Dirt: A Paleo superfood?

Over the past few decades, chronic inflammatory disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), allergies, and asthma have become significantly more common in industrialized countries.

There has been an increase in the incidence of IBD, particularly in children, with 20% to 30% of patients having an onset of symptoms before the age of eighteen (1) Rates for food allergies have been steadily rising, and seasonal allergies have more than doubled since the 1970s. (23) There has also been a sharp rise in asthma rates for both children and adults in the past decade, with nearly one in ten children and one in twelve adults suffering from the disease. (4)

Even autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis have increased at rates too rapid to be accounted for by changes in our genetics. (5) Many healthcare professionals, research scientists, and epidemiologists are at a loss for why the rates of these inflammatory diseases are increasing on such a steep incline.

Could it be that we’re all just not eating enough dirt?

Our culture’s obsessive attention to cleanliness, sanitation, and hygiene may actually be having unintended consequences on our immune system. While a sanitary environment may be crucial in areas such as hospitals or food production, our general avoidance of dirt, bacteria, and other infectious agents may be causing our under-stimulated immune system to become overreactive to benign antigens.

The “hygiene hypothesis” or “old friends hypothesis” suggests that the increased prevalence of inflammatory disorders is the result of defective immune system regulation due to reduced exposure to an adequate variety of microorganisms. (6) Since our immune system evolved alongside a massive variety of different microbiota, both commensal and pathogenic, the recent changes in society and environmental exposures to germs may play an important role in the global increase of inflammatory diseases, particularly in urban settings. (7)

Evidence for the hygiene hypothesis of inflammatory disease has recently been demonstrated in controlled animal trials.

In a 2012 study, researchers examined the immune system of “germ-free” mice who had been bred to lack gut bacteria, and compared them to mice with normal exposure to microbes. (8) They found that the germ-free mice had significantly more inflammation in the lungs and colon, similar to that found in humans with asthma and colitis, due to hyperactivity of specific T cells that have been linked to these conditions in both mice and humans.

What is most interesting about these results is that if the germ-free mice were exposed to microbes during the first few weeks of life, they eventually developed a normalized immune system and avoided inflammatory disease. On the other hand, those germ-free mice exposed later as adults never recovered a fully functioning immune system. This demonstrates a crucial time period during early life where the immune system must be properly conditioned in order to function normally. Of course, this effect needs to be demonstrated in humans, but these preliminary results are promising for the study of inflammatory disease development.

So what does this mean for us humans? Should we all start chowing down on bacteria-filled dirt?

Not so fast.  Don’t forget that not all organisms in the environment are “old friends”.  Some of them can cause significant disease, and even death.  However, the hygiene hypothesis does highlight the importance of the gut microbiota in regulating our immune system and overall health. Additionally, it further emphasizes the potential consequences of things that adversely impact our gut microbiota, starting with a cesarean section birth and formula feeding (instead of breastfeeding) and continuing later in life with overuse or misuse of antibiotics. While there are likely many different factors that play into the development of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, the evidence of the hygiene hypothesis is robust enough that it should not be ignored.

One important take-home message of this research is the notion that certain crucial biological developments happen during the early years of infancy and childhood, and these developmental milestones cannot simply be recreated during later years of life. This means that children are especially vulnerable to environmental inputs, both positive and negative, that may significantly affect their health later in life.  It also means – as I’ve pointed out several times before – that there’s more to health than food.  A nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet is certainly one of the best steps we can take to prevent disease and improve our health.  But it’s not a panacea, especially in the face of environmental and epigenetic alterations of the commensal gut microbiota.

While we cannot control every factor of our children’s future health and wellbeing, we can at least feel better about letting our kids splash in the mud, put toys in their mouth, or play with the neighbor’s dog. Beyond being a little less worried about protecting our children from germs, perhaps we should actually encourage them to get a little dirty now and then!

What do you all think about the hygiene hypothesis? Do you let your children play in the dirt? Tell me your thoughts!

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      • Brock says

        Any experiments yet? I will try to culture them on FOS and potato starch soon at room temp in water.

