Why It Pays to Get Dirty

Why It Pays to Get Dirty




“The archetypal link between dirt and guilt, and cleanliness and innocence is built into our language.” -Katherine Ashenburg (author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History)


The pursuit of clean on a global level reached unprecedented levels in the past two years. But with an obsession with cleanliness, are we also killing the good germs and weakening our response to threatening infections? The Hygiene Hypothesis is that as we hyperclean (and the chemicals we use to do so is a whole other story), we clean away the good germs and weaken our immune system with lack of exposure to the bad ones. In all of our diligence, the hypervigilance to keep germs away may backfire by weakening our immune system and possibly attributing to auto-immune diseases (including but not limited to simple allergies). Dirt is a complex science. Dirt provides the nutrients and gasses needed to grow food. It provides the plethora of microbes in the soil that make it rich, complex, and alive. As humans move away from a connection to the soil, there's a disconnect that has direct consequences on the human immune system and development.

Mo Perry for Experience Life magazine (Lifetime Fitness's editorial) explains, "the seeds of our protective microbial garden are planted mainly in childhood (specifically ages 0-10). The more diverse organisms you're exposed to as a child, the more likely you will have better protection from illness. You're also less likely to develop immune disorders." The best way to get a young immune system activated is exposure to people, the outdoors, especially… dirt. Experience Life uses two surprising case studies that illustrate this theory. Comparing two different types of Amish communities, researchers found that the community that used modern agriculture technology reported higher rates of asthma and allergies (autoimmune disorder) than their genetically similar Amish counterparts who farmed more traditionally with "hands in dirt" methods. Researchers also found a surprising statistic along the border of Finland and Russia. Finland had the world's highest rate of auto-immunity-based type 1 Diabetes in the early 2000s, while nearby across the border in Russia, the rate was six times lower. The difference? Finland had a lot more wealth than its counterparts in Russia. As a result, the children in Russia had more exposure to various infections that helped build resilience. The expression "to be grounded" means to be "mentally and emotionally stable." Generally, very few of us get a physical connection to the ground. Today more people seek a literal connection to the earth. Walking barefoot outside is now considered "grounding" or "earthing." This spring equinox might be the perfect time to get our hands dirty and get grounded. In a good way. If you do insist on some extra Spring Cleaning this year - here is EWG's clean cleaning guide.