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Dirt Does a Body (and Brain) Good

All ages enjoys getting their hands dirty. Children make sand castles and mud puddles in the yard. Adults garden and landscape. I find it relaxing and satisfying to go pull weeds or plant flowers. Getting dirty is no big deal.

Some moms don’t have time to “sterilize this, scrub that” every time their child drops a toy or a cookie on the floor. A pacifier dropped in a toilet can be washed; it doesn’t have to be thrown away. One child digs in the mud, one crawls in the grass, and one wrestles with the family dog. Getting dirty is not going to hurt them in any way.

Microbiome scientists Jack Gilbert and Rob Knight explain in their new book Dirt Is Good how important exposure to microbes is for overall well-being. Provided that the dirt is not contaminated, early exposure to germs may play a major role in reducing allergies and asthma. Amish children, who are exposed to farm animals for their entire life, are seven times less to suffer from asthma. Growing up with a dog brings an average 13 percent reduction in developing asthma, according to Dirt Is Good. When you are exposed to more, your immune system will be less inflammatory and less likely to overreact.

Bacteria in the gut is associated with cognitive performance. The immune system affects how the brain develops. In the future, a child’s microbiome might be altered in the first three years of life to improve health.

People throughout history have been exposed to more dirt and germs than we see now. Too clean of environments do not challenge the immune system. Exposure to various microbes is good for the body. The benefits of encountering dirt can outweigh the downside.

Gilbert and Knight offer these tips: expose children to germs early and often, feed them a diverse diet, and try to avoid antibiotics. We want to balance hygiene with exposure.

www.philly.com/philly/health/kids-families/the-doctors-and-moms-who-say-dirt-is-good-for-kids-20170730.html
Kadaba, Lini. “The doctors – and moms – who say dirt is good for kids.” Health. Philly.com, 30 Jul 2017. Web. 1 Aug 2017.

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