        • Brock says

          It appears to work well. I split one capsule in 6oz water, then split 2oz of that to 12oz of water with either FOS, potato starch, or maple syrup. Growth: maple syrup > FOS > PS. There are a few caveats. The PS settled to the bottom and was probably inaccessible to most of the bacteria, whereas the FOS and especially the maple syrup mostly dissolved in the water making easy access to nutrients. Also, the FOS and maple syrup could potentially be selecting for less-than-desirable strains of bacteria. Either way, I’ll drink em all and see what happens!

          • Aida says

            Brock, how did you do with your cultured Prescript-Assist? How do you know that the culture was successful? What are the signs? Does the mixture get sour?

            • Brock says

              It works really well actually. Ive tried a few different fibers, but I like klaire labs biotagen the best (has a mix of a bunch of inulin/fos/arabinogalactan) but any fiber seems to work. RS is just slower because its difficult to mix. I open up two pills into a 16 oz water bottle from costco and split that into two water bottles containing the fiber of your choice. Typically ill double the rec dose (usually 10g) of fiber and then shake it up. After about 3 days it gets kind of fizzy, but not so much that the bottle would explode like say from brewing kefir. It also starts smelling like feet. I keep it in my sock drawer so i remember to shake it up at least once a day. I drank about 8oz of this mix after a week and had a headache within an hour or two from supposed die off, I dont get this with just one capsule of prescript assist so i assume the dosage is massively increased from my “cultured” version.

              • Aida says

                Brock, I am afraid that the reaction you get to your culture is due to the yeast being grown in your culture (confirmed by the “smell like feet.”) Somebody has been culturing probiotics using vegetables in a container fitted with an air lock. The air lock prevents air from getting into the mixture, so yeast and unwanted bacteria doesn’t grow in the culture. I understand you can buy the “Picklemeister” air lock lid for $10. The lid fits any size mason jar you can buy in a grocery store. (see the following website http://curezone.com/forums/fm.asp?i=1205862 ). If you decide to use the air lock to grow “Prescript-Assist,” please let us know you it goes. Please note that “LB17″ is NOT a soil-based probiotic.

                • Brock says

                  That would be terrible! I do not think that is the case though. The lids were sealed completely, its just a normal plastic water bottle, and airtight. I may have gone overboard on the feet smell, especially since re-reading my comment that I had them in my sock drawer > <
                  I culture cancer cells for a living so I know a lot about contamination.

                  I have yet to passage or re-innoculate other fiber/jars, i've only broken open a new pill and put it in with fresh 'food' for them and let it go for a few days. The headaches went away after the first week or so of trying this and I'm feeling better than ever lately, but ymmv.

                  Overall this is a neat trick to get the most out of an expensive bottle of pills, but it is highly dependent on the fiber/food used, culture times, and persons own gut flora. Best bet is to experiment and see how it goes.

  1. Rebecca says

    I’ll admit, during flu and cold season I’m a little obsessive about the sanitizer with my first grader and I know her teacher is too. However, I am not uptight about her playing out in the yard and then grabbing a handful of chips. I grew up watching the men in my family wolf down sandwiches while working in the garage or in the yard and lord knows I did the sane as a kid. And guess what? We’re still here!

  2. says

    It pays to live in a country like India. We have no choice but to be exposed to germs. But inflammation is also caused by stress and diet. And that is not so great with us being the diabetes capital of the world. There is evidence that diabetes and heart disease are also caused by inflammation.

  3. says

    I live on a small farm and am and asthmatic, I have horses, sheep cows, rabbits and chickens as well as dogs and cats, we live and eat and grow our own food sustainably. and without as many chemicals as humanly possible. we are not certified organic, but we grow with organic methods, I have had 3 children who tho my 3rd has reactive airways when he becomes ill, none of my kids suffer asthma symptoms like I had from age 3. since the farm life my attacks are MUCH less , but I still have issues if I get a respiratory cold, or virus. but as a kid I was told anything that grew hair would hospitalize me, ESPECIALLY horses. I have 11 and have had horses since childhood. my parents allowed me to self vaccinate for my asthma rather than those allergy shots. I went near the animals in moderation and bathed as soonas I left them , until I developed a tollerance. I completely believe in co existing with our environment makes stronger immune systems.

  4. Pauline says

    While I think there’s some truth in the hygiene hypothesis, encouraging people to actually eat dirt seems a little worrying. While I would happily eat unwashed raspberries straight from the bush (I did a lot of this as a child), I definitely wouldn’t gather dirt at ground level in our modern overcrowded society. There are lots of harmful bacteria and pathogens down there especially where dirt is contaminated by faeces.

