Why Getting Dirty is Nature's Medicine
As it turns out, that dad who always tells his scraped-up kid to “just throw some dirt on it” may be on to something. A growing body of evidence suggests that dirt can make us healthier and happier.
Studies continually confirm that the viruses, bacteria, and parasites that lurk in dirt and mud are—more often than not—beneficial.
It seems a little counterintuitive that dirt can actually be good for us, yet it's true. Our modern obsession with cleanliness, in some cases, may be doing more harm than good.
MUD BATH, ANYONE?
Numerous studies have found that dirt contains a microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae, which sounds nasty but isn't. It’s actually a beneficial bacterium that increases serotonin levels, and serotonin helps us maintain mood balance.
THE DIRTY TRUTH
But dirt effects more than our serotonin. Dermatologist expert Richard Gallo, a professor of medicine and pediatrics at UCSD, found that a bacteria commonly found in dirt called staphylococci, when present on the skin, can reduce inflammation after injury.
Gallo notes that “these germs are actually good for us" and particularly good for kids.
Gallo's idea is similar to the the Hygiene Hypothesis, an idea put forth in the eighties by British Professor David P. Strachan. According to Strachan, exposure to bacteria and viruses decreases a child’s chance of developing allergies and strengthens immunity.
Both studies are reinforced by a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that contends that ultra-clean environments are actually less healthful than environments that offer some exposure to dirt and germs.
There are no mud puddles indoors. Obvious as this is, it's worth noting that dozens of studies have shown that time spent outdoors—the realm of dirt, mud, and puddles—has measurable positive effects on sleep, mood, and general well-being.
One study even suggests that spending time in the outdoors makes us kinder and more sympathetic.
"Time spent outdoors—the realm of dirt, mud, and puddles—has measurable positive effects on sleep, mood, and general well-being."
For outdoor enthusiasts, all of this merely confirms the obvious: Get outside and get dirty. It's nature's medicine.
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