Not just any dirt.. good healthy, nutritious dirt. "Dirt" that is full of microorganisms, soil that is used to grow your food, your herbs, and contains within it the vitality of a diverse and broad ecosystem! Remember those days where we played outside until we were summoned for dinner or bedtime? Within those simple times, lies a secret to our health, and to our very well-being.
What do our bodies and the soil of the Earth have in common?
They are both COVERED and TEEMING with Bacteria!
Our bodies have a complex and interdependent relationship with a broad spectrum of bacteria that covers us inside & out. Approximately one to two pounds of our body weight is attributed to the bacterium that lives in and on our physical being. Without it, our bodies would not be able to function - for we owe our existence to our bacterial ancestors - the very fabric of all life on earth. So how did we go from a mutualistic relationship with bacteria, to one of waging war?
<<< The War on Bacteria >>>
Our current relationship with bacteria in western culture perceives it as the enemy, a problem child that is causing epidemics and sickening the general population. As a result, antibiotics have become omnipresent in the western world, as they are a frequently prescribed medication with very little regulation. In fact, antibiotics are no longer isolated to the doctors office or hospitals, but have also found their way into the industrial agriculture and overall food systems, leaching into the very landscape of the United States.
"In 1942 the entire world's supply of chemical antibiotics was 32 litres of penicillin (isolated from mold.) By 1999, in the United States alone, this figure had grown to an incredible 50 million pounds a year of scores of antibiotics, most of them now synthetic." - Stephen Harrod Buhner from "The Lost Language of Plants"
The transmission of resistant traits of bacteria among the environment, our bodies, water systems, and more have escalated in their resistance due to the widespread use of antibiotics. Synthetically produced antibiotics and pharmaceuticals are designed to resist breakdown, to persist, so that they can carry out their metabolic regulatory activities without interference from the body (Buhner, 92).
If these pharmaceuticals and antibiotic agents are not capable of being broken down without specialty equipment, then the systems present are not able to capture these chemicals that pass through our bodies and leach into the environment. For example, recent studies show the effects of reproductive & endocrine disrupting chemicals on the reproductive organs in male fish, which are becoming genetically altered to exhibit higher levels of estrogen. The increase in estrogens like premarin and synthetic hormones from birth control pills are one of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals (Buhner, 95.) In just a short amount of time, we have altered the biological state of our water systems, soil, air, and overall planetary health. While the pervasive use of antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals have become common practice, these synthetic chemical compounds come with a heavy cost.
<<< A Price to Pay, A Pivotal Shift >>>
So where does this leave us? Despite the solemn state of affairs of the planet and our bodies, there is a pivotal place in which we can begin to shift. The question is simple as can be - and that is how do we define health? Science shows us that the earth and all life-forms on this planet are living & interconnected organisms, as opposed to a collection of unrelated parts.
The American College of Preventative medicine claims their goal is "to promote, protect, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death." Rather than orchestrating our health to be focused on the absence of disease, we can move beyond these sterile metrics and take a more holistic perspective. Aaron Fisher, author of "Tea Medicine" so eloquently defines health as, "Medicine is anything that puts us in harmony with our highest self and all life on this earth."
A less esoteric and more practical description of health can be defined as: medicine and health that embodies holistic measures, daily and preventative practices, and medicine that cultivates a healthy micro-biome in the body. We need bacteria for many functions in our body such as, in our GI tract for our digestive and hormonal health, for the vagus nerve, which connects the brain & gut through bio-directional communication, and for so much more! Bacteria helps our body maintain homeostasis, as well as navigating it's way back to balance when experiencing dis-ease.
So for goodness sakes, put some dirt on ya'! Granted, this article is not to say "eat dirt" and all your ailments will be solved. Far from it! The purpose here is to reflect on how we perceive bacteria, and the relationship we have with the bacteria and environment around us, as well as how we define health. A statement such as "Eat Dirt" is a mental reminder, a mantra of sorts, to cultivate a healthy micro-biome in the body. To have intimate relationships with your food, and your medicine. By prioritizing healthy bacteria and biological diversity in our daily meals and herbal medicines, we are retraining our bodies to be more resilient and nourished. We are reminding the body to know what optimized health feels like. So why not give it a whirl? The science behind it is truly mind-blowing, but the foundations remain simple:
- Play outside, get some dirt on ya. Under your fingernails? Even better.
- Prioritize a diet that supports healthy micro-biome in the body. (Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and pre//pro biotic foods.)
- Eat a colorful and diverse group of vegetables - even better, support your local farmer in the process! If you're in the Charleston area, check out these local farms for CSA options:
Lowland Farms -http://lowlandfarms.com/
Spade & Clover Farms - http://www.spadeandclovergardens.net/
- Ask yourself: How do you define Health? What does health mean to you? What does healthy feel like in your body?
Looking for more Resources?
Check out the personal websites of David Winston or Donald Yance if you would like to dive deeper into the concepts of healthy micro-biomes, bacteria, and gut health!
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 2002. Print.
Fisher, Aaron. Tea Medicine. N.p.: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2014. Print.
Winston, David. Untangling the Threads: Understanding Alzheimer's Disease and It's Prevention. North Carolina, Black Mountain. 3 June 2017. Medicines from the Earth Lecture Notes. Ashland: Herbal Education Services, 2017. 203-20. Print.
Yance, Donald. "The Vagus Nerve: A Two Way Connection." Medicine from the Earth Conference. North Carolina, Black Mountain. 3 June 2017. Medicines from the Earth Lecture Notes. Ashland: Herbal Education Services, 2017. 235-85. Print.