Gut Health Gurus Blog

The Dirt Cure: From Children's Health To Depression

The Dirt Cure: From Children's Health To Depression


I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Maya Shetreat. She is a pediatric neurologist that applies integrative medicine. She looks at health from a whole-person perspective and digs deep at the root cause. In her practice, she works on physical, emotional, and spiritual health and does a lot of work with nature and the earth. Read on to learn about food sensitivities and how severe they can actually be, how to treat anxiety and depression, how nature impacts our well-being, and how you can encourage your children to eat a healthy diet!

How Did You Get Into Integrative Medicine?

By the time I was ready to graduate from medical school I had three children. I was wondering what is my next step? Then my one-year-old son had an episode of asthma. This continued for 10 months. These intensive episodes of breathing issues happened every other week. He was put on antibiotics, inhalers, and steroids. It was a vicious cycle. At the same time, he was in a developmental plateau. He was an early talker but at this time he wasn't gaining any new words. He was walking but now he would fall more and wouldn't catch himself with his hands. He would hit his head and it was very terrifying. I took him to different doctors (some of the top doctors in the world!) and everyone pushed me aside. I felt that this was how a lot of moms were treated….. they would not listen. I realized that I would have to do the research for myself.

This was long before all of the research on the gut-brain axis started to come out. Once I dived deep into his issues, I thought that it must be related to food. I took him to an allergist and they agreed to test him. His whole arm blew up from soy. We stopped soy and within a week he no longer had terrifying episodes of asthma. It was then that I realized soy was in everything. I thought what is so bad about soy? Then I learned that soy in the USA is almost 100% genetically modified if it's not organic and it’s also treated with pesticides. I fell down the rabbit hole and gathered as much data as I could….I started to recognize what is going on with our food system on a grand scale and started to realize how this could be affecting not only my son and his:

-Nervous System

-Gut Health

-Immune System

But this could also be going on with many kids! I started to apply what I used with my son (the tests and nutritional therapies) with my patient population and I saw miracles every day. When kids with chronic conditions such as:





Came into my practice, I saw them transform..This was something that needed to be talked about on a larger scale so I wrote a book called The Dirt Cure. this explains the three pillars of dirt that are healthy for everyone:

-Being exposed to germs and microbes.

-Eating fresh food from healthy soil

-Getting into Nature

With these three elements, I believe that we could really reverse a lot of the illness that people are experiencing and we can prevent illness as well.

The environmental factors are huge in shaping the microbiome. We can change our diets but we also have to do something about the environments we are in and expose ourselves to good soil and get into the water too.-Kriben Govender

Do all of the things that you loved as a kid, these are the things that kids and adults need to do for hours a day. It's not clinical but it just so happens that there is robust science saying we need to spend at least 4 hours a day outside. These days we are indoors watching Netflix, playing on our devices, and we just need to take the time out of the day to play outside instead.

Act like a kid again! 

Eat delicious food then go outside to…

-Make Mud Pies

-Climb trees. 


-Roll down a hill

vegetable garden and gut health

What Got You Interested In Gardening?

I had a small garden in my house and when I moved to NYC I lived in a small apartment and didn't have a way to garden. BUT then I got my first office. I rented this space that had an abandoned lot behind it. When I went out there it was gross, with vines and dog poop all over. Then I decided I was going to use that place to make a garden. I worked with someone who volunteered and we created this permaculture food forest with:

-Berry Bushes

-Fruit Trees


-Enriched the soil

-Had Chickens


I had a great area that I could take the children that came to see me and show them how to pick tomatoes and it was a beautiful experience. I eventually moved my office into a house where I could grow an even bigger garden. Now I grow a lot of medicinals and food there. There are so many aspects to gardening:

-You get the fresh food

-You get the herbs

-Enjoy the beauty of the flowers

There are also other benefits to consider….

Soil has the most biodiverse probiotics that you can get. In one teaspoon of soil, there are as many organisms as there are people on the planet! Go outside and garden, get the dirt under your nails! You will get different organisms on your skin, in your mouth, and will breathe them in as well. You can add in these worm castings to help your soil bacteria get to optimal levels! There is a lot of research about soil organisms including Mycobacterium vaccae. This organism has been shown to reduce anxiety and boost cognitive function. When mice are given them they are smarter and complete mazes faster with less anxiety. They called this the superhero effect. You just have to keep exposing yourself to these organisms, and it is easy, you just have to keep going out to your garden! 

forest bathing

How Do We Treat Anxiety and Depression With an Integrative Approach?

There are many ways but it may take different elements to become resilient. Biodiverse organisms are important. There is a tremendous amount of research on the gut-brain connection when it comes to mood. Some probiotics are called psychobiotics because the probiotics influence anxiety and depression so strongly. Pharmaceutical companies are focusing on organisms right now because they want to use them to transform people's moods. Take a quality probiotic and watch as your mood improves, you can buy a great one HERE!

A big tip for anxiety and depression is to get outside and get into nature! There is a lot of research on something called “forest bathing.” This is practiced regularly in Japanese culture. Studies have shown that mood is significantly enhanced by basking in the beauty of a forest. There are many reasons why it improves your mood. It is not just the bacteria, it is the deep connection and all of the changes in your electromagnetic field. Your electromagnetic field will connect and combine with other electromagnetic fields from the trees, earth, and rocks. All of these fields are very grounding, stabilizing, and uplifting for us. 