  5. says

    Well done Chris.
    I was diagnosed with Lyme disease today, so I can attest to the fact that modern antibiotics have their uses. However, I agree with you that we do need to be more judicial with antibiotic use.

    As far as eating dirt, I doubt it’s necessary or even healthy. As far as playing in the dirt, well who doesn’t love that? I would bet there are some unique psychological benefits as well, especially for kids.

    – Armi

  6. MGH says

    Please put me down for ‘not buying the dirt hypothesis’. I am, have been, and always will be about as woodsy and dirty as a modern American can be, and I also suffer from nasty Crohn’s disease. My kids will no doubt be barefoot and dirty too, and I hope it helps strengthen their immune system against common, infection-based problems, but in my n=1 (and in this particular topic an n=1 seems somewhat acceptable) it hasn’t helped at all with the autoimmune issues which you speak of. I’m sticking with diet, sleep and stress in that department!

    • Chris Kresser says

      Autoimmune disease is multi-factorial. The fact that you were exposed to dirt but still developed an autoimmune disease does not in any way disprove the hygiene hypothesis. It simply suggests that another factor known to contribute to autoimmune disease, such as a pathogen or gut permeability, was present in your case.

      • MGH says

        You said: “What do you all think about the hygiene hypothesis? Do you let your children play in the dirt? Tell me your thoughts!”

        I wasn’t on a quest to disprove the hygiene hypothesis. My thoughts, and reason for writing a comment, were that this seems really, really minor compared to diet (including intestinal permeability), sleep and stress. I write this as someone that thought for a long time thought they were doing all they could by avoiding anti-microbial soap, SLS type chemicals, deodorant, etc. I still don’t use any of those things, but that attitude contributed to my being blind to the real culprits for my AI problems.

        However, I can definitely see based on your response where I may be missing the point: most of what I’m reading these days focuses on gut permeability as the real cause for autoimmunity, not pathogens. I guess if aquired pathogens (and I’m thinking bacteria, virus here, not gluten etc) could cause AI problems, the hygiene hypothesis becomes more important? I would love to hear more about the role of pathogens in causing autoimmunity.

    • Denise says

      Also, do you think it’s safe to take the therapeutic dose for a few months if your situation is bad enough? Did you start at the 2 caps right away or build up to it?
      Thanks

  7. Milad says

    Through what I found, the best “safe dirt plan” is the following:

    At birth a baby must be given a 10ml shot of Mutaflor (the friendly Escherichia coli Nissle 1917). This bacteria prepares the intestins for the arrival and successful settlement of other lactic-acid bacterias (lactobacilli and bifidos) and has a lot of benefits on it’s own. Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride talks about it in her book on GAPS.
    some links:
    http://www.ardeypharm.de/pdfs/en/mutaflor_drugforlife_e.pdf
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9129791
    http://www.amazon.com/Mutaflor-Caps-Days-Supply-Brand/dp/B003IX9L8S
    http://www.drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/Growing_Mutaflor

    then, a few days later, a good mix of bifidobacterias with or wthout lactobacilli (documented strains, Jarrow has good ones) could be given:
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/27/probiotics-for-newborn-babies.aspx
    http://www.jarrow.com/product/201/Baby_s_Jarro_Dophilus

    and finally, when the baby is weaned and starts eating normal food (animal proteins, good fat and vegetables), then it should be given soil based organisms because they are the only ones capable of digesting undigested non-dairy food thus preventing rotting in the colon and producing a healthy gut (they are fungus worst ennemy!) while producing vitamins and a lot of other useful substances. that’s exacly what they do in the soil. all animals (incliding our ancestors) eat a lot of these. The best and safest way to do this is by taking prescript-assist (until something better is out!). It’s double blind tested for safety and efficiency.

    • Denise says

      hey,
      i’m following a similar program (but i’m 28!). i’m currently taking mutaflor, some lactobacilli and s.boullardi. i’ll be swicthing to mutaflor and prescript-assist for a while soon though, then back to mutaflor and some lacto/bifido’s. and doing a mostly GAPS diet. how long do you recommend taking the prescript-assist for? i knwo the regular time is a month but is that long enough to make a difference in gut dysbiosis, since it doesn’t colonize the gut?
      thanks!

