By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
Working in pediatrics, I see a lot of disgusting things, booger-eating being high on this list. In the four decades since I got into this business, I never thought I would see an article about the medical advantages of eating boogers. The only advantage that I can think of is that ingested boogers are not wiped on the walls.
Scott Napper, Associate Professor of Biochemistry from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, apparently has a lot of time on his hands. His theory, yet to be proven, is that the reason boogers are sweet (I didn’t know that since never ate one) is to entice humans to eat them. Why? Boogers are dried mucous that has filtered out germs, pollen, and other environmental. His hypothesis is the by eating their own boogers, children may actually be boosting their evolving immune systems.
As yucky as this sounds, is booger-eating really any different than kids and adults who are “snorters” – the ones that suck back the snot instead of blowing their noses into tissues. I have to say that I do not like to be an observer of either of these acts. I once witnessed a child picking the old chewing gum from the bottom of a restaurant table and eating it. Even that act made me a bit nauseated. It certainly nauseated his oblivious parents when I told them what he was doing.
I have long felt that some children raised in a near-sterile environment need a bit more dirt in their diets. Children being raised in third-world countries where they are crawling around on dirt floors, eating fly-laden foods, or playing around animal feces, tend to have considerably less allergies/asthma, and perhaps even less minor illnesses than children raised in modern homes where everything is operating-room disinfected. In preparation to live in a dirty world, should we start adding a little soil to infant formula now? Like Similac with Dirt? Should we be encouraging booger-eating? Will there be a cereal called Booger Bran (raisin-free, of course)?
As much as we try to keep our children’s environment reasonably clean, kids tend to find their own sources of dirt. They will eat stuff they find on the floor. They drop their candy and pick it up and eat it anyway. There are no “three-second rules” when it comes to candy. One of our well-fed toddlers found and ate dog poop he found in the park. He is an engineer now, so it didn’t seem to hurt him
Everyone forms boogers, and secretly, we all have our ways of dealing with them. Children will freely pick their noses with unbridled enthusiasm. To my personal avulsion, some will choose to eat them. Some will clandestinely wipe them on any surface. Some will just flick them and not really care where they land. The proper way, of course, is to use a disposable tissue, using as much privacy as possible. Picking your nose in a car, while waiting for the light to change, is NOT private.
The most difficult task for Professor Napper is to find sufficient human volunteers for his study; one group that will be eating boogers, and the other group probably being the rest of us. I consider myself to know a bit about international medicine, but I plead ignorance when it comes to knowing the booger-eating customs in Saskatchewan. I have recruited college students in the past to do all sorts of things, like having some intimate examinations by medical students, so I do know that there is a segment of our college student population who will do just about anything for a buck.
If your children are eating boogers and you are comfortable with it, then at least we know it is harmless. The data is still insufficient on whether booger-eating has significant immunological advantages.
I hope not.