Immune Well being, Gardening and Biodiversity


Published 09/11/2021 5:43 PM


You have heard the word “biodiversity” which means the number and diversity of living things in a given area. The more species an ecosystem is, the more resistant it is to disturbances or disturbances. We often think of biodiversity in terms of the animals and plants that we can see; it can be even more important in the world we cannot see.

For 60 years, doctors and scientists have noted an increase in inflammation-related diseases such as asthma, allergies, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. According to the microbiome (or hygiene) hypothesis, we have weakened our immune systems because western life is separate from the earth that feeds us and moves indoors. Michael Pollen, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, is quoted as saying, “Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West is due to a disruption of the old relationship between our bodies and their ‘old friends’ – the microbial symbionts could have worked with. “

Each of us is home to 100 trillion beneficial organisms that live in and on us, in complex communities that are essential to our health and survival. Your total weight is as big as our brain! They protect our skin from penetration, they synthesize and transfer amino acids, they ferment and digest fiber, signal the cells to wage war against harmful viruses over and over again.

Several studies by the NIH Human Microbiome Project indicate that loss of gut microbial diversity and changes in community architecture play a role in diseases such as Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease. A 2012 Finnish study found that babies raised with dogs had fewer colds and ear infections than those raised in a pet-free home, especially if the dog was spending time OUTDOOR (my emphasis).

In 2015, a study reported on Karelia, an area that was divided between Russia and Finland after World War II. Finnish Karelia became increasingly westernized, while the Russian Karelians continued to live in an intact, diverse forest and had daily contact with farm animals. In the early 2000s, Finnish Karelians had much higher allergy rates, while Russian Karelians had greater microbial biodiversity on their skin!

A comparison of Amish and Hutter children * showed that Amish children were much less allergic than Hutter children, even though the dust from Amish houses contained seven times more bacterial debris than that from Hutter houses. The Amish live on single-family farms and use animals for agriculture. The Hutterites operate extensive modern agriculture, with their houses further away from their fields. When an extract of Amish house dust was introduced into the nasal passages of germ-free mice with induced symptoms of asthma, the mice showed reduced airway excitability and inflammation.

But before you start crawling around Amish homes collecting dust to boost your immune system, it’s best to get into your own yard or forest. Healthy soil, rich in organic matter, can contain up to a billion bacteria per teaspoon and hundreds of thousands of other organisms. Let your hands touch the ground. Go barefoot. Grow some of your own fruits and vegetables. It will increase your own biodiversity. Get your hands dirty for the sake of your immune system!

* Source: Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn; “Absence as Disease” Hachette Book Group, New York, 2018.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a Cooperative Extension Gardener from the University of California in Tuolumne County.

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