Don’t Wash Your Hands Before Dinner? A Review of The Dirt Cure by Maya Shetreat-Klein

Maybe we are too clean for our own good. A new book, The Dirt Cure, explores why

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“It’s a particularly nerve-racking time to be a parent,” Maya Shetreat-Klein, M.D., writes in the beginning of her new book, The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids With Food Straight From the Soil (Atria Books, 2016). “With every new study, we’re reminded that the incidences of children with diseases and behavioral disorders … is through the roof.”


As a mom of four children ranging in age from sixteen to six years old and attending three different schools (high school, middle school, and Waldorf kindergarten) in a small town in Southern Oregon, I see firsthand what these scientific studies show: my children’s classmates are sick. They are suffering from debilitating food allergies, full body eczema, autism and other brain dysfunction, attention disorders, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. Childhood obesity is skyrocketing, asthma is on the rise, younger and younger kids have insulin pumps strapped to their hips. I just learned last week about a 3-year-old who came down with a painful case of shingles.


Even if you don’t have children, you can walk down any street in America and see evidence of how our kids really aren’t all right: the 5-year-old who is too overweight to hoist herself onto the swing; the 6-year-old who wears an alert bracelet because his peanut allergy is so severe that the tiniest exposure could send him into anaphylactic shock; the 7-year-old with angry eczema all over her face, neck, and arms.the-dirt-cure-9781476796970_hr


What’s going on?


Why are our children’s immune systems and brain functioning so compromised?


When her youngest son developed asthma and speech delays just after his first birthday, Shetreat-Klein, a pediatric neurologist based in New York City, was desperate for answers. But the steroids and nebulizers her son’s doctors prescribed didn’t help. So she started doing the research herself—looking beyond conventional medicine to what her son was eating, how he was spending his time, and what toxins he was inadvertently being exposed to. That journey, she explains, is what prompted this book.


“It turns out that all of the things that are messy and dirty in the world, the very things we thought we needed to control or even eliminate to stay alive, are actually the very elements necessary for robust health,” Shetreat-Klein writes.


I pause for a minute to think of my friend Maria. She obsessively rubbed anti-bacterial sanitizer onto her hands, batted her infant’s fingers out of his mouth because she did not want him to get germs, bleached everything, including his pacifiers. She thought she was being careful in always being so hygienic. Was she actually compromising her baby’s health?


“Research says that bacteria, fungi, parasites, insects, weeds—and living, nutrient-dense soil full of all those elements—play direct and critical roles in the health of our food, and by extension, the health of our children,” Shetreat-Klein continues. “Instead of developing new antibiotics, doctors are beginning to treat chronic disease using the opposite approach: bacteria, parasites, soil, even—wait for it!—stool.”

A new book about children's health says kids need to get down and dirty more

Screenshot from The Telegraph:


The Dirt Cure weaves in stories about Shetreat-Klein’s own children and the children she treats in her pediatric practice with practical advice about what to eat, how and why to avoid conventional synthetic pharmaceutical medicines, and how to eliminate toxins from your family’s food and water. Each chapter includes an advice list at the end called “Take Home,” and shaded boxes throughout the book make it more readable for busy parents. There are dozens of kid-friendly recipes at the end of the book as well.


While I suspect a lot of the information in this book will be familiar to savvy readers who already know the work of food journalist Michael Pollan, holistic medical doctor Andrew Weil, M.D., and wellness doctor and bestselling author Mark Hyman, M.D., I think it will be eye-opening to parents coming to these ideas for the first time, as well as anyone whose children are suffering from health problems that are the result of blindly following the status quo.


If you think plastic-wrapped organic granola bars and highly processed organic soymilk are healthy food choices, The Dirt Cure will make you think again.


My only criticism of the book is that I would have liked for Shetreat-Klein to include a more detailed discussion about her views on the link between vaccines and immune disruption. Though she mentions the theory that adjuvants in vaccines are one of the reasons for the rise in allergies, she does not treat this topic at any length. Not discussing more thoroughly how vaccines are playing a role in the rise of autoimmune disorders and not mentioning the ongoing medical debate about the current childhood vaccine schedule (medical doctors, like Jay Gordon, M.D., Jim Sears, M.D., Bob Sears, M.D., Paul Thomas, M.D., Aviva Romm, M.D., Elizabeth Mumper, M.D., David Berger, M.D., and hundreds, if not thousands, of others have started pointing out that we may be causing more harm than good by giving so many vaccines to children at such young ages), or the possible link between the timing of vaccines and regressive autism strikes me as unfortunate omissions. Shetreat-Klein does cite some fascinating peer-reviewed science that explores the health benefits to humans of infectious diseases like mumps and measles (like this one. A good summary of some of this science, by Suzanne Humphries, M.D., can be found here). But I wish she had more thoroughly tackled the subject of vaccines.


That criticism aside, I highly recommend this book. It’s compellingly, readable, and full of important and useful information for both parents and for the medical establishment. I think it should be required reading for every medical school student, every pediatrician, and every parent in America.

Experts say that babies who grow up with pets are less likely to develop allergies, thanks to early exposure to certain bacteria. Having a dog also gets kids outside more. Photo by Jennifer Margulis

Studies have shown that babies who grow up with pets are less likely to develop allergies, possibly because of early exposure to certain bacteria. Having a dog also gets kids outside more and playing in the dirt. Photo by Jennifer Margulis.


JenniferLookingSideJennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning book author and investigative journalist based in Oregon. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. Her 7th nonfiction book, The Vaccine-Friendly Plan (Ballantine, 2016), co-written with pediatrician and addiction expert Dr. Paul Thomas, M.D., is available wherever books are sold.



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  1. We’ve eliminated a lot of things and in our ignorance, some, perhaps even many, of them are important. The most mind blowing book on health I’ve ever is An Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez-Manoff which explores some of the things touched on in The Dirt Cure in more detail.

  2. The fact that the asthma developed after his first birthday makes me think it might be vaccine-related; while I’m heartened that she at least mentions vaccine adjuvants, I, too, wish that she would explore the issue more in-depth. That said, I still plan to read this book, because it sounds fascinating. I’ve never been one of those parents to follow my son around at the park with baby wipes and Purell, but there have definitely been times when I’ve gotten odd looks for not wiping down hands before a playground snack or for letting him sit and play on the ground in very public places. I’m very interested to see what kinds of things the author discovered during her research.

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