The Dirt Cure by Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD
The Dirt Cure is a wonderful book that rises right to the top of our list of books to give to people who are wholly ignorant of the havoc the food industry and modern medicine are wreaking on the world.
In this episode, we discuss:
Camping AGAIN in Mammoth Cave NP for Thanksgiving
Grinding up organ meats into your burgers
Bone broth made with chicken feet and then eating the feet after
The difference between probiotic and prebiotic
Organic Christmas trees from Pioneer Farm
Barefoot shoes from Soft Star Shoes
Industrial food by-products fed to cows in CAFOs
The CEO of Nestle says water isn’t a human right
Tanning beds emit UvA not UvB
Find natural springs in the US
All US almonds are pasteurized or treated with fumigant
Problems that arise when retaining poop (constipation)
The dirt cure
Dr. Shetreat-Klein argues that dirt is integral to health in multiple ways. First of all, in one teaspoon of healthy dirt, there are more microorganisms than people on earth. The same applies to a healthy gut. Modern diet and lifestyle destroy the diversity of the microbiome, which evolved alongside an unclean (albeit organic) world over millennia. This is evidenced by the fact that the most diverse human microbiomes ever studied were found in a Yanomami tribe living deep in the Amazon that hadn’t been contacted by Western Civilization until 2008.
Dr. Shetreat-Klein writes that the types of species present is secondary to the diversity of species. The more diverse the gut, the healthier and more resilient to disease. And the more protective against a variety of chronic illnesses. The West has become too sanitized. In attempting to kill all bacteria around us, we have weakened our immune systems so they overreact to everyday proteins and mount attacks against harmless molecules, triggering body-wide inflammation.
As we’ve mentioned before, babies’ guts also have suffered as a result of Western modernization, diet and medicine. In the past we have mentioned b. Infantis, but according to Shetreat-Klein, babies need bifidobacterium longum. During this episode, Julia wondered if they are the same thing, and in this case, we think they are. Bifidobacterium longum is the name for 3 major species, which include b. Infantis, so we think Dr. Shetreat-Klein was referring to the subspecies by using the species name for all 3.
Grounding for health
The other major aspect of the dirt cure is grounding. Humans evolved to have direct contact with the earth for most of the day via bare feet and sleeping on the ground. Nowadays, we rarely have any contact with the ground because we are always wearing shoes and walking on hard floors and concrete. Grounding happens when we reconnect with the natural magnetic waves produced by the earth via sleeping or hiking. Dr. Shetreat-Klein recommends forest bathing, the practice of being in nature without exercising and but instead focusing on connecting with the world through the senses.
Healthy soil creates a healthy food chain and environment. One effect of modern fertilizers mentioned by Dr. Shetreat-Klein is the impact on magnesium in the soil. Certain elements in fertilizers compete with magnesium uptake in plants, making them deficient in the crucial nutrient. If plants are deficient, then animals can become deficient, and humans who eat both will become deficient, as well. This could be one factor that explains the widespread magnesium deficiency in humans.
One answer to this is to compost. The US throws away almost 50% of the food it produces, and globally, food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. If all the people complaining about the impact of conventionally raised meat on greenhouse gas emissions started composting, we could drastically alter climate change. Good, quality compost can be used as fertilizer because minerals and vitamins in plants break down and return to the soil to feed other plants and microorganisms. Commercial fertilizers introduce minerals in levels not found naturally in soil to help plants grow. However, commercial fertilizers can also destroy soil diversity and prevent carbon from being sequestered in the soil, leading to more CO2 outputs.
Viruses play an important role in helping the gut protect the body against illness. For example, infection with the measles virus has been found to be oncolytic, or cancer-suppressing. Mumps can be protective against ovarian cancer. And articles in Nature have found that viruses can help the rest of the guts’ microbes regulate immunity following a course of antibiotics and that latent infection from particular viruses protected mice from Bubonic Plague.