      • milad says

        Hi Denise,
        I take prescript assist for ever as it mimicks the healthy dirt to which we’re supposed to be exposed. I see no point (but it’s me!) to take any lactobacillus and bifidos as they never did anything for me that I can feel (contrary to PA as explained above). Mutaflor is great for those who have ulcerative colitis but otherwise I don’t know much about it. I know that if a new born gets it, he or she will keep it the whole life (unless distroyed but antibiotics!). Now that I’ve been taking PA, s.boullardi isn’t helping anymore, soil bacterias in PA should be killing them at sight! moreover, it’s not good to take s.boullardi for more than a month as it would give allergies (it’s a yeast, don’t forget).
        I try to eat a lot of colorful vegetables, fermented cabbage and rawmilk cheese (vive la France!) and this keeps my gut healthy.
        hope it helped
        Milad

        • Denise says

          Hi Milad, if yeast causes allergies wouldn’t kefir etc cause allergies too? I read that it’s best to take prescript-assist for one month twice a year for maintenance, and include probiotic foods the rest of the time. Does it work for candida/SIBO? I’m pretty sensitive to ferments at the moment though. Do you take the two daily capsules together or one in the morning & one at night? I know mutaflor will take hold more quickly in children but can take a while in adults, esp those with messed up gut flora.
          Thanks,
          Denise

          • milad says

            Denise, I took prescript assist for 1 month, 1 capsule in the morning and one at night. after that you only need 1-2 capsules per week for maintenance. You can also take it as you said. For more questions, you should ask Chris as I don’t use Kefir. Read all my previous posts on this page to get all the info you need on PA.

            • Denise says

              Hey Milad,
              Thanks! The fermented veg/dairy is a good plan. Did you have SIBO or candida or gastritis problems before taking prescript assist?

  8. says

    We love dirt! My boys are regular Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer!! LOL! I let them eat things they found on the floor while crawling around when they were babies, I let them run barefoot outside (like I could stop them if I wanted to!!), I only require handwashing if the hands are black before eating! We garden and grow veg in our smallish garden in all the flower beds, they cuddle their bunnies and roll on the grass. They are rarely sick and much happier when they are dirty! I’ve actively banned anti bac products from the house!!! I have one natural antibacteria spray for when we have a nasty sickness in the house (rarely used) and I do use hand sanitizer in my bag when we are out and about and there is no hand wash facilities (we travel alot). And yes……we pick things up that we drop on the floor and put them back on the plate to eat – 10 second rule! :)

  9. says

    I saw in a comment above that you’ve done Helminth therapy? Have you written about that anywhere? I would be fascinated to hear about your experience. As much as we focus on microbiota, I am keenly interested in the roll of parasites in appropriately “tuning” our immune system.

    I agree there are places for appropriate microbial control, and the hospital certainly is one such place, but I personally HATE the brigade of antiseptic hand lotions outside every room (what’s wrong with soap and water, and that aloe/alcohol “moisturizer” is just gross). If we believe (as I do) that one of the rolls of a normal healthy microbiota is actively out-competing pathogenic microbiota in our gut, why is this not the case with our skin? Surely having healthy commensal bacteria on our skin is better than having nothing when exposed to pathogenic skin bacteria. Interesting to think about at least…

    It all makes me feel very fortunate that I was raised outdoors in woods, streams, and gardens getting very dirty… Of course, it’s important not to think that all dirt is good. When I worked in a parasitology lab I isolated Baylisascaris procyonis eggs from some samples we’d collected at a park. Accidentally ingest those and you might be dead…

