Why is Dirt Important?

Why is Dirt Important?

Dirt, or soil, is more than just that dark muck that accumulates underneath your nails or that you track in on the floor after a rain, it’s life itself. “Dirt is a mysterious, complex stew of minerals, vitamins, metals, organic materials, microbes – microscopic living organisms that themselves consume and excrete – and lots of other essential stuff,” SuperLife, pg. 10. But how many of us actually spend time gardening or any other activity where we are regularly exposed to the soil? Not many, sadly.

The advent of the industrial revolution removed the necessity for farming our own food. I always wondered how distancing ourselves from being immersed in nature and, in this particular case, dirt affected us?

Why is dirt important? It turns out there are plenty of health benefits of dirt to be found within this humble top layer of earth’s crust, often called, “the skin of the earth.” We miss out on them if we don’t regularly get dirty!

Called “grounding” or “earthing,” more science is proving that our bodies are designed to be in contact with the Earth (which is a “grounding” force). Positive electrons in the form of free radicals can build up in our bodies. It turns out that direct contact with the ground negative grounding charge helps balance this.

We are surrounded by electromagnetic waves, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone waves, which do create a higher amount of positive electrons in our bodies. It makes walking barefoot and connecting with the soil even more important (along with eating free-radical fighting, antioxidant-rich foods!).

When you take off your shoes and you walk barefoot over the earth, there is a grounding effect that serves both an emotional and physical function.

How?

  • Coming into contact with soil helps neutralize the positive electron build-up discussed above. This regulates our bodies’ bioelectromagnetism.
  • Surface electrons serving as antioxidants can be taken up through our feet tissue.
  • When walking around barefoot, tiny organisms we have been hearing about so much in the past years, microorganisms, also enter your body. In particular one named mycobacterium vaccae, found abundantly in the soil, helps elevate your mood by boosting your immune system. It is believed the microorganisms stimulate immune cells to release cytokines, a type of signaling protein that stimulate neurons to release seratonin into the prefrontal cortex. It sounds crazy and complex, but keep in mind, you get the benefit just by walking around barefoot. That’s pretty simple!
  • Mycobacterium vaccae is just one of the billions of environmental microorganisms we generally are not exposed too unless we go outside. Some of us have this unconscious belief that walking barefoot is unhygienic and prefer our sterile indoor environments. In fact, the “hygiene hypothesis” is a term used by medical professionals to explain a correlation of our lack of exposure to the natural environment and all the good and bad that comes with it – leading to biological deficiencies such as weaker immune systems. This translates to higher predispositions to allergies and autoimmune incidents, overuse of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, and many other modern abused marvels that end up inhibiting colonization of these beneficial organisms. Reconnecting to nature and the soil quite honestly is probably the best free probiotic you can take.
  • There is a mellowing effect nature has on us, no matter what is going on in your life walking around or sitting in a place surrounded by nature immediately sedates you. It is free, effective, stress relief with incredible additional health benefits.

These are just scratching the surface of how walking barefoot offers benefits. Today we are discovering humanity-saving compounds in the soil, no exaggeration. Overuse of antibiotics has led to antibiotic-resistant strains of previously controlled pathogens such as tuberculosis. They have adapted and become resistant, even to the strongest antibiotics known to man.

But several discoveries of novel antibiotics have been made possible by studying soil microorganisms.

It’s not just the trillions of gazillions of soil organisms that make the soil such an indispensable part of life, but also mycorrizhae and mycelium, which Paul Stamets calls “Nature’s Internet.” These organisms actually play a role in enabling underground communication networks between various species of plants that are not related.

There are still so many things we don’t know about, which means many more things we will discover. One concept that shouldn’t be difficult to grasp is that we are made of the earth and depend on it, meaning our interaction or lack of it has profound implications on our quality of life. Dirt is important.

What should you do?

  • Take walks around your yard and neighborhood parks.
  • Walk barefoot on the beach.
  • Have a picnic outside but skip the blanket and sit in the grass.
  • Grow something! This is one of the top recommendations I have besides getting outside and walking around barefoot! And don’t be intimidated by the idea of gardening or getting your hands in the dirt. Just start. Dirt’s health benefits are worth it!

I am not a farmer, even though my father taught farm economics at a university level in Minnesota. My experience with having land or even a pot to grow anything regardless of the size was relatively new to me. Several years ago, I wanted to have this experience, so with some help I started planting seeds. Asking around as I traveled, reading, researching, and learning through trial and error, I began to have more success! Today I grow a great deal of varieties and volume of both aromatic and medicinal plants, at my home.

This is an incredible way to reconnect with the dirt in the most effective of ways – a mutually beneficial relationship! I take care of the dirt, and it takes care of me.

So I encourage you to think about growing something – anything! Even if you live in an apartment get a couple pots and get growing.

If you are interested in growing something I strongly recommend looking into perennials, these plants are hardy and rustic, requiring little attention, As a bonus, they keep giving and giving year after year. In the tools section below I provided a link to seed suppliers and a list of perennials and mushroom varieties to look into. Have fun! Start incorporating dirt’s health benefits in your SuperLife today!

Tools

Mushroom kits

http://www.fungi.com/shop/mushroom-kits.html

Global perennial vegetables

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9ew4_svq9K3N3puYWNuSF9MdlE/edit

Seed suppliers

http://www.bountifulgardens.org/Perennial-Vegetables/departments/452/

The Health Benefits of Soil

Join the conversation

Comment below with what you’re growing and how it is going! How do you get outside and get dirty?

References

Gaétan Chevalier, Stephen T. Sinatra, James L. Oschman, Karol Sokal, and Pawel Sokal. Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 291541, 8 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/291541

“Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28, 2007 in Neuroscience.

Losee L. Ling, Tanja Schneider, Aaron J. Peoples. A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature 517, 455–459 (22 January 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14098

Francesco Spinelli, Antonio Cellini, Livia Marchetti, Karthik Mudigere Nagesh and Chiara Piovene. Emission and Function of Volatile Organic Compounds in Response to Abiotic Stress. Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Department of Fruit Tree and Woody Plant Sciences Italy

Gary Strobel and Bryn Daisy. Bioprospecting for Microbial Endophytes and Their Natural Products. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2003 Dec; 67(4): 491–502. doi:  10.1128/MMBR.67.4.491-502.2003

Katerina P. Svoboda1 andS. G. Deans. A study of the variability of Rosemary and Sage and their volatile oils on the British market: Their antioxidative properties. Flavour and Fragrance Journal. Volume 7, Issue 2, pages 81–87, April 1992

Inoue K1, Takano H, Shiga A, Fujita Y, Makino H, Yanagisawa R, Ichinose T, Kato Y, Yamada T, Yoshikawa T. Effects of volatile constituents of a rosemary extract on allergic airway inflammation related to house dust mite allergen in mice. Int J Mol Med. 2005 Aug;16(2):315-9.

Bazaid S.A., El-Amoudi M.S., Ali E.F., Abdel-Hameed E.S. Volatile oil studies of some aromatic plants in Taif region. Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies. Year: 2013, Volume: 1, Issue: 5. First page: (119) Last page: (128). ISSN: 2320-3862

H Okada, C Kuhn, H Feillet, and J-F Bach. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update. Clin Exp Immunol. 2010 Apr; 160(1): 1–9. doi:  10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04139.x

Olszak, D. An, S. Zeissig, M. P. Vera, J. Richter, A. Franke, J. N. Glickman, R. Siebert, R. M. Baron, D. L. Kasper, R. S. Blumberg. Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function. Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1126/science.1219328

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