Should You Eat Dirt?

Don’t worry, this isn’t the title to a children’s educational blog post about cleaning your hands after playing outside in the mud.

It’s actually a claim made by Dr. Josh Axe, one of the most popular and highly qualified doctors and nutritionists online.

In a nutshell, Dr. Axe is a big proponent of raising awareness about leaky gut syndrome, and the effects that this can have on our bodies. His newest book claims that we should all be eating more dirt in order to repair our digestive systems, combat leaky gut, and generally live healthier lives.

Here’s why:

An ineffective microbiome

The inside of our guts is composed of a microbiome, which is basically a community or collective of microorganisms inside the body. It’s made up of billions and billions of bacterial cells, and is what helps us regulate our gut and digestive system.

An imbalance of this microbiome – e.g. a lack of good bacteria – and our health is affected. In fact, it can be responsible for a number of illness and ailments in our body, staring with food insensitivities and ranging as extreme as celiac disease and diabetes.

All of these health issues can be traced back to leaky gut syndrome, in part because of a lack of probiotics inside our bodies.

What happens in our digestive system

Healthy intestines should be somewhat permeable, to allow for the absorption of nutrients into our body. It’s how we get the good stuff from our food. But those with leaky gut have increased permeability, meaning larger molecules can be absorbed into the blood stream as well.

These larger molecules, like gluten for example, aren’t supposed to be in our blood, and so our body’s natural response is to attack them. This causes inflammation and irritability throughout the body, and can affect any internal organ.

In turn, this leads to further health complications, and could be the root cause of everything from eczema and migraines, to thyroid disease and the inability to lose weight! Research from Gut and Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, suggests leaky gut has been connected to even more diseases beyond this!

Clean food and its impact on leaky gut syndrome

According to Dr. Axe and other professionals who have studied LGS, there are a few main factors that can cause leaky gut symptoms. These include:

  • A lack of healthy bacteria in our digestive system
  • Too many pesticides and toxins (used to kill off bacteria) infecting our gut
  • Antibiotics in our lifestyle
  • Processed, high sugar foods
  • Too much sanitation and cleanliness in our day to day activities

The combination of these factors together means that we’re basically killing off all the good bacteria inside our bodies, and not replacing it with anything.

Our lifestyles mean we take prescribed antibiotics, use products with harmful substances, and regularly clean ourselves with antibacterial soap or sanitiser, killing bacteria inside and outside the body.

Then we eat processed, mass produced food, that has been treated with all forms of pesticides and preservatives to keep it looking fresh, colourful and delicious, but without any natural bacteria or other benefits.

Thankfully, we can do something about it.

Eating dirt and other suggestions to improve digestive health

As Dr. Axe writes in his book, “we can reverse many of our missteps, heal our gut, and recover from many of these diseases by making more basic and bacteria-rich choices in what we eat and how we live,”

“Simply put: We need to eat dirt.”

The reason behind this is that the microorganisms found in soil are all beneficial. These soil based probiotics are exactly what our digestive systems needs to recover from any previous damage and stay healthy.

In a study of one indigenous tribe that, for one reason or another, ate plenty of dirt, researchers found their microbiome levels to be huge, more than double of what most Western people have. Their digestive systems were full of good bacteria, and their health reflected this; beautiful teeth and gums, perfect digestive movements, and no reported illnesses.

Now this doesn’t mean that you should go around scooping up handfuls of dirt and start snacking on it. But there are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make.

  • Don’t worry about always cleaning your hands. Hand sanitiser contains anti-bacterial solution. Use a natural soap and don’t fret if your hands get a little bit dirty.
  • Interact more with the dog and cat. A study of those with pets found the participants had around a 50% stronger immune system, with far less incidents of allergies and asthma. Stroking them and then putting your dirty hands on an apple and eating it won’t do you any harm – in fact, it’s likely to be beneficial.
  • Buy fresh, raw, organic ingredients – and don’t worry about vigorously scrubbing fruit or vegetables to get the dirt off – just roll with it! Brown spots on carrots contain natural substances that can help you break down carbohydrates more efficiently.
  • If you’re on holiday, swim in the ocean. It contains loads of good bacteria and good viruses.
  • Remember that if it falls on the floor outside, it’s still probably ok to eat it, and it might actually do you good!

The most important thing for our digestive health is the diversity of bacteria contained within our gut. This range of good bacteria is vital. We get a lot of it from pro-biotic food, but we also need to focus on those which we can’t get from food – i.e. the ones found in soil!

So those germs we learn about as children aren’t necessarily all bad. A bit of dirt won’t do you any harm, and in fact, it’s probably more likely to be really beneficial for our health in the long run.

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