  10. Milad says

    Great article as usual. I personnaly have always suffered from allergies and digestion and skin problems. until 5-6 years ago I had 1 or 2 courses of antibiotics each year for colds. I was not a happy person at that time and knew nothing about vitamin D and effects of stress on immune system. in 2008 I learned about paleo and started taking care of myself while changing my life to become a happier person. I tried all the well known probiotics(Dr Ohira, jarrow…) but none really helped my digestive problems. I still couldn’t digest well fruits and vegetables, they just passed through.
    Then, I read this post on Dr Dean’s site: http://drcarolyndean.com/2011/06/take-soil-based-probiotics-and-eat-dirt/ it was a great EUREKA for me. It seems that soil based organisms are the only ones that all animals eat on a daily basis to help them digest food and fight disease(fungus…). Lactic acid bacterias are only good when the only food is milk(infancy). I take my time to do my own research on each strain and finally gave it a shot and boy, I don’t regret it! it was life changing! my skin was cleared and my body odor vanished (you know, at the end of the day). and no more gaz! this blew me away! Besides, I could find no trace of undigested fruits and vegetables in the stools, AMAZING! I just noticed that these little bugs don’t like rice (in big amount) very much but sweet potatoes are well digested. I took two capsules a day for a month then just 2 per week for maintenance. here are all the studies done on it (IBD, flatulence, etc): http://scholar.google.fr/scholar?q=prescript+assist&hl=fr&btnG=Rechercher&lr
    the company is here: http://www.safermedicalinc.com/

    • says

      I’m half way through a bottle of prescript-assist right now. I was hoping for some sign like a bolt of lightning from the heavens, a gnarly die-off reaction or maybe miracle of all miracles a firm stool that sinks like a log, but alas it seems like I might as well be eating saw dust. I’ve definitely considered eating dirt and I don’t over-wash my veggies, but I might have to go out on a limb here and try the real deal in larger quantity just to see what happens. I wonder if farm dirt is the way to go for the average person. Farm dirt is probably bio-logically very active, but the things people typically feed plants would seem to have somewhat more potential for harboring undesirable zoonotic infection than dirt from a more natural setting. I eat a fair amount of garden dirt at home just because I purposefully don’t over-wash stuff, but I don’t import manures and such for my garden either. One last note, I read somewhere that it is beneficial to give pigs in confinement dirt to eat especially when they get sick, and also just to keep them healthy.

        • Milad says

          Hi Alicia and Steven,

          For Prescript assist to be effiicient needs to be taken with consistancy 2/day for a month then 1 or two parweek for maintenance. after a few months I can say that it had a very deep impact on me and I’m very satisfied. the first two weeks I could litterarly feel them in the gut a kind of tickling but I felt really good. But the strange yhing is that some of my friends felt absolutely nothing but one of them noticed a much better immunity. two other people had some had some headaches (maybe candida

  11. Elenore says

    Speaking of gut flora, I’m still trying to understand the FODMAP connection. It seems as though you are recommending FOS (http://chriskresser.com/myths-and-truths-about-fiber) for increased beneficial bacteria, yet there is good evidence to follow a diet low in these components: (http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2011/2/5/fodmaps.html). So are they health-promoting, or harmful? Or is this more of lactose intolerance type issue, where dairy can be a very beneficial thing, as long as your gut has lactase.

  12. valerie says

    Oh man, I have been thinking this for 10 YEARS! I like eating my carrots right out of the garden, a good swipe on my apron and chomp chomp. Seems reasonable.

    Chris, perhaps you could write a post about soil based probiotics pros/cons, suggestions, concerns, etc?

    Thanks!

  13. Liz Downunder says

    Our children play in the dirt, mud, sand, water, vegie garden, you name it. They share their living space with animals, are unvaccinated, and are the healthiest kids I know. Children have a need to connect with the Earth, which is why they thrive when given that opportunity. And good luck convincing them they need to wear shoes outside!

  14. Eva says

    I would not be surprised if it was a factor, but there are many factors including all the unhealthy mothers, formula diets and crappy baby food in general, lack of sun, lack of exercise, chemicals everywhere, etc.. My sister in law is terrified the sun will touch her baby even for 5 minutes! She ‘knows’ its bad and will lead to cancer because ‘all the experts say so.’ And have you ever seen what is in baby food these days? Some of it tastes horrible and the rest tastes like super sugar bombs because it’s made with fruit concentrate or grape juice concentrate, all stored for long periods and processed to death. Then even the youngest children are expected to sit totally still and quiet in chairs in classrooms for hours, which is not natural to the species. No surprise most people are physically ill and stressed out. It’s starts before birth and dirt is only just one factor of many. Children on farms not only get in the dirt more, but they tend to eat more real food and get more sun and exercise, both parents and children, so it’s tricky to tease one factor from the others.

  15. Marie says

    25 years ago sitting in my nutrition class at UCSD, I remember Dr. Paul Saltman (RIP) saying “Let your kids lick the floors, if you want them to be healthy. There are lots of metal cofactors for your enzymes on dirty floors.” Smart man…and a great teacher.

