When my son and I leave the grocery store, I douse him in antibacterial lotion, especially since reading the recent finding that 72 percent of shopping carts contain fecal bacteria and other stomach-turners.
I’m similarly germ conscious when he comes home from school (all those hands wiping runny noses and grabbing the same paint brushes) or goes to eat a muffin after swinging at the playground.
But digging in the dirt, that’s a different story. Earth doesn’t phase me. This week, Cornell University researchers proposed that ingesting dirt actually has a protective effect for humans, particularly little kids and pregnant women. Here’s what they found:
Eating dirt, or “geophagy” has been a common practice throughout human history. Researcher Sera Young, reporting in a forthcoming article in The Quarterly Review of Biology says that across the globe you can find stories of humans chomping on earth — the first to document it was Hippocrates.
But no one really knew why — theories have included that it was to satisfy hunger, or to fill up on certain nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium. By looking through historical records and noting when and why people eat dirt, though, the scientists determined that the most likely reason is that certain components of earth are protective, fortifying people against pathogens, parasites, and plant toxins. One of the clues is that across the world and through history, the most likely people to eat dirt are women in the beginning of pregnancy and children — both in more vulnerable states of health.
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