Why Is Eating Dirt Being Recommended?
Have you been hearing about the benefits of eating dirt? I know it sounds a little weird, but hear me out. By the end of our discussion today, you'll definitely be looking at soil a little differently and might just want to get your hands dirty. Let's jump in.
Hello everyone! My name is Katie Krejci and I'm a gut health functional medicine dietitian at Oswald Digestive Clinic, where we help people improve and eliminate bothersome gut issues like gas, bloat, diarrhea, constipation, and more. You can schedule an initial appointment with our clinic or you can start by downloading a free guide about five ways to improve gut health and end food intolerances for good.
So today's topic is all about the consumption of dirt and soil-based microbes in how it's actually good for you. An interesting concept related to this topic is that our bodies basically are dirt. If you remove our water content, you're left with 60 of the most common elements in the earth such as calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon, just to name a few.
Plus our gut microbiome contains approximately the same number of live microorganisms that the soil generally does, so our bodies really aren't that far off from the ground that we stand on. Another thing to think about that might help you warm up to this idea is that I'm not necessarily recommending that you scoop up a handful of dirt and start munching away.
The conversation today and the benefit related to it is more related to the abundant and beneficial organisms that live in the soil. And having exposure to these on a daily basis is crucial for our health.
So it doesn't sound so scary now, right?
So what are soil-based organisms?
Soil-based organisms are living bacteria that are naturally found in our soil as long as it is healthy, diverse, and haven't been extensively farmed using modern practices. These soil-based organisms support the healthy development of plants and combat the overgrowth of disease, and guess what?
They'll do the same thing for you. For most of our human existence, we have had constant exposure to soil-based organisms from spending most of the day, if not the entire day, outdoors and eating foods straight from the ground.
Our ancestors certainly didn't use disinfectants to wash it when they picked it right before they ate it. Today we get triple washed produce from the supermarket days, weeks, or even months after it has been picked.
For the first time in history, we are largely disconnected from the earth and soil-based organisms when it comes to our food sources. On top of that, we are avid hand watchers with antibacterial soap topped off with hand sanitizer, not to mention shampoos, deodorants, toilet bowl cleaners, and the list goes on.
And let me ask, do you think we're actually healthier because of all of this? I sure don't think so.
So how can exposure to soil-based organisms improve your health?
There are actually a few ways that these organisms can benefit us, so let's jump in.
Why Is Eating Dirt Being Recommended?
Number one is gut health research has shown that those that live in an urban setting naturally have less biodiversity in their microbiome. More than that, our species as a whole has a weaker microbiome compared to our ancestors.
Thanks to our modern living, low-fiber diets, liberal use of antibiotics, and just general separation from nature. Our microbiome or our gut garden, as I like to call it, includes the live bacteria and yeast that live on most surfaces of our body, but they are largely located in our colon.
We want a diverse and healthy population for optimal health. When our numbers dwindle, that's when bad bugs or weeds start to take over our garden, leading us into trouble. Each of these different types of bacteria plays a slightly different role, just like different workers in a factory.
Some strains can help clean out the weeds by producing substances like lactic acid, hydroperoxides, and defenses that can kill off these pathogens. Other strains work more passively by competing with pathogens for nutrients or just making the gut environment less inhabitable by increasing mucus production or decreasing the pH.
Super neat, huh? These beneficial microbes even function by healing and improving the function of our intestinal lining. They can even influence genes involved in energy production or energy expenditure and will often see microbiome disruption in those with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Lastly, they help modulate our immune system and assist in synthesizing neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin, which can help with stress and anxiety. That's why it's important to have a diverse microbiome for optimal gut health and regular exposure to the microbiome in our soil can certainly help.
Benefit number two is our immune system. The soil's ability to boost our immune system is supported by the hygiene hypothesis, which states that exposure to diverse environments that have a large variety of microbes actually bolsters our body's ability to protect us rather than weaken us.
It is well documented that large families with lots of children or those raised in rural areas are less likely to struggle with things like allergies, autoimmune diseases, asthma, hay fever, or eczema.
Animal studies have explored this and what they found is that when these animals are raised in completely sterile environments, their immune system fails to develop properly, their lymph nodes and GALT, which is the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, didn't form properly and we're incapable of initiating a proper immune response.
The alarming part of this is that re-exposure later in life to try to make up for the lost time is fairly ineffective. So if you have kids at home, please don't keep them indoors in a sterile little bubble. They should play outside so they can develop a strong immune system from the get-go.