  16. Lynn says

    Thanks Chris, and I agree. One needs an immune system that has been challenged by the environment one lives in. Sally Fallon says that it is tradition in China for mothers to not wash themselves when breast feeding, they understand the baby will then be exposed to the germs on their mother’s bodies and learn to adapt. I’ve heard Joel Salatin say every kid should eat a pound of dirt before they “know better”. I sure did, even growing up in Los Angeles I was ALWAYS playing in the dirt. Making mud pies was a favorite activity!

  17. Alden Huckvale says

    Pasteur was wrong or at best only partially correct with the “germ theory of disease”. Bernard, Bechamp, Cannon, and Page, Price, etc. were correct.

    It would benefit all to read: “Rethinking Pasteur’s Germ Theory” by: Nancy Appleton

    Yes, let kids go out and play on non-chemically treated dirt, grass, and wildland’s.

    • says

      Finding land that has not been contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides, flame retardants, etc… is nearly impossible these days. My kids play barefoot in our yard, but we are the only “green” household on the street. Everyone else uses pesticides and fertilizers. I am not a clean freak, and chemicals are not allowed in our house, but I still worry about the toxins that we are bringing in.

  18. Nishanga Bliss says

    One of my personal practices is not washing my CSA/farmers’ market veggies. If I know the farm, I figure their dirt is of good quality.

  19. Alicia says

    I have been saying this same thing for a long time now, we are “hand sanitizing” ourselves to death! I also believe this is why kids in other countries don’t have peanut allergies, etc. I have a leaky gut and celiac so I have had my share of issues with my digestive/immune health. I was also a c-section and on formula as a baby. Now I rarely wash my fruits and veggies (organic only) and allow myself to eat the small amount of dirt that is on them. I never tell anyone this or they would think I am crazy, but I think my health has only improved from doing it. Thanks for a great post!

  20. Karen Felzer says

    I am fine with the old friends hypothesis but frankly an enemy of the hygiene hypothesis, at least in terms of how it is commonly portrayed in the media. Today’s kids are frequently in preschool, where they get plenty of dirt and certainly plenty of germ exposure. And the dirt in my house didn’t save my kids. And *why* are autoimmune disease rates increasing at a more rapid rate *every single year*?? Are kids really getting more hygienic by the month? Not the kids I know….

    The gut dysbiosis that is linked to auto-immunity has to be coming from more than the amount of playing in dirt, which newborns have tended not to do at any age. We all know that antibiotics are important, but pollution cannot be held blameless. Why are animals in their natural habitats also suffering from immune dysfunction? And why does the rapid increase of fire retardants in our environment suspiciously mirror the rise of autoimmune disease? Suggested books: The autoimmune epidemic, and Our Stolen Future

    • Chris Kresser says

      No one is suggesting that the hygiene hypothesis is the sole cause of the increase in autoimmunity, allergies and asthma. As always, disease is multifactorial.

  21. Tara says

    This article makes me sad. I grew up on formula, chronic antibiotics, and then tetracycline as a teenager. I now have constant inflammation and pain despite having been on a paleo diet for a decade (before I even heard of such a thing).

    I’m presently on GAPS and feeling a liitle blue and defeated (I’m sure some of that is the serious need for more carbs but it’s not allowed right now). Does this mean there’s no hope?

    • Jennifer Feltwell says

      tara – there’s always hope. Im not sure if you have someone guiding you, but I found a paleo minded nutritionist in my area who did extra testing to look at deficiencies and guide me. It helped. We determined that I was zinc deficient and not digesting eggs well. I added zinc, hemp hearts and brewers yeast. I am eating stir fries and leftovers for breakfast. Try to find a partner or someone to guide you. Look for new recipes too. Good luck!

    • Lisa Bowman says

      I agree with Jennifer that there is always hope. I was in a similar situation as you minus tetracycline. We did GAPS for many months and still follow a paleo diet. I felt better but was still off. Discovered we have a pyrolles disorder which means we leak zinc and B6. Wow, correct supplementation has changed my world! And my son’s too. We’re still working on getting his doses right as he grew a half foot in a year.

      I have been without hope at times too. I’m now 45 and feel the best I’ve felt in my entire life. Healing takes time. Our bodies change and we need to adjust. Yes, there is hope!

