Dirt is Good: The Advantages of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System answers parent’s questions about the microbiome and their kid’s health.
Parents, hold on to your diaper bags, Dirt is Good: The Advantages of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System seeks to answer microbiome-related parenting questions. Science writer Sandra Blakeslee teams up with microbiome scientists, Rob Knight, PhD and Jack Gilbert, PhD, to eloquently capture the answers to the hundreds of questions Rob and Jack have been asked by concerned parents.
After a general introduction about the human microbiome, Dirt is Good starts with the interaction of the microbiome and human immune system in pregnancy. Continuing on through birth, first foods (both liquid and solid), the book touches on a range of topics organized loosely into chapters including the environment, conditions, depression, vaccines, and tests. There’s an amazing diversity of chapter topics.
What Dirt is Good does well
Talks candidly, clearly, and quickly about the current understanding of the microbiome and children’s health. Dirt is Good is clear about not overselling the microbiome and current probiotics. Throughout the book are stories of how their experience as parents and microbiome researchers change their ideas of cleanliness and health.
What is unique
- Using a “question and answer” book style. This allows busy parents to be able to look up their questions or only focus on a particular chapter. Due to this style, some of the research results and implications are repeated. For example, the data that kids growing up on farms have more microbiome diversity and fewer allergies are mentioned in two different chapters. If anything, this is a strength of the book, since the implications of microbiome research have life changing implications for health. Also, parents reading this book from cover to cover may be pleased with themselves at making these connections with or ahead of the writing.
- Focusing on the interaction between the human immune system and microbiome. The authors stress that many current non-communicable diseases are autoimmune issues. High sugar and high-fat diets, overuse of antibiotics, and some current medical practices have skewed gut microbiomes to inflammatory states.
- Discussing available microbiome-related products. Specific probiotic strains and clinical trials that are available and have been successful. However, the authors were very clear that at this time most probiotics on the grocery store shelf are a waste of money. Different publically available microbiome testing services are discussed along with their benefits, and challenges.
- Distinguishing between hype vs help. While some parents may get frustrated with the number of times the answer to a question is “we don’t know, but here IS what we know” and answers ending with “we need more research… Larger studies will clarify…” These caveats are signs of a cautious, tempered book written by scientists concerned about the misinformation and over-extrapolation of microbiome research. Scientists and parents want answers to all of the questions in this book and more. But science is incremental. Treatments done in mice may not work on humans. Treatments that work in one human population may not work for a different population. I certainly agree with the authors that I’m not signing my kids up for experimental therapies like fecal transplants. Sending the kid’s poop off for microbiome stool analysis -yup- I’ve done that. Try to convince the girls to eat more fruits and veggies instead of “crack-a-roni and cheese”? Oh heck yeah. That being said, so far my family has been really lucky and the kids haven’t had drastic health problems. I haven’t walked the path of a desperate parent. Here, I again appreciate the voice of Jack. His oldest son is autistic, so he speaks more from a position of experience.
What could make Dirt is Good even better
A one or two page summary of WHY people care about the different topics would help. Granted, most of the parents who pick up Dirt is Good may already be familiar with many of the importance of the microbiome. They probably can define antibiotics, probiotics, and prebiotics. However, I’m often surprised at some of the more basic questions that people ask me either on the blog or in person. It never hurts to quickly get everyone on the same page with definitions and general understanding. The topics and contents of the chapters seemed a little hodge-podge giving the book a fragmented feel. This is probably due to the kinds of questions the authors are most frequently asked and the Q&A style of the book.
My Parent’s Guide to Reading about the Microbiome
In sum, I think Dirt is Good does an excellent job of discussing the interaction of the microbiome, diet, and the immune system from pregnancy to childhood. I would recommend it as part of a series.
- For expectant parents who don’t know anything about the microbiome and are researching different birth and first foods options, start with Your Baby’s Microbiome.
- Now you’ll think about the importance of the microbiome and infant health, you are primed. Now read Dirt is Good.
- Around 6 months when your kid begins solid foods read The Good Gut. It is another excellent book about the human microbiome from microbiome scientists who are parents. The Sonnenbergs give parents ample reasons, some tricks, and recipes for feeding your kid’s microbes well.
- Read about microbes to your kid! I love Tiny Creatures
Other great interviews with Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Knight
For more videos – head over to my You Tube Channel
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