Play in dirt: It’s not DIRTY

As I have been discussing a lot on social causes lately, I thought it would be fun to learn some science now, you know, after all I am an aspiring scientist and all. 😀 😉

Evolution, as most of us know is a process of change in heritable traits over successive generations, which is the key reason for diversity. Ever since the migration of humans from Africa, there have been several changes over the years, from as small as physical appearance to several other inherent genetic changes. For ex., although all of us started from Chimpanzees (dark skinned), after the evolution, people from different parts of the world are identified based on different skin type and other physical traits. The skin color is because of the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to hair, skin etc. Dark skinned people have more melanin than light skinned people and this is because, in most of the hot countries, our skin develops a defense mechanism by producing melanin to protect itself from harmful sun rays. However, people from colder regions, who aren’t exposed to sun on a regular basis, do not have the need to produce melanin and are more susceptible to damage from sun, as compared to others.

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This said, evolution is not limited to the gap of generations, it happens even during the life-time of a person, based on the environmental factors his body is exposed to. Thanks to the modern hygiene and sanitation conditions, we have reduced risk of a lot of diseases. Unfortunately, as we know, too much good is not really good. This is what “Hygiene Hypothesis” is about. It says that “a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (such as the gut flora), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system”. Yes, you heard it right. Being exposed to micro-organisms from young age primes your body’s immune system, which is the fighter against pathogens and others diseases, to successfully fight against a lot of common infections. 

A fun fact: “Our cells are outnumbered 100 to one by the much smaller bacteria”.

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Human body consists of trillions of microbes. These microbes not only live in more or less peaceful coexistence with the human body but beneficial in several ways. They help in digesting our food, adjust our immune system, protect our skin from infections, play a role in obesity and severe digestive woes. The major microbiome is in the large intestine, where microbes aid digestion, create vitamins and deter harmful microbes. Skin and noses are other hotspots.

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We’d be dead meat without our beneficial bacteria, if only because they crowd out harmful bacteria. However, the microbiota varies from individual to individual, based on environmental factors and life-style. For ex., research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, due to regular exposure to microorganisms present in farm soil, which recreates the microbiome. Nevertheless, timing and the intensity of exposure also matters. However, all the antibacterial soaps, antibacterial sprays, antibacterial cleaning wipes, antibiotics and a myriad of disinfecting cleaning products prevents formation of healthy bacteria although it is providing sterile environment. Therefore, it is important to improve these beneficial bacteria, how do we do that? Probiotic rich foods and supplements are a great start, but they are missing an important factor: Soil-Based Organisms (SBOs). These soil based organisms have stronger strains of beneficial bacteria that can survive through the digestive system and provide the most benefit. While fermented foods and probiotic supplements can also be very beneficial, some of these strains do not survive through the digestive system. 

So what does it mean? It means that all of our cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing could be doing more harm than good at times. 

“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her  book, Why Dirt Is Good: “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”

Various cultures have known the health benefits of dirt for centuries and there is an old saying that “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die”. It seems there is wisdom in this old saying.  😛 😉

What should we do now? 1. Go outside 2.Eat dirt.  (I’m only kidding 😛 Haha!)

Just let your kids play in the gardens or in the organic mud with bare foot, make sure there are no harmful chemicals sprayed in that mud though. Do-not be a cleanliness freak. 😛 May be just maintain a good balance.

Stay dirty, Stay healthy! 😉  

Learnt now? 😛 You’re welcome!! 😂

Sayonara! 😀