We’ve all heard the expression that you have to eat a pound of dirt before you die, but what does this really mean? No, don’t pick up your spoon and start eating the dirt from your garden, but consider that consuming some “germs” or dirt is actually good for your health.
As it turns out, our endless need to be clean by vacuuming, scrubbing, and disinfecting our homes; using hand sanitizer at every turn; and using antibacterial soaps is actually doing us more harm than good. We have in essence become “too clean”. By removing all of this “dirt” and the bacteria and fungi that lives within it, we are removing the very things that help to build and maintain strong immune systems.
Those of us who have pets, especially dogs, living in our homes, may be at a health advantage over homes that are pet-free. Dogs roll and walk in who knows what when they are out romping in the park, muck about in streams, rivers, and lakes, sniff at everything, and eat things I wouldn’t consider picking up, let alone put in my mouth! And then they come bounding into the house and track endless numbers of “germs” into our homes, onto our couches, beds, and chairs and of course give us slobbering kisses! This may sound terrible, but it actually is a good thing for our health!
Studies show that children growing up in homes with dogs have a lower risk for asthma and allergies. Other studies have shown that Amish children growing up close to barnyard animals had lower rates of asthma, and they tended to suffer from fewer immune-related illness than children living off farms. This doesn’t mean that we all need to move to a farm, but we can help train our children’s growing immune system by having pets in our homes.
The immune system has to learn which bacteria are harmful and which are not. When we live in a sterile, bacteria-free environment we deprive our immune system this opportunity to learn, causing our bodies to overreact to harmless substances later on in life making us sick. A perfect example of this is allergies. Allergies are the result of our immune system attacking something that is not dangerous, because our bodies haven’t been exposed to enough of these harmless substances.
Essentially, having pets adds a lot of diversity to our indoor “microbiome”, or the microscopic organisms living in our homes. By increasing this diversity of “germs” (bacteria and fungi), pets seem to balance the good and bad bacteria in our homes. Essentially, pets become the “probiotics” of our homes.
So, next time you want to pull out the vacuum cleaner or scrub those floors till they shine, stop and take a break! Take Fido out to the park so he can roll around in the dirt and bring some more microbes into your home! You and your children’s immune system will thank you.