The Dirt on Digestion: How Soil Quality Impacts Your Gut Microbiome

April 2024 | Dr. Madelein Shafferman

Dirt on Digestion

When was the last time you went outside to touch some grass? In a world where we increasingly spend our days in front of screens, being intentional about your time outdoors is crucial. But not just for your mental health. The soil beneath our feet can significantly impact your physical health and vitality! Just as you have a gut microbiome, the soil has one too. And believe it or not, the two are more closely linked than you may think. Let’s dig deeper into how the quality of soil and our food sources can impact your digestion and overall well-being.

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. As I mentioned in my Gut Health and Brain Fog blog, this complex microbiome plays a key role in regulating our hormone production, stress response, and immune system!

When we have an overabundance of bad bacteria in our GI tract, that can increase inflammation and intestinal permeability, allowing metabolites to compromise our circulatory system and stress our immune system.

Imbalances in the gut microbiome, also known as dysbiosis, can lead to digestive disturbances like gas and bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and mucus in the stool. If left untreated, dysbiosis can lead to chronic conditions including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diabetes, eczema, obesity, Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis.

How Soil Health Impacts the Gut Microbiome

Soil is foundational for life; The water we drink runs through it and the plants we eat grow in it! Because of this, our gut microbiomes actually share similar DNA and bacteria with soil microbiomes. Essentially, the food we eat can alter our gut microbiome, influencing weight gain, sleep, and chronic digestive or metabolic issues.

It’s not just the fruits and vegetables we need to pay attention to, though. Here’s a fact that might shock you: Agriculture uses four times more antibiotics than human medicine! Even if you don’t consume animal products, antibiotics excreted from livestock can impact soil microbiomes and find their way into our gut microbiome, eliminating beneficial bacteria and leading to dysbiosis.

Pesticides and Gut Microbiome

The Dirt on Dirt [We've Soiled It!]

Pesticides Are NOT Your Pals

While agricultural chemicals are widely used by commercial farmers to ensure a high yield of crops, the increasing use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers can destroy soil microorganisms, making it harder for plants to extract minerals, and in turn affecting nutrient uptake from the foods we eat. Low crop diversity also depletes the soil microbiome and reduces the availability of nutrients that soil microbes need to proliferate.

According to the Dirty Dozen, an annual report by the Environmental Working Group which analyzes the 12 fruits and vegetables containing the highest levels of pesticide residue, four of the five most frequently found pesticides are fungicides (fludioxonil, pyraclostrobin, boscalid and pyrimethanil). Here’s why this matters: these agricultural chemicals can significantly alter and damage our health.

For example, fludioxonil can mimic estrogen and increase the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Pyraclostrobin has been linked to issues with liver detox as well as metabolic disorders. Pyrimethanil has been shown to disrupt thyroid function, and animal studies on boscalid have reported links to cancer.

Opt for Organic

The average American diet consists of highly-processed, fatty foods which do not contain the nutrients needed to support our gut microbiomes. These foods that fill our grocery shelves are abundant in sugars, fats, and chemical additives to preserve their shelf-life. While modern sterilization processes aim to eliminate harmful bacteria, they also eliminate beneficial microbes. Consuming these ultra-processed foods ultimately decreases the biodiversity of our gut microbiomes and can increase risk for inflammation and chronic disease.

Hold your food to a higher standard! USDA certified organic foods are sourced from farms that are inspected regularly to ensure that soil conditions, crop health, pest management, and farming practices from seed to store meet the USDA’s organic standards:

  • Organic produce is grown in soil that has not been treated with prohibited substances such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Organically processed foods must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients, and other ingredients may not be genetically modified or contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.
  • Organic meat is also regulated so that animals are fed a 100% organic feed, are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural grazing and foraging behaviors, and are not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics.
Organic and Gut Microbiome

4 Ways to Support Your Gut Microbiome

1. Fresh is Best

Ultra-processed foods — frozen or fast food meals, sugary drinks, and anything with a long list of ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find in your kitchen — contain preservatives, dyes, and additives that give it a long shelf life. Preservatives are inherently antimicrobial, which can disrupt our gut microbiome and lead to dysbiosis.

Consider adding in a variety of fresh, fiber-rich, organic whole foods and fermented foods to your diet! These can help to optimally improve our gut health and produce a stronger, more diverse microbiome. Probiotics can also boost the presence of good bacteria in your gut microbiome.

2. Eat Seasonally

Seasonal produce is often harvested at its prime, and is jam packed with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients play a vital role in maintaining your digestive and overall health. Embracing seasonal eating offers the chance to diversify your diet, fostering a balanced gut microbiome that’s essential for digestion and your immune system’s well-being. A varied diet is a happy gut’s best friend!

3. Support Your Local Farmers

Take eating seasonally one step further and shop at your local farmer’s market! Eating fresh, locally sourced foods can be easier on the digestive system, reducing the intake of potentially harmful chemicals like preservatives or pesticides. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with local farmers and small businesses in your community.

Boise babes, be sure to check out the Boise Farmer’s Market and our local farm stores. For my fabulous Phoenicians, I highly recommend visiting Signh Meadows and our local farmer’s markets [There’s a bunch across the valley including Tempe, Phoenix, and Chandler!].

4. Grow Your Own Food

If you’re looking for a sign to get into home-gardening, this is it! Growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs diversifies the types of microbes in the soil, making both the soil microbiome and your gut microbiome healthier. Gardening can also be a great way to get some sun on your skin, balancing your circadian rhythm and hormone production, fostering a positive mood and reducing overall stress.

There are SO many how-to videos on YouTube and TikTok, making gardening more accessible and achievable. If you’re nervous about nurturing a seed, you can start your garden with seedlings! Here’s to embarking on this incredibly rewarding experience.

Nourish Your Gut Microbiome Today!

At ISAIH Natural Medicine, we’re passionate about empowering our patients to take charge of their health. Embracing organic produce and seasonal eating, supporting local farmers, and even nurturing our own patches of green are steps you can take to cultivate healthier soil and nourish your gut microbiome.

The path to optimal health begins with your own two feet — but you don’t have to take the journey alone. If you’re looking to get to the root of your digestive symptoms, or want support in your journey to feeling your best, our team is here to help. Take the first step towards better health and digestion by scheduling an appointment today!