Maybe the garden centers have it right after all: it’s time to play in the dirt again. Over the last few years, more and more research has leaned toward supporting the argument that dirt, germs, and even worms
need to make a way back into our immune system. If that sounds more than a little far-fetched to you, you’re not alone. This idea is in stark contrast to the saturation of anti-bacterial gels and germ phobia that is so prevalent in society today. But scientific research is clear about the fact that the hyper-sterilization of our day-to-day world
has had negative effects on our health.The evolution of “sanitary.”
Our country wasn’t always so hung up on being clean. The 19th century was hugely important for the advancement of public health. For most people, sanitary housing conditions, proper sewage, and disease prevention were nonexistent. The boom in urban living led to an increased number of people living in a decreased amount of space, which fueled rampant disease. As a result, the discovery of bacteria and how it affects our health led to official public health policies and eventually the mindset that all germs are the enemy.
While the improvements in sanitation and hygiene did wonders for the health of general society, this “kill all and take no prisoners” attitude towards germs has left our immune systems longing for the benign bacteria of the past . . . which actually strengthens
the immune system. To put it simply, many of the harmless bacteria we choose to kill and avoid actually teach our immune systems how to fight off infection and foreign pathogens. When the immune system doesn’t come in contact with a high enough number and variety of germs, the immune system is weakened
in its ability to recognize and fight off other bacteria. As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and asthma that would hardly have been recognized in the last century.A reversal on germs.
So is the answer to get dirty like the days of yesteryear? Possibly. The amount of research to support this theory is piling up, and evidence is suggesting that reintroducing benign bacteria, and even tapeworms
, can help reverse the upswing in these new types of diseases. Treatment with worms has been shown to help patients who suffer from multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). In addition, reintroducing one type of benign bacteria in combination with chemotherapy has improved survival rates in a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma of the lung.
It’s not too far of a reach, then, that worms might also help with other maladies that correlate with autoimmune and inflammatory disease. For instance, the University of Buffalo found that children who develop asthma are twice as likely to develop depression. Conversely, people with depression are likely to display symptoms of weakened immune systems, even when otherwise healthy.
Could worms, as unconventional and traditionally gross as they may be, be a possible solution? More specific study and analysis needs to be done on a worm’s effects on mental health, but in the meantime, it won’t hurt to get a little down and dirty.