The Dirt on Dirt.

Could allowing our children to play in dirt actually boost their immune systems, helping them to stay healthier?

Studies have shown how our obsession with cleanliness and hygiene has actually created a generation of children with more allergies and other inflammatory disorders such as asthma, eczema and hay fever.

In the past, our ancestors had a diet which consisted of more organic fruits, vegetables and meat - free of the pesticides and antibiotics used today. They also consumed more fermented foods such as yogurt and pickles that contained good bacteria. Children were regularly exposed to animals, plants and soil spending most of their time playing outdoors in the natural environment. Microbes are prevalent in the great outdoors and basically anywhere "dirt" is found. These microbial interactions allow our immune systems to react and respond, just the way they were designed to, helping kids to develop a balanced immune response.

From numerous independent studies, we are now beginning to understand that these lifestyle and dietary differences between how our ancestors used to live and the environment in which we are bringing up our children today, could be the reasons why health issues such as allergies, asthma and eczema are increasingly common.

We are so afraid of dirt, we have created excessive hygiene practices for ourselves and our children. Over the last few decades we have had increased and unnecessary exposure to antibiotics, indoor sanitation and antibacterial wipes and washes. Our diet includes a large amount of highly processed foods and even our fruit and vegetables are usually laced with pesticides. We live indoors in a sterilised setting, and our children play inside, usually on one of the many devices that they have available at their disposal.

Compared to our ancestors this is a huge decline in natural exposure to microbes, altering how the immune system gets trained - especially during the developmental years. When microbial interactions are insufficient, our immune system will start to age and become hypersensitive. This means, we have increased risk of inflammatory disorders and are more likely to have a huge response to a simple allergen such as pollen which results in hay fever and other allergies or health issues like asthma and eczema.

Bearing in mind that our children have been vaccinated and with general sanitation of our homes, we can now draw lessons from the past, choosing activities and options for a more wholesome lifestyle that will lead to improved health for our families.

Here are some ideas that you could introduce:

  1. Encourage your kids and family to spend time outdoors such as parks, beaches, playgrounds, gardens.
  2. Engage in an outdoor activity to make being outside more appealing.
  3. Frequent exposure to farm environments and petting zoos, or consider getting a pet at home.
  4. Reduce and limit the use of antibiotics.
  5. Reduce exposure to unnecessary antibacterial washes and excessive hygiene practices.
  6. Start a vegetable garden and encourage the family to get involved with planting, growing and harvesting your own produce.
  7. Be more conscious of where your food comes from and what you're eating.
  8. Include more fermented foods in your family diet such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi or kombucha.

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