Our health expert takes a look at ways living in the country can serve as a natural probiotic, building up your immune system when you don't even know it.
Do you spend a lot on probiotic supplements, fancy yogurts and other cultured foods?
If so, you’re not alone. Probiotic food and supplement sales have surged over the last 10 years, thanks to exciting new research on “the human microbiome” showing how good bacteria benefits our health.
And this isn’t “fake” or “product-company-sponsored” research. This is the real stuff.
Just hop onto ScienceDaily, PubMed or any scholarly database, and you will find thousands of peer-reviewed studies on how probiotics enhance gut bacteria diversity, which in turn can benefit everything from heart health and digestion to immunity and even your mood.
So how exactly does enhancing your gut bacteria diversity protect you from so many diseases?
You have probably heard that a huge portion of your immune system resides in your gut. Therefore, the more diversified your gut bacteria, the stronger and more resilient your immune system will be.
Probiotics play a role by infusing your gut with beneficial bacteria that allows for greater resiliency and strength against unfriendly bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens.
However, as many health experts will tell you, including those quoted in a 2016 New York Times article on autoimmunity entitled: “Educate Your Immune System”, the body also needs the opportunity to fight off harmless bacteria and germs for optimal immune function…
…and that’s where farm life comes in.
As it turns out, farm and country living, with all its fresh air, animals, farm-fresh food and regular contact with nature, provides a hefty dose of natural gut-diversifying, immune-boosting germs to protect your health.
It almost acts like an earth-based probiotic.
Read on to discover 5 ways farm and country life can provide you with the best (and cheapest) source of probiotics.
#1: Farm animals
Most farmers keep animals for production purposes such as providing milk, grazing pasture or as a source of meat.
However, new research has revealed our furry friends have been providing us with some added health perks for millennia.
For example, a new study released last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed Amish children who spent time around farm animals had a significantly lower risk of asthma than children who did not spend time with animals.
Researchers believe this is due to the microbe-rich barnyard dust the children inhale, which challenges and thereby strengthens their immunity over time.
Scientists are so convinced by their “barnyard dust hypothesis” that they propose a comparable spray be formulated for children who won’t have contact with farm animals in their early years.
Asthma rates among typical school-age children have risen dramatically to more than 10 percent in recent years, while the Amish maintain a low 2-4 percent asthma and allergy rate among childhood populations.
And there’s more good news for pet owners…
Additionally, research has shown that living with dogs and cats can help enhance your gut bacteria, which is great news if you don’t live on a farm or keep livestock.
#2: Reduced levels of stress
Despite evidence about the role over-sanitizing, diet and antibiotics play in degrading gut bacteria balance, many experts believe stress may play the most significant role of all.
This has to do with that gut-brain connection we mentioned earlier. Here’s how that works:
Your gut and your brain are directly connected by what is now known as the vagus nerve.
This nerve acts like an information superhighway, shuttling information between your gut and your brain and vice versa. This explains the term “gut feelings” as your gut does experience whatever you brain tells it.
Based on this new finding, experts believe when we are under chronic mental and emotional stress, it eventually wears down our gut lining, resulting in compromised immunity.
One of the biggest benefits of country living is the natural escape it offers from common urban stressors like traffic, noise, crowds and pollution.
In addition, spending more time outdoors in green space, escaping from noise pollution, connecting with animals, moving at a slower pace and having regular contact with the earth have all been proven to significantly reduce stress and anxiety, which will benefit your gut health.
#3: Gardening, landscaping and playing in the dirt
You have probably heard the expression: “a little dirt never hurt anyone.”
As it turns out, a little dirt could be just what the doctor ordered.
This is believed to be due to specific microbes found in dirt strengthening babies’ developing immune systems.
For adults, children and babies the simple act of gardening, landscaping or playing in the dirt provides regular, safe exposure to a variety of immune-boosting bacteria and other microbes.
But the benefits of dirt don’t stop there.
The soil microbes work by boosting immunity through influencing the body’s production of cytokines which can enhance serotonin levels, thereby helping to alleviate depression.
Add to this what we learned in our previous point about the gut-brain-connection, and one can see how a little time spent playing in the dirt could make a huge impact on your emotional well-being.
#4: Fresh, clean air
In our first point, we mentioned the beneficial effects of barnyard dust on asthma and allergy susceptibility in children.
This is a perfect example of how the air we breathe influences our gut health and immunity.
Though much of the science on fresh air and the microbiome focuses on indoor environments, the consensus is the more beneficial bacteria and germs found in the air, the better it is for your immunity.
This is great news for those living in rural areas, as they tend to have better air quality than big cities while maintaining a vast diversity of beneficial airborne microbes.
Add to that the proven benefits certain tree and plant essential oils have on our immunity, and you have a powerful immune-boosting ally in fresh country air.
You have probably always suspected homegrown food is more nutritious than store-bought. What you may not have known is that homegrown foods are typically richer in gut-diversifying bacteria as well.
For example, fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the garden and washed simply with water will still retain some of those beneficial soil microbes we discussed earlier.
If you have a dairy cow, even better.
Ample research has proven the connection between drinking raw milk or “farm milk” with stronger immunity and reduced susceptibility to asthma and other allergies.
Does raw milk freak you out?
If so, cultured dairy products like yogurt and kefir offer great probiotic benefits without the worry of unpasteurized dairy.
We have written extensively about the health-promoting benefits of rural living since this blog’s inception, yet certain commonalities run through every piece:
- Farm living promotes immunity;
- It can be protective to children’s health;
- And rural living reduces stress.
Add to this the natural probiotic benefits of life on the farm, and you have a robust recipe for a healthy happy rural lifestyle.