Happy Earth Day all! I truly wish on this Earth Day for us to have more sunshine to melt all that snow away! It is time for us to play in the dirt, for our kids to get filthy, and begin planting those bulbs and arranging all our flower and vegetable beds.
But on the idea of Earth Day, I thought I would bring a little science to why it is so important for grown ups and children alike to get their hands dirty in the fresh soil. Not only has it been proven to be more effective than Prozac at defeating depression, but it is now actually being linked to less autoimmune reactions such as food and environmental allergies the dirtier you get. Studies done in Eastern Europe, comparing children raised on farms to those raised in the city found that those raised around more animals and germ-laden dirt, were found to have less respiratory allergies such as hay fever, a pollen allergy. Along with ‘dirty dirt’ helping with allergies, a study in Finland versus Russia also found that dirt exposure was the only difference in children and their heightened risks of getting Type I diabetes. Even with all the sophisticated analysis done on children’s cord blood, masal swabs, and stool samples, the only difference they could find is that the Finlanders lived in a richer environment thus had less farming to those in Russia. The kids living on the farms had less chance of Type I diabetes.
Too much of a sterile environment is leading to more autoimmune responses and diseases because our immune cells have become less aggressive. The immune system is programmed within the first two years of life, so along with plunking your babies in the yard to crawl around and getting dirty, a few snotty noses and mild fevers can build a very strong immune system. With a lack of early mild infections, the immune system has little to do then starts to look for different targets, and what it goes for are usually your own cells. The cells it ends up attacking first are the cells to produce insulin (Type I diabetes), or hair follicles (alopecia), or even those of the central nervous system (multiple sclerosis). When was the last time you walked around your yard barefoot or swam in the river, or drank from your own well? When was the last time you let a child’s fever go above 101 degrees without intervention? Giving your immune system a gentle small workout can keep the allergies and autoimmune responses at bay.
So, on this Earth Day, do away with the antibacteria soaps, and just wash with soapy water. Dig in the dirt without gloves so you have to scrub your nails. Let your kids get so dirty you almost have to throw away the clothes. Scrub away the “hygiene hypothesis” and help yourself and your kids to a stronger immune system by playing in the dirt. And who knows, with playing in the dirt and sunshine, maybe this “Minnesotan depression” will wash away too!
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