Most of us were taught as children that picking your nose is a no-no. Or, at the very least, that if it has to be done, it should happen behind closed doors, away from prying eyes. “What, are you digging for gold?” you mother might’ve said when she caught you with a finger half-way into your face.
Well, these days doctors and immunologists are saying that’s hogwash; picking your nose — even eating your boogers — is actually good for you. (Though, please, continue to do it behind closed doors.)
“Our immune system needs a job,” says Dr. Meg Lemon, a Denver dermatologist specializing in allergies and autoimmune disorders, in a piece that ran in The New York Times. “We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.”
As humans we have always adapted to our environment, and our immune systems adapt as well. When the human body comes into contact with a threat — say, trichinosis or salmonella in undercooked food, or bacteria from an escalator railing that somehow makes it into your mouth — our immune systems learn from the threat. It’s that learning that makes our immune systems better able to face the same threat in the future.
But as the NYT piece states, our immune systems are becoming overly trained. Due to humans taking better precautions these days — we have cleaner houses, know how to cook food properly and sanitize water, etc. — our immune systems “overreact.” The smallest things, like pollen and dust, can become dangerous, full-blown allergies. (The percentages of people worldwide who have food and skin allergies, compared to a decade ago, are staggering.)
“We have to get away from the idea of annihilating these things in our local environment,” says Dr. Keiji Fukuda, who works with the World Health Organization.
That means we need new rules governing what we should and shouldn’t do in order to stay healthy and keep our immune systems in working order.
Now that we know gross behavior is actually good for you, here are the new rules:
1. Yes, you should eat that piece of food that just fell on the floor.
“I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it,” says Dr. Lemon.
Surely you’ve heard of the “five-second rule,” which says that food is OK to eat if it’s only touched the ground or the floor for a few seconds. Is the five-second rule legit?
Bacteria can most definitely transfer to a piece of food in less than five seconds, and the length of time a piece of food spends on the floor doesn’t really affect the amount of bacteria on it.
But the fact is that the chance of lethal bacteria — or bacteria that will make you sick — being on most surfaces is very low.
2. No, you shouldn’t use that hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap. Put it down.
“Get rid of the antibacterial soap,” Dr. Lemon says.
Not only are antibacterial soaps no more effective than good ol’ soap and water, they have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, can be bad for the enviornment, and prolonged exposure to triclosan — the active ingredient in 75% of liquid antibacterial soaps and some bars — can lead to higher chances of developing allergies.
3. Yes, you should pick your nose and eat your boogers.
“You should not only pick your nose, you should eat it,” says Dr. Lemon. Sounds gross, doesn’t it? But many agree it can promote overall health.
Harvard scientists found picking your nose and eating your boogers shouldn’t be discouraged because your boogers are “a rich reservoir of good bacteria.”
“Eating the dry remains of what you pull out [boogers] is a great way of strengthening the body’s immune system,” says Austrian lung specialist Professor Friedrich Bischinger. “Medically it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system, the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected. … And when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine.”
And think about like this: the urge in humans to pick your nose could itself be a cause of evolution, encouraging us to build up our own immune systems.
4. No, you shouldn’t run out and get antibiotics every time you’re feeling under the weather.
It’s no secret that antibiotics are overly prescribed these days. And while they do the trick, particularly against infections that could result in death, when you take antibiotics that you don’t really need, you actually rid your body of the healthy microbes living in your gut. And the interfering bacteria learns to develop defenses that can make them even more dangerous.
5. Yes, you should let your kid play in the dirt. Maybe let him eat some of that dirt, too.
Simply put, eating dirt helps humans develop immune resistance. Think of it kinda like a mud mask for your gut.
Now that you know these “new rules,” will you ever look at picking your nose the same way?
Featured image courtesy of Nickelodeon / Double Dare