CARVILLE: Eat dirt |

CARVILLE: Eat dirt

Phil Carville
Fitness Columnist

What? Eat dirt?

Not necessarily. My point is that the ‘total you’ is a composite of ‘ego’ (10 trillion human cells) and ‘dirt’ (100 trillion critter cells) in the form of bacteria, fungi, archaea and other microorganisms residing all over and inside your body… and without many of them, you wouldn’t be alive.


The ‘Total You’ is ‘you’ and the 100 trillion cell-buddies that ‘are not you’… so to speak. These guys are called the Human Microbiome.

At this moment, you have about 10,000 different species of microorganisms throughout your body. You need many of them because you don’t have all the enzymes necessary to completely digest your food. These little critters play an important role in decomposing proteins, lipids and carbohydrates to turn them into nutrients that can be absorbed. These guys also produce vitamins and anti-inflammatories that your body cannot produce. Unfortunately, some of those gut-critters also are the source of malodorous gas which can be embarrassing in certain social situations.

Did I forget to mention that thousands of mites are living right now on your eye lashes and hair follicles? They eat your dead skin… and I won’t tell you what else they do.


My point is that having dirty hands and a little grime under your fingernails isn’t always a bad thing. A study by the university of Chicago concluded that most exposures to dirt are beneficial. Microbes in large doses are bad for us. But in small doses our immune system learns how to fight off bad viruses and bacteria.


The balance — you, your bugs and dirt — has major health implications. For example, persons who have had intensive antibiotic therapy can be at risk for chronic illness if the antibiotics have killed off the ‘good’ bacteria (probiotics) in their guts.

Prior to 1950, we had plenty of naturally probiotic foods in our diets. We ate local, fresh foods from good soil and used fermenting to keep foods from spoiling. However, today we eat refrigerated foods grown hundreds or thousands of miles away, laced with agricultural chemicals and antibiotics which kill off the good bacteria in our bodies.

I grew up in San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s and remember that Alameda was nearly all truck crops. The east bay produced the vegetables for the region. There were thousands of acres of vegetables, and 5,000 acres of sugar beets. Silicon Valley was home to thousands of acres of orchards. Each day, at 4 in the morning, trucks with freshly picked foods would arrive at the San Francisco Produce District where today you will find the Financial District (Alcoa Building and the Embarcadero Center).


As a society we have made great gains in general health. Cleanliness is important. Surveys show that the public considers the toilet as the ninth greatest invention of all time — toilet paper ranks 22nd (sliced bread ranks 70th). While public health depends upon general cleanliness… you, not so much.

You, your bugs and your life experiences create ‘the unique you’ … your ability to make a difference in the world is a function of the ‘total you’. The you that can make the world a better place.

Now that is real fitness… mental, physical and spiritual.

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to answer questions or respond to comments. Contact him at

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