      • says

        I too have pyroluria. It can take quite some time to resolve the copper:zinc imbalance and restore B6 status but it is well worth it. My immune system is amazing after having been previously DXed with igG1 and 3 subclass deficiencies. There is a Pyroluria support group on Facebook which is a wonderful group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pyroluria/

  22. Drea says

    Excellent article. Though sadly, I grew-up in a fairly dusty household, I played in the dirt, and I still have an autoimmune disorder! Of course the reasons for it are far more complex than dirt.
    Another thing I wanted to add is that in the very first hours of life are when a babies gut flora inhabits it’s body from the outside. That is why it’s recommended that the mother not wash her breasts before the infant is skin-to-skin. But obviously, if one is in a hospital environment the baby will also be ‘infested’ (I guess you might say) by the random bacteria that is in the hospital, especially if the baby is not skin to skin immediately after birth. I can’t help but think this isn’t healthy. The ideal thing would be for the baby to be at home around it’s familial bacteria immediately after birth.

  23. Zach says

    Speaking of eating dirt…
    I have always wondered your position on using bentonite clay and zeolite clay for detoxification purposes(and maybe other benefits?) …Geophagy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geophagy) has been practiced by indigenous groups for hundreds of years. Does this practice still have a place for individuals today?
    thanks!

  24. patty says

    Well,eating SCD for 16 months now for an IBD has proven to me that gut flora not only adjusts over time, but reduces and then eliminates IBD symptoms along with constantly changing up tolerable/intolerable foods. Now I’ve stabilized (perhaps, as more time on SCD will tell) as even sporatic stresses are without IBD symptom return. SCD protocol requires PROBIOTICS. Rush SCD and UMass SCD diet-like studies seem to confirm gut flora change with many reducing medications.

  25. says

    I totally encourage my kid to play in the dirt and I NEVER make her wash her hands before eating, either. She’s one of the healthier kids I know – no allergies, skin problems or anything and few colds, despite basically every family member on her dad’s side suffering from some form of eczema and multiple allergies (food and environmental). And yes, I do a lot of laundry, but it’s worth it.

    I played in the dirt a lot when I was little too, and hand-washing before meals wasn’t part of my childhood. I’m not perfectly healthy, but at least I don’t have any auto-immune stuff going on, nor do I have food allergies, eczema or other skin conditions, depression, or anything else. I’ve had the flu only once and when I get a cold it lasts a few days and is rarely incapacitating (except when I need a bit of a “vacation”). So my admittedly small sample size and non-rigorous methodology totally supports the hygiene hypothesis :-)

    • P.R. says

      Count your blessings, lady. Sounds like you just got lucky. I also encourage my child to play in the dirt and also we lead a healthy lifestyle, eating locally grown organic foods etc. Sadly that did not do anything to protect her from multiple allergies, despite the fact that allergies do not ran in our family. No one knows what causes allergies, hygiene hypothesis is just a hypothesis not a proof of anything.

  26. Jerry says

    Good article Chris. Another significant reason could be that we are actually disconnected more from the “dirt” and “ground” in modern society…
    Most people (children included) spend their lives insulated from the healing powers of the earth…
    If you haven’t heard of “Earthing”, you must look into it. Perhaps the most important recent health discovery…with the science to back it up!
    http://www.earthing.com/

  27. says

    Have you been reading Paleohacks? Big long convoluted discussion of all this over there. I find it fascinating. Do you think drinking kefir and eating fermented, traditionally prepared foods like sauerkraut can do anything to help us restore and/or maintain a better gut microbiome balance, or are we just screwed if we didn’t get the right birth and enough dirt as kids?

    • Chris Kresser says

      No, I never read Paleohacks. I’ve been interested in the hygiene hypothesis for some time, and I did helminthic therapy myself when I believed I had Crohn’s disease earlier on. I’ve also talked a lot with Kurt Harris about it, and he’s done tons of research on that subject lately. Hence the timing.

      • says

        Chris, those of us in the helminthic therapy community are some of your biggest fans! My son and I are regaining our health by going back to our evolutionary roots, including a paleo diet and helminthic therapy. We also consume a pinch of dirt when we visit our favorite organic farm to pick up our produce. A little dirt never hurt. I always make time to visit the farm since my son has a rare disease called eosinophilic esophagitis, and living in an apartment is a pretty sterile life, no way to heal from this devastating disease. In fact, I read an article recently that said our microbiomes are more like lab rats than wild rats, and there is known to be differences in the immune system of those two populations of rats.

