This week when the Dermatologist removed the stitches from my arm, she twice complimented me on how clean I had kept it. When I told her in a moment of chit-chat that I was going home to work in my garden afterward, she said, “Well keep your arm out of the dirt.”
I was flabbergasted. What did she think I did in the garden? And did she think if I kept my arm clean all week I would suddenly stop keeping it clean? Have I now reached the age of senility? Am I now to be told like a child, “Don’t get dirty!”
Okay, I am laughing, but she is in her forties, so the day will come when someone will tell her to stay out of the dirt. Or perhaps she is not a dirty gardener herself?
Michael Pollan, who has discovered the anthropologists I read 3 decades ago, writes about dirt and cleanliness and raw and cooked things. Recently, The New York Review of Books included a piece Pollan wrote on the flora that inhabit our bodies. After reading his essay, I walked around all day feeling like a Death Star carrying five trillion passengers waiting for me to drop over so they could begin lunch.
Pollan suggests that at any given time we are ingesting an array of bacteria, no matter how “clean” we think we are. His ideal human gut is that of the traditional West African dirt farmer who has the ‘most healthy’ assortment of bacterial passengers in the world in their gut. He suggests Westerners in the US and Europe have guts that are far too ‘clean’ for their own good. Seems our abandonment of the farm and obsession with antibiotics has led to the demise of the “good” bacteria that perform many vital functions in our bodies.
I learned this lesson with my Mini-Macaw Arabella, who my AVIAN vet prescribed an antibiotic after she acquired a human bacteria in her gut (probably from playing with the dogs). Although the antibiotic rid her body of the e coli that had mysteriously entered her digestive system, it wrecked her gut for a while.
In other words, the antibiotic killed her natural flora.
The vet prescribed Arabella a “bacterial powder” to restore her natural balance. I sprinkled the powder on her food every morning and that restored the good bacteria count to a healthy level. The vet tested her poop to check the balance. (Did you know bird poop does not contain mammalian bacteria like e coli? I didn’t.)
This is probably more than you wanted to know, and I apologize if you are eating your corn flakes as you read this. Let’s just say ingesting a few ounces of dirt over your lifetime won’t kill you, but too many antibiotics might. Just don’t rub the dirt in a fresh skin wound….as if you would.