This is what happens if you sucked your thumb as a kid

Various parents around the globe have chastised their kids for sucking their thumb or biting their nails. Many anxious adults still go through the struggle of nail biting in situations which makes them nervous. A child who sucked his thumb was scolded and terrified with various ideas which included, but weren’t limited to “The doctor will cut off your thumb if you keep up that habit” or “I will sprinkle chilli powder on your thumb if you do that again” among others.

Nail biting is considered as a response to an activity that could potentially make the child concerned. Parents have tried threats, incentives, counselling, bribery and even scolding to help their kids get rid of these supposedly bad habits. But in reality, these habits might not have been that bad after all. You probably had to pay for braces, but the kids ended up with better immune systems.

Why thumb sucking isn’t bad

Latest research suggests that thumb sucking and nail biting leads to increased exposure to germs as kids which helps strengthen the immune system and reduce the possibility of developing allergies later in life by almost one third. Parents of 5, 7, 9, and 11 years were asked to report the thumb sucking and nail biting patterns of their kids and assessed using logistic regression. The research took into account parental atopy, breastfeeding, pet ownership, sex, household crowding, socioeconomic status, and parental smoking.  Thirty one percent of the kids, who demonstrated the activities at ages over one, had reduced risk of atopic sensitization at age 13 years. The research did not find any association for nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and asthma or hay fever at either age. This apparent protecting effect is said to persist till the age of 32 years.

Various other studies too support that exposure oral bacteria and microbes impact the risk of developing allergies and the immune response. The gut microbiome has the potential to alter the function of TH or T helper cell subsets. This bears significance on the TH-1 and TH-2 responses and development of the tolerance of the immune system. These cells control and regulate the immune system by aiding other white blood cells. The understanding of the mechanism of working of these cells helps scientists and doctors fight diseases.

This research rightly points out that overprotecting the kids may not be helping them after all. Avoiding exposure to these microbes might not be in the best interests of the child’s health as it could lead to an increase in the risk for allergies to inhaled allergens. But does it mean that children should be encouraged to suck their thumb or bite their nails? Should these nervous habits not be rooted out? Well, further research is needed to establish whether the pros outweigh the cons, but for now, let the kids be. As for adults, they certainly have something to show to their parents now.

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