Is Dirt Healthier Than Broccoli?

Posted on March 24, 2012  Comments (2)

That dirt I ate as a kid is maybe why I have been relatively healthy. Ok, probably that hasn’t been the most important factor. But it may be that some dirt and germs (kids licking their dirty hands and the ice cream melts on it, etc.) is actually more important for their long term health than finishing off the broccoli (of course, a healthy diet requires eating a bunch of vegetables, more than most kids eat).

The hygiene hypothesis has become a popular explanation for the boom in asthma, allergies and other health problems. Boiled down to one sentence the hypothesis is that exposure to germs early in life creates a healthy immune system and too little exposure results in a hypersensitive immune system (that is not as effective and leads to things like allergies).

A recent closed science paper, Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function, found mice exposed to more germs early on where healthier:

Exposure to microbes during early childhood is associated with protection from immune-mediated diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and asthma. Here, we show that, in germ-free (GF) mice, invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells accumulate in the colonic lamina propria and lung, resulting in increased morbidity in models of IBD and allergic asthma compared to specific pathogen-free (SPF) mice. This was associated with increased intestinal and pulmonary expression of the chemokine ligand CXCL16, which was associated with increased mucosal iNKT cells. Colonization of neonatal—but not adult—GF mice with a conventional microbiota protected the animals from mucosal iNKT accumulation and related pathology. These results indicate that age-sensitive contact with commensal microbes is critical for establishing mucosal iNKT cell tolerance to later environmental exposures.

The microscopic battles waged in our bodies every day and over our lifetimes are amazing.

Related: Parasitic Worms Reduce Hay Fever SymptomsParasite RexKilling Germs May Be Hazardous to Your HealthTracking the Ecosystem Within Us

2 Responses to “Is Dirt Healthier Than Broccoli?”

  1. Nikolay Nikolov
    March 26th, 2012 @ 3:00 am

    I have heard of this as well. It is very interesting. Actually it makes sense if we think about it. We know that the more we exercise our body it becomes stronger, right? We also know that the more we use an organ it is kind of better for it. At least it is better than if we do not use it. For example the more watter passes through the kidneys they are healthier. The more we use our brain, the less is the chance to have some problems when we are old. The more we make the heart work the healthier and stronger it is. So I guess it is similar with the immune system. If we make it work more, it will become stronger. Too bad along with the normal germs kinds can be exposed to some really bad ones as well.

  2. Anonymous
    June 26th, 2012 @ 10:24 am

    I agree with Nikolay, the more we use something, the stronger it becomes. I just hope there isnt an Immune System variation of RSI.

Leave a Reply