Monday, June 23, 2008

Don't Be Afraid of Dirt

For the past several years, we've been following the philosophy of health found in Dr. Jordan Rubin's The Maker's Diet. Our osteopath, Dr. Donald Adema, recommended having our entire family follow this program about three years ago, and although it was very difficult in the beginning phases, we've been fairly faithful over the years, the occasional "splurge" notwithstanding.

The Maker's Diet returns to the rules God gave to Israel, rules that were not just arbitrary guidelines but which Dr. Rubin shows leads to good health. So we cut gluten, pork, shellfish, and refined sugars from our diets and started eating Ezekiel breads, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and eat as organic as is practical. We drink only water and organic tea, with organic lemonade as a "treat." It was quite amazing to see the kids' eczema vanish as we ate this way, and T's asthma has practically disappeared. But Dr. Rubin's ideas go much further than what we are to eat and drink.

Dr. Rubin also stipulated that use of antibiotic soaps, etc., were harmful to the immune systems, especially to those of children who need exposure to different microbial sources in order to build a strong immune system. He discourages "excessive showering" (as in daily) as showering removes so much of our bodies' natural oils that we need to boost our immune systems. He says that weekly showers are all that most children need, with soap-free sponge baths in between if they get dirty. He also discourages swimming in chlorinated pools and use of scented products like body washes.

He encourages mild exercise -- walking rather than jogging. And he also advocates gardening without gloves. Getting our hands deeply into the soil is an elemental human activity, he states, and it also helps our immune systems to grow stronger. We are meant to be people of the earth and to have contact with the soil, on a daily basis, if possible. I was quite glad to discover this portion of his program as I love digging my hands into the dirt while gardening; I use gloves only as a last resort even if it means having to soak my hands to remove all the dirt from underneath my fingernails.

Dr. Rubin once again advocates a lifestyle close to the soil in today's daily e-mail:

Parents do everything they can to keep their kids from getting dirty, but in reality, our environment is much too clean! Immune cells that are not exposed to naturally occurring soil microbes tend to overreact when they finally come in contact with them. Too many adults and children have been denied this much-needed exposure. The immune systems of children and adults are overreactive because they are no longer being properly "educated" on the biological playground of life.

To make matters worse, we oversterilize everything with disinfectant dishwashing, hand soaps, and shower gels; disinfectant body lotions and skin bars; and "deodorant soaps" loaded with antibiotic disinfectants such as triclosan. And we sterilize our soil using pesticides and herbicides that destroy beneficial and harmful microbes alike. These substances harm the immune systems of all living things, including the very plants we try to "improve" with our technological advancements.

Our immune systems need regular exposure to naturally occurring soil organisms for long-term health! If I child isn't exposed to soil organisms early in life, his or her immune system may seriously overreact when exposed to completely benign intruders later in life. Loosing touch with our planet has had an unfortunate consequence: It has contributed to the development of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and certain types of asthma in children and adults alike.

So now I don't feel guilty about letting the boys dig holes in the side yard as they recreate World War I's "No Man's Land." And they can take a quick sponge bath before bed most nights; showers are for Saturday evenings before Sunday church. And playing in the dirt, whether it's the boys and their battlements or myself puttering about in my garden, is one of the healthiest activities we can do. I always knew gardening was good for my soul; now I know it's good for my health as well.

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