending day care as a child, parental history of allergy and whether the family had a pet to see is hand washing that left bacteria on dishes helps children resist allergies. The results showed that 19 percent of the children from homes that hand wash dishes, eat fermented foods and buy from farm stands suffered from allergies. Conversely, 46 percent of the children who came from families that regularly used their dishwasher and did not eat food straight from the farm or that has been fermented.

By Dyanne Weiss

CBS News
Los Angeles Times

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