It’s healthier than you know
Our Beloved FoundFamily:
When most people think of dirt, they probably think of growing a garden or some other functional way dirt can serve us. Aside from growing vegetables in it, they’re not usually aware of the many other ways dirt supports our health. On the contrary, the thought of dirt by itself often brings to mind ideas of uncleanliness, germs, and the threat of illness. To our modern minds, dirty is synonymous with unsafe, but dirt actually plays a bigger role in health than disease. It’s our irrational fear of it that causes us to lose out on its health benefits and actually increases the risk of other illnesses when we try to be too clean with lots of disinfectant products or obsessive behaviors.
Getting dirt in a fresh wound is something that makes most people uneasy. The first instinct is to find water and rinse it clean. If you’re injured while hiking in the mountains, that might not be possible or even the best choice. Researchers from British Columbia found that silicates (mineral salts of silicic acid) in the earth’s crust activate a blood protein known as coagulation Factor XII that triggers the clotting process to begin sealing the wound and limiting blood loss.1
Silicates appear to have this effect in all land mammals and is likely an evolution that increased their chances of survival in the wild. While there is always a risk of infection with dirt in an open wound, researchers hope to study sterilized dirt as a novel strategy for wound care in remote locations since 40% of deaths in trauma patients is from excessive blood loss. They also plan to research whether blood exposure to silicates helps prevent infections from microbes in soil.2
While soil microbes in large doses can make us sick, in small doses they’re valuable. Regular exposure helps the immune system identify, kill, and record the ever-mutating bacteria, viruses, and parasites in our environment so that it can act quickly if a larger attack happens in the future. These recurring exposures help the immune system stay up to date on the most current strains in the area around us.
After cataloging thousands of exposures in this way, the immune system becomes properly modulated and doesn’t overreact to anything in the immediate environment as it might in an allergic reaction. In fact, studies have shown that children raised on farms who are exposed to a wide range of microbes from the dirt, animals, and milk from livestock have significantly lower levels of allergies, hay fever, and asthma than suburban children.3,4
In an effort to protect our children, sometimes our attempts to keep them too clean can backfire leading to under-exposure and a hyper immune response to ordinary things. Jack Gilbert, PhD, author of Dirt is Good explained it this way.
“In the past, we would have eaten a lot more fermented foods which contain bacteria. We would have allowed our children to be exposed to animals, and plants, and soil on a much more regular basis. Now, we live indoors, We sterilize our surfaces. Their immune systems then become hyper-sensitized. You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.”5
Gilbert doesn’t recommend hand sanitizers because of the chemicals like phthalates some contain, not to mention the fact that the high alcohol content strips off the good bacteria that live on the skin’s surface, as well as the natural oils. Stick with soap and water when necessary.
Whether you’re a gardener or a farmer, those who’ve been around freshly tilled earth understand the invigorating sensation that comes from its scent. There’s just something about it that’s very grounding and comforting that heightens the senses in a way that’s hard to describe. I guess that’s why we use the word earthy to describe something or someone who’s got grounded and nurturing qualities.
It’s time to make dirt our friend again and end the irrational fears about it.
It turns out researchers have discovered that feeling comes from a specific bacterium in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae). When either inhaled or ingested, M. vaccae stimulates neuron growth and causes serotonin to increase, elevating mood and decreasing anxiety. That’s why gardening is so calming for many people. Because it stimulates neuron growth, it also increases mental performance. When researchers fed M. vaccae to mice, they navigated a maze twice as fast and with fewer anxiety behaviors than control mice.6
It’s time to make dirt our friend again and end the irrational fears about it. Yes, we all have to take basic precautions, but being too clean has its health consequences, as well. So if you’re out in the garden this summer and a juicy tomato or cucumber seems too delicious to resist, just give it a run across your shirttail and take a bite. The tiny amount of dirt you’ll be eating will be just as healthy as the produce itself.
Love, Light, and Clarity in the Month Ahead,
Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami
Get extra support for your immune system with Immunoberry Healing.
- Juang, L. J., Mazinani, N., & Novakowski, S. K. (2020). Coagulation factor XII contributes to hemostasis when activated by soil in wounds. Blood Advances, 4(8), 1737-1745. doi:10.1182/bloodadvances.2019000425.
- Blackadar, K., “Soil in Wounds Can Help Stem Deadly Bleeding”, The University of British Columbia, (April 27, 2020), https://www.med.ubc.ca/news/soil-in-wounds-can-help-stem-deadly-bleeding/.
- Riedler, J., & Braun-Fahrländer, C. (2001). Exposure to farming in early life and development of asthma and allergy: A cross-sectional survey. The Lancet, 358(9288), 1129-1133. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(01)06252-3.
- Public Release, “Exposure to bacteria modulates immune response and decreases allergy in farm children”, Lancet, (August 8, 2002), https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-08/l-etb080202.php.
- Garcia-Navarro, L., “Dirt is Good: Why Kids Need Exposure to Germs” NPR, (July 16, 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/16/537075018/dirt-is-good-why-kids-need-exposure-to-germs.
- Matthews, D. M., & Jenks, S. M. (2013). Ingestion of mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behavioural Processes, 96, 27-35. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2013.02.007.