I love dirt, especially dirt that is rich in micro-nutrients from being fed lots of lovely compost. It is teeming with beneficial bacteria, fungi and nematodes which all help to grow food that is packed with nutrients.
With intensive farming methods that deplete our soils and produce foodstuffs that are lacking in particular nutrients (think Magnesium), it is more important than ever to enrich our soil and build up the nutrient content in our food again.
According to results of studies conducted at Bristol University and Sage Colleges; soil-based organisms may actually make us happier and smarter, while other research shows they help regulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, break down our food for us, assist us with detoxification, and may even influence our genetic expression.
Also, in this double-blind, placebo controlled study; researchers found that IBS patients who took a soil-based probiotic experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after two weeks. A follow-up study, 1 year later, found that the patients were still experiencing these benefits having discontinuing the probiotic, 12 months earlier, presumably because the beneficial bacteria stays in the gut and proliferates.
Researchers have also “correlated the high diversity of bacteria and fungi in household dust – from soil and farm animals – with the low likelihood of asthma” and allergies along with conditions like diarrhoea. How soil microbes protect against allergic conditions is still a matter of debate, but research is increasingly pointing to a new idea which has been nick-named the “microbiome exchange hypothesis.”
We could really benefit from getting more dirt in our diet!! Unfortunately with our sterile environment these days this rarely happens for so many people. The food we eat has mostly been scrubbed clean of any trace of dirt, so many people use disinfectants and anti-bacterial sprays on just about every surface of the kitchen and not many of us get our hands in beautiful dirt with gardening. Just eating a daily handful of herbs from a container garden can have a positive impact on our health. Whether it is home-grown or from a local farm, I do mention to my patients that they should think twice before peeling or scrubbing everything off their produce. After all, who knows what beneficial bacteria might be getting scrubbed off? By the way, eating fermented farm-fresh vegetables is a great way to get a mega-dose of soil bacteria.
Soils are being depleted and damaged in the same way as our bodies with the overuse of antibiotics, steroids, and other bactericidal drugs. Just as these substances might cause unintended side effects in my patients, I now understand how these drugs can impact the microbial life of soil and therefore our own cells.
In fact, any chemical that decreases microbial diversity in the soil, will ultimately decrease the nutritional value of our food. There is a greater concern though; according to microbiologists at Washington University in St. Louis, soil bacteria that has been exposed to antibiotics and other chemicals can develop antibiotic resistant genes which can be transferred to our own microbiome turning an otherwise benign resident bacteria into a “superbug”!
A word of caution before you start serving up mud pies for dinner!!
Please remember that dirt contains unhealthy organisms as well. As adults our immune system is slower to adapt to potentially pathogenic organisms and may not cope with them if exposure is not gradual. Children should be encouraged to get out in the garden and have fun with dirt, especially if you know your garden has not had recent exposure to herbicides or pesticides or that there hasn’t been any contaminated soil from building works or other sources.