Hyper-hygiene in 2020 has plenty of Americans living in fear of getting dirty.
Not everyone, certainly. People living in rural areas are much more likely to commune with dirt, and the dirt they come in contact with is likely to be of higher quality than urban dirt.
The reason for that is simple — there’s more pollution in urban areas, and whatever’s in the air and the water eventually makes it way to dirt. You see, dirt is really just… tiny rocks, clay, sand, and organic matter (leaves, seeds, decaying animals, bones, etc.)
And despite the Western obsession with sanitization (not without reason — unchecked germs have been the cause of disease spread and development for millenia), dirt has an intense and rippling effect on the world we live in.
Healthy soil is necessary to grow our food, obviously. But the real boone in soil is its microbes — that’s what makes soil so beneficial.
Microbes: Any living thing too small to be seen without a microscope, including bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes (protists.)
In soil, you’ll find tons of bacteria and fungi, algae, protists, and archaea. Without them, soil wouldn’t have the life-giving properties that it has. They protect plants against diseases, help plants extract nitrogen from the air, which later becomes part of amino acids and proteins within the plants. They decompose organic matter in soil, which allows plants to feast on their nutrients.
And as it turns out, microbes themselves are really beneficial for human life.
Here are the four biggest ways they impact you positively…
The gut is a microbiome — an ecosystem, a hive of bacteria. So is dirt! And both thrive on diversity.
In fact, research suggests that there are commonalities between the microbiota of the gut and the roots of plants.
Many common gut issues can be traced back to bacterial imbalances — from using antibacterial soaps or antibiotics, from not getting enough nutrients through our food, even just from being stressed out.
Coming into contact with soil can help replenish depleted healthy bacteria in the gut. You’re getting those microbes under your nails, into your lungs, onto your skin, and ultimately into your body.
In 2012, the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a study on Amish children. The findings were shocking, because they confirmed something known as the “Farm Effect”.
What the study determined was that children living on farms were 50% less likely to develop asthma, allergies, and gut disorders than urban children growing up in “hygienic” and sterilized worlds.
Here’s the reasoning: humans developed alongside the bacteria in soil for millions of years. Through exposure, the immune system was able to judge certain bacteria, like pollen, as harmless.
Without that exposure, when children encounter pollen later in life, the body reacts like the foreign bacteria is a threat, and has no context for defending itself.
Thus, an allergy is born.
Detoxification of your Skin
Most of the skincare products advertised in commercials on the shelves of your supermarket are hyper focused on making sure that skin is clean and clear. But they go about it by sterilizing, removing oil, using alcohol to kill bacteria, and so on.
Here’s the thing: your skin needs bacteria, specifically Nitrosomonas, which are killed off by sterilizing skincare chemicals. It also needs ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, found in abundance in dirt. Those bacteria eat the yucky parts in sweat and turn them into healthy bacteria.
Even acne, an inflammatory disorder, can be linked to changes in the bacterial population in the skin — diversifying and restoring skin microbiota just by rubbing dirt on your hands can help!
You may have heard that dirt is the new Prozac — well, there’s something to that.
There is the main factor at work here: Mycobacterium vaccae, which imitates the effects of Prozac in that it may lead to serotonin production.
You see, that bacteria raises cytokine (a bodily substance that advances the production of other cells), which in turn spurs serotonin.
When serotonin production is higher, so is cognitive function and concentration, and the stress is lowered.
So when people connect nature, gardening, and getting dirty with feeling happier, freer, and less agitated, it’s literally a chemical reaction.
The most important thing to understand is that there is a difference between clean and sterile.
It’s good to be clean. It’s good to wash your hands with simple soap and water. It’s good to wash your clothes when you’ve worn them a few times.
What’s never good is severing the connection that your body’s microbiome has to microbiomes in the natural world.
They’ve been around longer than we have.
Plus, they raised us. We owe them our evolution. Don’t leave them alone for too long…