Humans are destroying water and fish
At this point, most of the world’s water is polluted. Dr. Shetreat-Klein writes that “100 percent of US streams have detectable levels of at least one pesticide”. Thanks to industrial agriculture and chemical companies, we cannot fish or swim in 40% of US lakes. Harmful industrial chemicals found in water include: “medications and personal care products; fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides; heavy metals and other compounds, [including] lead, arsenic, mercury, sulfur, petroleum, asbestos, and oils”. Due to the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the world’s water supply, scientists have found intersex bass in US waterways.
Dr. Shetreat-Klein advises that people avoid most fish most of the time, which is an interesting position that we’ve not seen before. As Sasha points out, most people in the paleo community recommend eating fish as a source of lean protein. But due to the dangerously high levels of heavy metals in fish, Dr. Shetreat-Klein argues that fish consumption should be limited to only a few species only once or twice a week. First of all, she says no tuna ever. The bigger the fish, the more smaller fish it ate and the more mercury it contains. Since tuna are apex predators, they eat plenty of other fish and accumulate plenty of mercury. Rather, she recommends eating small, oily fish like sardines or anchovies or fish from “minimally polluted areas like the Arctic, Antarctic, or Alaskan waters”.
They lied to us about Atlantic salmon
Something we did not know at all before reading this book is that all Atlantic salmon sold for consumption is farmed. This is because most farmed salmon is the species that lives in the Atlantic, and fishing for salmon is banned throughout the world as the species is endangered. If a product is marked as Atlantic salmon, it is farmed, and if it’s marked as “wild Atlantic salmon”, then it’s lying?? This infuriates us, especially because one of the ways we incorporate fish into our diets is via supposedly wild-caught smoked salmon.
Aquaculture is like CAFOs for fish
Farming fish is a dirty operation. The flesh of wild salmon is varying shades of pink and red due to the salmons’ diet of shrimp and krill. A chemical naturally found in these species call astaxanthin creates the pink color, higher in sockeye salmon because they eat more krill than other species. Industrially farmed salmon are fed byproducts of the food industry and supplemented with synthetic astaxanthin. The chemical, which on its own doesn’t confer nutritional benefits to the fish, tricks customers into thinking wild-caught and farmed fish are the same thing. Of course, they are not. As Dr. Shetreat-Klein writes, “farmed fish consistently have higher levels of toxins than wild fish: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)”—which we discuss in Episode 8: The World According to Monsanto Part I—”carcinogenic dioxins toxaphene and dieldrin, which result from chlorine paper bleaching and incineration of PVC plastic, and mercury.”
Farmed fish swim in pools contaminated with industrial run-off, byproducts of processed food production, ground-up animals and wild fish, antibiotics, and pesticides. This disastrous slurry affects the fish and permeates the ultimate product with toxins that are transmitted to humans. And the environmental impact of such operations is awful. Farmed fish pose a significant risk to wild fish because they are replete with parasites and viruses. It also takes 5 pounds of wild fish to feed 1 pound of farmed fish. Moreover, feces and industrial food pellets from aquaculture cause eutrophication, which is when plants grow excessively and accumulate oxygen, killing animals.
The Dirt Cure tackles the complexity of the food and chemical industries’ negative influence on human and environmental health eloquently and incredibly efficiently. Unlike some of the books we read, none of Dr. Shetreat-Klein’s words felt excessive or overly repetitive. And even after all this time, there were brand new things we learned that we haven’t encountered before.
This book is ideal for both people unfamiliar with the paleo diet and environmental toxins and those who have been around the paleo block for years but still have gaps in their knowledge. Shetreat-Klein addresses every food group on the grossly outdated Food Pyramid, and she mentions every major food the paleo diet recommends. She is not dogmatic regarding the inclusion or exclusion of any of nature’s real foods (i.e. gluten and dairy), arguing that some people can tolerate them while others cannot, and people should be open to self-experimentation to discover their intolerances.
Real food according to Dr. Shetreat-Klein is just about identical to real food according to this podcast. We both argue for 100% organic foods, meat sourced entirely from stress-free animals raised completely on pasture and allowed to engage in natural behaviors, wild-caught fish, raw dairy, some dirt, and foraged foods whenever possible. Many people criticize advocating for this lifestyle because they say it’s impossible on a grand scale, but Dr. Shetreat-Klein reminds us that, frankly, it is the only option we have if we want to be healthy and protect the environment.