As adults, it's of course still important for us to have routine environmental exposures as well. Now, of course, I'm not talking about drinking contaminated water or exposing yourself to toxins such as mold or conventional farming lands, or engine exhaust, but daily walks outside in a natural setting, working in your garden, planting a tree, or loving up your dog are all great exposures to engage in regularly.
Okay, so that was a little preview of some of the things that we should be doing, but let's officially chat about some practical things that we can be doing on a daily basis to increase our exposure to soil-based organisms and improve our health.
Tip number one is don't scrub your produce as long as it's organic and or ideally homegrown. I know it's hard to resist soaking your produce in a sanitizing solution or scrubbing off every little bit of dirt, but try to avoid this as long as it was grown in a healthy soil environment and without chemicals, those leftover tidbits of soil will do wonders for your microbiome and overall health.
Plus research has shown us that organically grown vegetables have a higher microbial diversity than those that are conventionally grown. Yet another reason to buy or grow organic. If you grew the vegetables yourself even better, that soil will be fresh and alive, plus you know exactly how they were grown so that should reduce any hesitancy to step away from that produce spray.
Another thing to think about is to avoid peeling your root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, or turnips. In doing so, you're removing the entire outer layer that had that contact with the earth. Be a rebel and leave it on.
Tip number two is to ditch the gardening gloves and do some weeding. Barehanded. Finally, a reason to want to go get your hands dirty and weed that garden. Not only will weeding help your garden grow, but it will help you grow your own microbiome as well and fight the urge to wash your hands right away.
Maybe even dare to leave some of the dirt underneath your fingernails. If you don't have a garden, spending some quality time outdoors is great too. Take off your shoes and join in on the games that your kids are playing. Gather sticks and throw them for your dog. You'll get a lot of good exposure to soil-based organisms that way as well.
Tip number three is grounding. Grounding or another word for it is earthing. And so that is the practice of walking or even just standing on the earth with direct contact with our bare feet. No shoes or socks are allowed.
This can be in contact with grass, dirt, sand, or even sidewalks after a fresh rain. Not only does this practice give us that obvious exposure to soil, and microbes, but it's deeper than that. The word grounding comes from more than the fact that we're standing on the ground.
That direct contact with the earth actually results in an electric connection between our bodies and their negative charge, just like a grounding wire. Research has found that regularly engaging in grounding can reduce inflammation, pain, stress, improve blood flow, energy and sleep. How cool is that?
Tip number four is the soil-based probiotic. While I of course prefer to get my exposure to soil-based organisms straight from the earth, sometimes it's not always feasible, especially during the cold long Minnesota winters where I live.
So utilizing a soil-based probiotic might be a great choice during these times of the year. Soil-based probiotics are supplements that utilize microorganisms that originate from the soil versus coming from other mediums.
This means that these forms are more spore-forming, which is a protective barrier that makes them more resistant to harsh environments like heat and acid. Plus, these strains have evolved to survive the outdoors, so they're super tough. Therefore, if you're finding that your traditional probiotic isn't cutting it, try a soil-based probiotic.
Tip number five is have a pet. If you've been waiting for the right moment to bring a furry friend into your life, this is it. Dogs and cats love being outside and doing all of the outside things, whether it's digging a hole rolling in the grass, or eating a few found-in-nature treats along the way.
Have you ever heard the saying that your dog's mouth is likely cleaner than yours? It's not because they brush their teeth more, and it's not because they have less bacteria either. It's quite the opposite. It's because they have a much more diverse and robust microbiome to ward off invaders than we do, and a lot of that has to do with their diverse exposure to all of the outdoor things.
A research study looked into this and they found that children who grew up with a cat and or dog had roughly a 50% reduction in allergies compared to those who did not have a pet. Wild, huh? So if you have a pet, make sure to give them an extra squeeze from time to time.
I don't know if I go so far as to regularly let your dog lick your mouth, but simply having them around as a loving companion seems to do wonders. Are there any risks of actually eating dirt? Like with most things, it depends.
Directly eating dirt can certainly be harmful if it's contaminated with heavy metals and industrial or human pollutants. However, soil that is healthy, diverse, and untouched by our modern world may not be such a bad thing. However, that doesn't mean that there are no risks at all.
There have been some documented cases of roundworm and parasitic infections and those that purposely eat dirt. Therefore, I'd probably stick with a happy medium of micro exposure to soil-based organisms through our food, pets, and time spent in nature rather than ingesting whole handfuls of dirt.
I hope this information about soil-based organisms was helpful to you and you are now excited to get your hands dirty. Play outdoors. Go for a barefoot walk or adopt a new furry friend.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great. Or you can start by downloading our free guide.
Thanks for watching and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
Or you can just start by downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH