Feeling bad? Get some dirt on you

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, October 2, 2019

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Feeling down in the dumps this morning? Well, step outside and eat some good old Alabama dirt or at least get your hands nice and dirty.

Yep, a scientific study finally proved what some of us already knew — coming in contact with the soil makes a body feel better. (I’m going to use that study to justify every plant purchase from now on).

Back to what science discovered. For a long time, researchers thought exposure to germs in the natural world strengthened our immune systems. The fact that kids don’t eat as much dirt as many of us more mature folks did growing up seemed to explain why some of today’s children have weaker immune systems.

Turns out it wasn’t germs at all. There is good stuff in dirt. Scientists describe it as, “’old friends’– beneficial microbes in soil and the environment.”

“The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation,” said Lowry (one of the smart research guys), who prefers the phrases ‘old friends hypothesis’ or ‘farm effect.’ “That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders.”

Seems dirt is jam packed with microbes that help stop inflammation. They found that children raised in rural settings with animals and “bacteria-laden dust” grow into adults with more resilient immune systems than city kids with no pets. Kinda makes me glad I ate those mud pies and kissed those kitties when I was a child.

I remember the dirt-bead necklaces I showed up wearing at the end of a day outside playing. Who knew they were going to protect me from stress-related psychiatric disorders when I was grown.

In their laboratory, scientists isolated a particular thing in dirt that when injected into mice, made them act all happy and not depressed. It also had long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on their little mice brains.

“This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils,” Lowry said. “We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us.”

Indeed, it should inspire awe and it should also teach us a little something about the importance and wisdom of nature. Hey, humans we aren’t separate from nature; we are part of it. We need to be with dirt and animals and all the stuff in nature to stay healthy.

So, are scientists telling folks to send kids outside to roll in the mud and hug the dog in order to grow into more healthy adults? Not exactly.

Yes, they agree dirt is good for us. Sure, they say the soil is full of “old friends” waiting to help us out.

Yep, they are developing a dirt vaccine. They don’t call it that. No, it’s a “stress vaccine,” more scientific sounding. They want to give it to first responders, soldiers and folks in high-stress jobs because they hope it will prevent post-traumatic stress syndrome — it worked in mice. Although I’m wondering how they recognized stress in a mouse.

Now I’m not opposed to helping people in high-stress jobs. (A mother with a couple of kids under the age of five qualifies as well). However, I wonder how long it will be before kids are required to get a “dirt shot.” Once big pharma figures out it can make money injecting dirt into people, look out.

Call me crazy but I have an idea. Send those kids outside. Turn off their phones and tablets and tell them to go eat dirt.

While you are at it, go outside yourself and kiss a kitty because science proved what Mother Nature knew all along– getting dirty is good for you.