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There May Be Benefits To Nail-Biting And Thumb-Sucking

Dorathy Gass

According to a recent study, there might be benefits to those children who can’t break the habits of thumb-sucking and nail-biting. Both have gained a terrible reputation as ‘bad’ habits, as thumb-sucking disrupts proper teeth alignment (and can be the root cause of those expensive braces); and nail-biting can weaken one’s nails, and increases the risk of illness, thanks to the finger-to-mouth germs being spread.

For years now, parents struggle to stop their children from indulging in both habits, however a study coming out of New Zealand seems to reveal a positive to these nasty habits: decreasing the risk of allergies.

CNN reported that Bob Hancox, a co-author, University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine stated that the team’s goal was to test the idea that a decreased contact with microbial organisms (i.e. hygiene) is the root cause around the increase in allergies over the last decades. This is also known as the hygiene hypothesis.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD) skin and food allergies have risen among kids within America, over the past decades. Food allergies have increased from a little over three percent in 1997, to just over five percent, currently. Alternatively, skin allergies increased from just over seven percent in 1997, to over 11 percent, today.

The current study reviewed the health and habits of approximately 1,000 New Zealand-born children, from 1972 and 1973; with these kids being tracked over the years, from the time they were five, to about 32 years of age. Parents were asked to complete questionnaires about the kid’s nail-biting and thumb-sucking habits, when their little ones were five, seven, nine, and 11 years old. Just over 30 percent of the children were regular nail-biters and thumb-suckers.

At the age of 13, the researchers conducted a skin-prick test on the kids, to identify any potential allergies; with another such test done at 32 years of age.

The results revealed that the thumb-sucking and nail-biting children (or both) had a 30 to 40 percent reduced risk of having childhood allergies, which continued into their adult years. No links were found for thumb-sucking and nail-biting as it relates to hay fever or asthma. It seems that the results may suggest that nail-biting and thumb-sucking could lead to a variety of environmental bacteria, as well as microbes, coming into the body, and potentially boost its defense mechanisms against allergies. Still, that was not tested.

Dr. Purna Kashyap, from the Mayo Clinic, who did not participate in the study, chimed in, stating the results would be stronger if they presented a stronger link between nail-biting and thumb-sucking and allergies, as well as asthma – after other known factors of disease are controlled. He goes on to state that the results of the study are interesting, but more data is needed.

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