        I would love to hear more about your adventures with helminthic therapy. I have decided I will keep a few (not too many) of my “old friends” necator americanus for the rest of my life.

        • Sean McCarthy says

          Hi Helen,

          I just read that your son has eosinophilic esophagitis…

          So do I. I also have oral allergy syndrome and GERD. I have been on a daily PPI (rabeprazole) for over 5 years and still these issues persist.

          My conditions developed when I was away from home at University living in an old, dusty student house (with a moldy basement). I was also making poor lifestyle choices (drinking, and smoking cigarettes & marijuana). I believe all of these factors, put my body in an inflammatory/allergic state and promoted disease processes. That said, I did have many environmental allergies when I was younger, as well as asthma.

          I am, finally, completely reforming my diet in attempts to resolve these issues. And I want to discontinue my daily PPIs. Today is day 1. After reading some of Chris Kresser’s articles I have decided to start with a low FODMAP, low carb, and paleo diet (as well as avoiding foods that I am allergic to) and will soon be implementing food sources/supplements to help rebuild a healthy gut flora and induce increased stomach acid secretion (Chris has an article that GERD is likely caused by low levels of stomach acid).

          As you know, there are very few people with this condition. I would love it if you had any advice or helpful information on changes that your son has made in his life that have given him relief.

          Advice that I have: see an allergist to identify foods which cause inflammation of the oropharynx, Yoga has been very helpful in promoting proper digestion (Hot Yoga specifically), and daily exercise. Furthermore, the following advice seems basic but it is essential and I was embarrassed when I realized how effective it was: be as calm as possible at meal times, give yourself a lot of time to eat, chew your food slowly and many times, and avoid talking while eating. I strongly believe that EE (for me) has roots in worry, anxiety and stress. Perhaps this is another reason that Yoga has been helpful.

          I’ve almost given you my life story now. I am in a strong, pro-health, independent and goal-oriented state of mind at this point in my life. I would love to hear of other’s pursuits and will gladly share mine. Feeling good and living healthy are my new top priorities.

        • Cheryl says

          I too have eosinophilic esophagitis. I don’t think it’s rare at all. I figured out that wheat/gluten is what causes it for me. No gluten = no choking on my food! Good Luck with your son!

        • John says

          I’m hosting Necator americanus and have had huge benefits with a whole slew of health problems, including Crohn’s, food intolerance, allergies, CFS and Restless Leg Syndrome. Truly amazing! http://tiny.cc/elc9bw

  28. Anna says

    I’m glad my kids grew up on a hobby farm and were exposed to more dirt than city kids typically are. They dug clay out of the pond to create things and when they needed a snack they grabbed a carrot out of the garden, gave it a wipe on their jeans and ate it. My older son, the gourmet, used to pick meadow mushrooms and saute them in our own farm butter for a snack.

  29. kristen says

    As a mom with MS, thie makes total sense! Kids that live on farms, are the healthiest I know!

    If my Dr’s had the common sense 10 years ago when my stomch problems started, to tell me about Paleo, consider Leaky Gut… I really think I wouldbe much better off today. 10 days on Paleo Autoimmune has made a big difference already!! Thank heavens I picked up Robb’s book! Can you tell us why no nuts and seeds on autoimmune?

    Thanks for your fabulous insights!
    PS I am using your meal planner and it is making life so easy!!

  30. says

    It’s interesting to see studies that prove our germaphobic culture is doing the opposite of what is intended–to avoid illness. An article I read recently discussed how cow manure contains beneficial bacteria that boosts serotonin production–vacca something-or-other–and this may be a reason why gardening has such a calming effect.

    Also, maybe this is part of the reason why earthing is so effective. Not the mats, obviously, but walking barefoot outside.

  31. says

    Thanks for this great read! I do love gardening with my children, and I was first made aware of the importance of “dirt” for our health after reading Jordan Rubin’s “The Maker’s Diet” back in 2004. This is why I never miss a day taking Garden of Life’s Primal Defense. Between the probiotics and the HSO’s (homeostatic soil organisms) it made a remarkable difference in my digestive health.

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