Want to improve your health? Maybe you should eat dirt…or earth to be exact. A new scientific study reveals that eating earth may improve digestion and bring other health benefits as well.
Researchers at Cornell University set about culling documents, logs and reports from a variety of historical sources that included the scholarly papers of medical doctors and researchers, tropical plantation owners, missionaries and explorers visiting developing countries, and the reams of scientific research meticulously gathered by anthropologists during the past several centuries.
The Cornell team was able to build an impressive base of information by amassing almost 500 documents related to the dietary habits of indigenous peoples who currently eat earth or did so in the past.
Known as geophagy—the practice of including earth as part of an overall diet—the dietary phenomenon bridges global culture and the centuries.
The Cornell researchers discovered that mostly young children and newly pregnant women were the most likely to eat earth. It didn’t matter if regular food was plentiful. The earth eaten was not dirt, or topsoil, but the richer, thick clays found deep beneath the ground surface.
The natural composition of the earth clay helps protect against environmental toxins, bacteria, viruses and parasites. In essence, it aids the body’s natural immune system and those particularly susceptible to environmental hazards—such as pregnant women and youngsters—derived health benefits from the consumption of earth.
The database compiled by the Cornell scientists also shed light on the regions where geophagy is the most prevalent: the tropics. That makes sense as it’s well established that warm, humid climates tend to produce more food borne bacteria that can be harmful to humans.
Other than women in early pregnancy and young children, those that suffered bouts of digestive distress were also likely to add earth to their normal dietary habits until their digestion returned to normal.
Discussing the study “Why on Earth?: Evaluating Hypotheses about the Physiological Functions of Human Geophagy,” that appears in the June 2011 journal The Quarterly Review of Biology, Sera Young, the study’s lead author, said, “We hope this paper stimulates [additional] research. More importantly, we hope readers agree that it is time to stop regarding geophagy as a bizarre, non-adaptive gustatory mistake.”
The preponderance of evidence makes it clear that geophagy is much more prevalent among many cultures than previously known. It is also a natural way for peoples to protect against toxicity and pathogens they are exposed to in their environment.
“With these data,” Young added, “it is clear that geophagy is a widespread behavior in humans. [It] occurs during both vulnerable life stages and when facing ecological conditions that require protection.”
“Eating Dirt Can Be Good for the Belly, Researchers Find” – Science Daily
“Let Them Eat Dirt” – Scientific American
“Eating dirt may protect against pathogens and toxins” – Cornell University