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Eating dirt has become a recent health fad amongst some people who are concerned about improving their gut microbiome. Dirt? Yes, dirt! But does it really confer benefits for the gut and overall health? And should we literally be eating spoonfuls of the stuff? Let’s dig a bit deeper (into the dirt!) to learn more. While eating dirt (or geophagia) is considered by some to be a new and maybe even ridiculous “fad”, it’s a practice that has actually been around for thousands of years and has possibly helped the human race survive throughout millennia. Just about every culture has put eating dirt into practice, and while the motivations may vary, the benefits are universal: healthier people. Hippocrates writes of geophagia in his medical textbook linking “earth eating” and anemia. A few hundred years later, alica, a porridge that contained red clay was used as a remedy for mouth ulcers,…

Drinking at least a couple liters of water every day is important for regular bowel movements and overall gut health, but it’s not just the amount of water you’re drinking – the quality of your water matters too, especially when it comes to the health of your gut bacteria. Modern water systems are treated with chlorine, a disinfectant that protects us from illnesses like cholera and typhoid fever. While arguably one of the most important public health interventions of the 20th century, unfortunately chlorine-based disinfectants have a significant downside too – they can be harmful to our microbiome. Preliminary studies suggest that chlorine derived disinfectants like chloramine and sodium hypochlorite can lower microbial diversity, and may increase our risk for disease. If you’ve ever accidentally killed a goldfish or houseplant with tap water you might have wondered how safe it is for you! So what’s the solution? While it’s premature (and currently not advisable) to…

Gardening could be just as important in living longer as diet, exercise, and social connection. Researchers found that gardening is a common theme amongst centurions living in blue zones (areas of the world with the highest number of people over 100 years of age), and that those in their 60’s who garden regularly have a 32% lower risk of dementia. Scientists hypothesize that the longevity effects of gardening are due to a myriad of factors – ample exposure to green spaces and dirt, both proven to have healing effects on mental and physical health; a social connectedness to the broader community through farmers markets; and a healthier diet through the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and herbs produced in a local garden. BBC →Takeaway: If you’re looking for a new hobby in 2019, gardening should be at the top of your list. Whether you have a green thumb or not, giving it a go and…

A lung disease-causing bacteria, mycobacteria, is prevalent in showerheads. The University of Colorado at Boulder study tested DNA from 656 American and European households. Results found that mycobacteria are more prevalent in households with municipal tap water as opposed to well water. Mycobacteria abundance was also found to be more prevalent in American showerheads, which researchers hypothesize could be due to the fact that mycobacteria is partially resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants used in the U.S. The study mapped out where mycobacteria was most prevalent and found that these locations are also where non-tuberculous mycobacterial lung disease is prevalent (parts of Southern California, Florida, and New York).  Researchers conclude that showerheads may play a role in disease causality. mBio →Takeaway: Scientists will use this information to further investigate and alter our water systems, from disinfectant to plumbing, especially in high mycobacteria areas, in hopes to lessen pathogenic bacteria health risks. While the researchers who conducted the study want to emphasize, “there is definitely no reason…

First results are in! Researchers using a birth-cohort of 33,000 Chinese babies have released impressive findings already, just 6 years after the start of the cohort. Scientists found that exposure to incense burning, a practice common in southern China, increases hypertension risk in pregnant mothers. Nature →Takeaway: Exposure to fumes and chemicals during pregnancy may be risky for both mothers and their progeny. A 2014 study also found that using air fresheners (specifically those containing phthalates – a chemical also found in flexible plastics) during pregnancy could result in lasting detrimental effects on offspring respiratory health. If you are looking to purify or freshen the air in your home, skip the incense and traditional air fresheners and consider these all-natural options, or this essential oil spray.

Nitrate in drinking water, even at safe levels (within 50 mg nitrate/liter of water), increases colorectal cancer (CRC) risk. Scientists assessed drinking water nitrate level exposure in 2.7 million adults and examined 200,000 drinking water analyses from 1978 to 2011 in Denmark. Comparing this data with population-based health registry data, scientists identified 5,944 CRC cases. Analysis of the data showed that exposure to the highest levels of nitrate in drinking water (greater than 9.3 mg/liter of water) increased CRC risk by 15% when compared to those who were exposed to the least amount of nitrate exposure (1.3mg/liter of water). A significant increase in CRC risk was seen starting at nitrate levels as low as 4mg/liter of water. International Journal of Cancer →Takeaway: This study is consistent with findings from previous international studies, suggesting that nitrate drinking water standards should be more stringent to decrease disease risk. In addition, small private wells and areas…

A 20-year long study, including 6,235 participants with an average age of 34, uncovers the long-term impact of spray cleaners on lung function in women. The study found that women who regularly clean with cleaning sprays experience worsening of lung function over time when compared to women who don’t clean. To put the findings in more relatable terms, the lung function decline in women working as cleaners was equivalent to smoking roughly 20 packs of cigarettes per year. The decline in lung function is a result of damage to the airways from the day-to-day inhalation of tiny chemical particles over time. American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care →Takeaway: Spray cleaners containing chemicals cause substantial long-term damage to the lungs. These cleaners, as the study’s lead scientist states, “…are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.” If you’re looking for a more substantive cleaner, use Dr. Chutkan’s…

Children aged 12 to 18 who have access to green spaces are significantly less likely to suffer from depression than those without access. The study followed 9,000 adolescents over a number of years and found that those with access were 11% less likely to suffer from high depressive symptoms. The study also looked at access to blue spaces (bodies of water) and did not find any significant difference between the two groups. Journal of Adolescent Health →Takeaway: Based on a 2017 study, approximately 13% of U.S. children, aged 12 to 17 suffer from depression symptoms. Surrounding your child with vegetation just might save his or her mental health.