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Eat Your Vitamins, Minerals, and Dirt

June 25, 2012

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It might not just be what’s in your food that’s keeping you healthy – it may also be what’s on it.

Since the dawn of human existence, people have lived symbiotically with the millions of microbes that surround us all the time. However, with the invention of antibiotics and a rise in germophobia, people may not be interacting enough with the bacteria and viruses that make our bodies stronger.

The idea that humans have over-sterilized their environment leading to health complications is called the “hygiene hypothesis,” and it’s been kicking around the scientific community for a while. More recently, though studies are backing up the theory.

Think of the human immune system like a blank but sophisticated computer. Every time a new bacteria or virus is introduced to the body, the immune system assesses it and learns how to fight it off or, conversely, live harmoniously with it. Eventually, the immune system’s “memory” has a whole catalog of knowledge on how to keep our bodies healthy. If, however, we keep our bodies cut off from these “dirty” elements, our immune system can be caught totally unprepared when something more serious strikes.

Scientists hypothesize that over-sanitation may contribute to a whole range of modern ailments, from allergies and asthma to autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The problem is, no one wants to go mixing dirt into their favorite recipes, and leaving produce unwashed can introduce dangerous, as opposed to helpful, bacteria and viruses into your body.

So what can you do to boost immunity if you’re not into eating dirt? Here’s a few tips.

  1. Eat whole. It’s the same advice we keep giving over and over, but the closer your food is to its natural form, the more vitamins, minerals, and yes, dirt, your body will absorb, process, and benefit from!
  2. Earn extra points for organic foods. While a little soil and a few microbes may do a body good, pesticides do not.
  3. Buy local, and from farmers markets when possible. Not only will your produce be fresher and therefore richer in vitamins and minerals, but it will also be closer to the (immunity-boosting!) soil.
  4. Dump your harsh chemical cleaners for natural alternatives. Bleaches and anti-bacterial cleansers are overkill for most household messes and the chemicals can cover your surfaces and fill your air with toxins. Baking powder or vinegar can handle most cleaning jobs, leave surfaces toxin-free, and won’t over-sanitize. Don’t know where to start? Try here.
  5. Wash your fruits and vegetables, and practice good food safety at all times. Listeria, salmonella, and E. Coli are not good places to start building that strong immune system.
  6. Get plenty of sleep. We can’t stress it enough.
  7. Go easy on the hand sanitizer. Washing with hot water and regular old soap will leave your hands plenty clean without the harsh effects on your skin.

Are you a germophobe? Do you think over-sanitizing is a problem?