Scientists reveal surprising health benefits to biting your nails

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

There’s no point denying it; nail biting has something of a bad rep in polite society, doesn’t it?

From exasperated parents to grossed-out friends, nail biters everywhere often find themselves being berated for their bad habit.

But, as it now turns out, there’s a healthy upside to chewing on your talons - particularly if you started the habit as a child.

According to a new study released by the journal Pediatrics, children who suck their thumb and bite their fingernails are far less likely to suffer from allergies in later life.

Scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand followed the progress of 1,037 participants from birth through to adulthood.

Parents reported regularly back on their child’s thumb-sucking and nail-biting habits when they were aged five, seven, nine, and 11-years-old.

Woman biting her nails

Don't worry - biting your nails is apparently a good thing...

Once the children reached their teens, researchers conducted a positive skin prick test – and the results showed that those who had sucked their thumbs or bit their nails were less likely to develop common allergies.

The test was repeated when the children reached the age of 32, and the results suggested that their natural nail-biting protection had remained throughout their lives.

Prof Malcolm Sears, from McMaster University in Canada, said that the results of the study can be explained using “hygiene theory”.

This suggests that early exposure to microbes, or germs, reduces the risk of developing allergies.

He added: “While we don’t recommend that these habits should be encouraged, there does appear to be a positive side."

It’s not the first time that scientists have found evidence to support nail biting; according to a report in, many people find the act of nibbling their fingernails to be a form of stress relief.

This was made particularly apparent in World War 2, when the best pilots were revealed to be the nail biters, as opposed to the seemingly “calm and collected ones”; apparently their oral fixation proved to be a valuable method of releasing and coping with stress.

Images: iStock


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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