The Importance of Playing in the Dirt
When you were a child do you remember playing in mud, splashing in puddles, or jumping in piles of fallen leaves? I sure do! As I raise my two boys, I try my best to preserve and recreate what I experienced growing up, which was freedom in nature to play and get dirty.
These days, I’m constantly reminded of how times have changed. What I now witness on a regular basis are parents immediately reaching for the hand sanitizer the instant a child gets his or her hands dirty at the park. It’s almost as if, as a culture, we’ve become obsessed with cleanliness.
We need to return back to nature and allow our children to get dirty more often. Dirt (assuming there are no chemicals on the lawn or in the soil) contains an abundance of microorganisms that help train the immune system to react to things that matter (viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc.), rather than insignificant things (pollen, dust, dander) or our body’s own cells or tissues (think autoimmunity). Unfortunately, this incessant fear of microorganisms and dirt may be negatively affecting our health.
Just the other day, I took my boys for a hike in the woods. At the end of this hike was a waterfall, which trickled into a small stream with lots of rocks, fallen logs, and other fun things to play with. After some hesitation, both my boys eventually found themselves completely immersed in the water and the mud; I couldn’t have been happier. I knew that playing in this stream was the best activity possible for training their immune systems.
Can You Eat Dirt?
What can we, as adults, do to expose ourselves to the microorganisms from soil? Can you imagine what most people would think if I started splashing in the stream with my kids? They would probably film me and post it on YouTube and call me crazy! Well, hopefully not, as I live in California and this type of behavior is more acceptable here :-).
But in all seriousness, if as an adult you don’t spend much time in and around dirt, another way to regularly expose your body to healthy bacteria is to eat vegetables directly from the ground as the soil is loaded with bacteria and other microorganisms. This is where the term soil-based organisms (SBOs) comes from, as SBOs make up 100 different species of bacteria that are naturally found in our soils.
If you are a gardener, then you have the luxury of not only getting your hands dirty in the soil and exposing yourself to SBOs, but also the ability to pick some carrots and eat them fresh with a small amount of dirt on them. That dirt is loaded with SBOs, which can benefit your digestion. Whenever I buy organic carrots from the Farmer’s Market, I gently wipe off any excess dirt and eat them as is, and they taste great!
The Benefits of Soil-Based Organisms as Probiotics
If you don’t want to play in the dirt or eat vegetables with a small amount of dirt on them, what are you other options? Over the years, more research has come out looking at how soil-based organism probiotics can impact your digestive health. In fact, studies have shown that SBO probiotics can improve the following:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Gas production (flatulence)
- Stool consistency
- Immune system dysfunction
- Triglyceride levels
SBO’s are naturally found in the soil, pickled vegetables, or found in other foods like natto from Japan. Also, some are natural inhabitants of our gut. Generally speaking, Bacillus strains make up most of the SBO probiotics on the market, so look for products that contain one or a combination of the following strains.
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus clausii
Most SBO probiotics are spore-forming organisms, which means that they form dormant spores that later germinate. These spores contain an outer coating that allows for the bacteria to survive harsh conditions like exposure to heat, acid, or medications. This is what makes SBO probiotics incredibly viable as they can survive the acidic conditions of the upper GI tract and conveniently find their way into the lower GI tract.
It is thought that spore-forming probiotics exert many of their positive effects by secreting antibiotic-like compounds that keep pathogenic organisms in check. In other words, they protect you from other bacteria that can make you sick. Some of the spore-forming probiotics have been found in stool samples weeks after cessation of the probiotic, suggesting that these organisms do temporally stick around in the large intestine.
If you are interested in taking a probiotic that contains a spore-forming bacteria like Bacillus, start off with a low dose and increase slowly. This class of probiotics does not need to be mega-dosed to impart benefit to your digestive tract. They also do not need to be refrigerated, which is a bonus.
Know Thy Probiotic Strain and What They Do
I would highly recommend looking for a strain that has research backing its efficacy. For example, sometimes you may see that Bacillus coagulans is followed by a combination of numbers and letters which signifies that this particular probiotic strain is backed up by credible research studies.
To highlight the importance of knowing exactly what strain is used, a recent study showed 40 patients with major depressive disorder and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were randomly selected to receive either a placebo or Bacillus coagulans MTCC5856 for 90 days. At the end of the study, the patients taking Bacillus coagulans MTCC5856 reported an improvement in depression and IBS symptoms that were statistically significant.
In summary, soil-based organism probiotics are a different class of probiotics that are helpful for not only supporting the gastrointestinal tract, but other systems in the body including mental health, triglyceride levels, and the immune system. As a spore-forming probiotic, they can survive harsh conditions like stomach acid, and make their way, intact, to the large intestine to exert their health-promoting effects.