Eat Your Boogers… They’re Good For You

woman making funny face with nose

Little kids—and some adults—just love to pick their noses. It’s like digging for gold, and parents generally can’t wait to break them of the disgusting habbit. And how many people can honestly claim they never—even as a small child—feasted on some nostril candy. Well, I never have, but that’s beside the point. For some reason gooey snot and dried up boogs are just an irresistible snack to a lot of kids. Are humans just born nasty or is there another reason for this natural proclivity toward snot?

One Canadian scientist thinks picking and eating boogers is actually an evolutionary behavior designed to boost the body’s immune system. University of Saskatchewan biochemistry professor Scott Napper recently told CBC News he believes kids are naturally inclined to like eating boogers. Snot’s sugary (or sometimes salty) flavor is actually a signal that it should be eaten, and doing so benefits the immune system.

By consuming those pathogens caught within the mucus, could that be a way to teach your immune system about what it’s surrounded with?” Napper told CBC. “I’ve got two beautiful daughters, and they spend an amazing amount of time with their fingers up their nose. And without fail, it goes right into their mouth afterwards. Could they just be fulfilling what we’re truly meant to do?

Napper’s booger theory is aligned with the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory developed in 1989 that states early exposure to germs and certain infections helps develop the immune system. After mucus secreted by the body picks up bacteria, dust and other unwanted substances, it becomes a booger. According to Napper, eating that booger could help thwart off illnesses and allergies.

From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved under very dirty conditions and maybe this desire to keep our environment and our behaviors sterile isn’t actually working to our advantage,” Napper told the CBC.

And Napper isn’t the first scientist to propose a booger theory. Did y know there’s actually a scientific name for using your finger to extract boogers? It’s “rhinotillexis.” And the act of eating boogers has a name, too: “mucophagy.” And Friedrich Bischinger, an Austrian doctor who specializes in lungs, says people who eat their own boogers are “healthier, happier and more in tune with their bodies.” He not only believes it’s OK to pick your nose, he recommends that everyone pick up the habit.

With the finger you can get to places you just can’t reach with a handkerchief, keeping your nose far cleaner,” Bischinger has said. “And eating the dry remains of what you pull out is a great way of strengthening the body’s immune system.

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.

So these guys are just crazy, right? Maybe they just want to justify their own booger festishes? Actually, there’s plenty of evidence to support their hypotheses. According to Mayo clinician and allergy specialist James T.C. Li, children who grow up in rural areas, around animals or in larger families develop less asthma than other children. It all goes back to the “hygiene hypothesis.” Through childhood exposure to germs and infections, the immune system develops better and the body learns to differentiate between harmless substances and harmful ones that trigger asthma. Basically, the immune system doesn’t overact to minor triggers.

Likewise, author and immunologist Mary Ruebush told CBS the failure to expose children to normal environmental elements, such as dirt, can cause allergies or an auto-immune disease. The author of “Why Dirt is Good : 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends” even lightheartedly suggested children lick their fingers instead of washing their hands before a meal. Bet she’s right on board with eating their boogers.