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Digging in the soil to improve gut and immune health

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Did you know that gardening (or more specifically getting your hands in the soil) can improve your gut and immune health? There’s good evidence that playing, digging and even breathing in dirt are good for your health.

Researchers have found clear evidence that childhood exposure to outdoor microbes is linked to a more robust immune system.

When it comes to health we talk a lot about our microbiome (& it’s not just in the gut BTW but on our skin, in our mouth, lungs & for women our vagina). Did you know that our body is host to trillions of microorganism - that we actually have more bacterial cells than human cells & that our microbiome weighs about 2kg which is more than the average human brain (in fact our liver is our only internal organ larger than the microbiome). Each person has a unique microbiota (much like our fingerprint) that is originally determined by our DNA but can be changed by diet, stress and environmental factors.

Our gut health is a major player in our overall health and wellbeing. It aids in digestion, affects our immune system, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, sleep, mental health and more. Our microbiome also helps break down potentially toxic compounds and synthesises certain vitamins, amino acids and neurotransmitters.

In fact, the more we learn about the microbiome, the more we realise it affects every aspect of our health. You may have heard of the gut-brain axis, but have you heard of the gut-mouth axis, the gut-immune axis, gut-lung axis, the gut-bone axis… and many of these are bidirectional (that is the effect goes both ways).

AND did you know that soil has a microbiome? In garden soil there are up to billions of microbes. They could be bacteria, fungi, viruses, and archaea – just like our human microbiome.

When I’ve been out gardening – digging my hands into the soil to pull out weeds, dig up potatoes or plant new seedlings, the soil gets under my nails - and that soil is full of microbes (which can sit there for hours… or longer). In fact studies have even shown that direct contact with soil & its associated microbiota can leave an imprint on the skin microbiome for at least 24 hours. This is even after washing and bathing! Skin contact with soil microbiota can also impact the human oral and gut microbiomes. Trace amounts on our garden vegetables or breathing in the bacteria as we work closely to the soil… all have a potential influence on our own microbiomes. I have even read that a 3-4 leaf spinach plant has over 800 species of bacteria inside (just another reason to grow food in your garden and eat organic foods when you can – because pesticides are antibiotics sprayed on plants – they destroy microbes).

Evidence suggests that soil microorganisms can help train the immune system, have been linked to reduced inflammation and improved mental health. A common soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae has been found to have positive impacts on stress tolerance, boosting brain & mood.

So get out in the garden to support your microbiome & immune health – get your hands in the soil (without gloves), breath, grow some veggies… and the added bonus is you’ll be getting some sunshine, fresh air & exercise. What a wonderful, easy, natural way to support your health.


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