There are also a great number of botanicals that can be helpful. Anxiety is easier to help treat than depression because there are so many calming things that can help. I like:

-Passionflower- It has been studied and compared to benzodiazepine, which is a pharmaceutical drug used for anxiety. It is just as effective but be mindful that it does have a longer initiation time so it will not kick in as quickly. BUT you also have less cognitive impairment and it is not addictive.

-Wild Milky Oats- This is great for children. For one week out of the year, wild oats emit this milky substance. And during this time you can make them into a tincture using alcohol. It has very relaxing properties but is not sedating. You can use it for children as young as 3 and there will be no sedation whatsoever. It just mellows you out a little bit.

Many beautiful botanicals offer benefits for relaxation and anxiety. It is harder to find herbs for depression but one that is very helpful and uplifting is lemon balm. It is fragrant and aromatic. It is great as a tea BUT you do have to drink a lot of it if you want this benefit. But it is called the gladdening herb and it helps to uplift your mood.

mushrooms and depression

Thoughts on Psilocybin Mushrooms for Anxiety and Depression?

There is a lot of research happening regarding these mushrooms and anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The research is compelling and there is going to be a huge future in using plant medicine in various ways to reset people. To help people be deeply connected to themselves and the ancient wisdom that comes with the plants. When you work with plants you aren't just working from someone's point of view. There is also a plant conscientiousness. These plants come with their own wisdom. 

Part of the wisdom of these powerful plants or mushrooms is about connecting to yourself. You need to remember yourself and let go of a lot of what has been projected onto you by society. It is going back to your essence. I think a lot of depression and anxiety is this loss of yourself, not being able to remember who you are. You need to find yourself, feel grounded, and feel centered. These plants will help you and they will act as guides. But there are safety factors, please use common sense!

Thoughts on Ayahuasca for Anxiety?

This is an ancient medicine but it’s a POWERFUL medicine. If it's something that you are considering, look at the research and make sure that you are guided by people who know what they are doing. If you are working with these substances you need to work with someone who is brilliant in the right way. Do not go onto the dark web and do your research! These are very powerful teacher plants, they have a lot to offer us but you have to come to them in a good way. It's about the relationship and a lot of the work I do is about teaching how to have a good relationship with these plants before you work from them so you get the most out of the experience. 

I think there will be a place for each of these therapies but they aren't an end-all. We need to realize that these teacher plants are trying to do just that, teach. We need to listen to ourselves, the earth, and start connecting and building relationships with all elements of the earth. Not just saying “ we need to use this herb because it's good for me.” but say what do I have to offer this plant and what does this plant have to offer me. You have to come with your gratitude and offering at the same time.

There is a lot of research coming out with the heart map institute that shows that when we are in more of a state of gratitude and appreciation our heart rate variability tracings change to what we call “coherence” This is a very beautiful tracing that is associated with:

-Reduced PTSD symptoms

-Less anxiety and depression

-Less heart disease

-More cognitive function

-Lower risk of mortality. 

Being in a state of appreciation and gratitude is great for your health but it is also about YOUR offering to other people, plants, the earth, animals, to everything around. 

meditation and anxiety

Thoughts on Healing the Spirit, Soul, and Heart Through Meditation?

This is something that we need to focus on. With Indiginious medicine, physical illness is a symptom of something that has been going on for a while, it is way downstream. You have your:

Physical body

Emotional body

Spiritual body. 

Things start with your spiritual and emotional body. If you don't deal with it then it will manifest into your physical body. 

I do a lot of work with meditation. It is about going to this place of stillness. You can use sensory deprivation methods, this is just an extreme way of doing it. There are a lot of ways to go to this place of inner stillness and reset yourself. We are in this world that is so stimulating all the time and I think that cellphones are a blessing and a curse. They offer us so many benefits of connection but at the same time, it is constant stimulation from the minute we open our eyes until we close them. I think that being able to be in a place of inner silence is critical for every single person, from babies to the elderly. We need to build this in, these should be our needs: food, drink, going to the bathroom, sex, and silence. I think that sensory deprivation has its place but I just hope we create more silence and have opportunities of silence in the world so we can feel a sense of inner peace.

I have a free recording HERE of a meditation that I use. I love meditations that stimulate the vagus nerve. In neurology, people that have seizures, anxiety, migraines, or ADHD need to stimulate their vagus nerve to calm themselves and get into balance. This is the meditation I use all of the time from anywhere:

Breath in through your nose for 4 counts

Hold it for 7 counts

Release it with a WOOSH through your mouth for 8 counts. 

Repeat this 4 times! 

Your tongue should be behind your upper teeth and leave it there gently. If you do this once or twice a day, then anytime you use it your whole body is going to relax and calm down.

children eating healthy

What Are Your Tips And Tricks For Mothers Feeding Their Children And Reading Food Labels? 

For one, it is possible to eat a nutrient-dense diet as long as no one reacts to any of it. If you have a child who has a condition or is chronically sick then you are going to want to experiment with foods that are beneficial versus not beneficial. You can do this with an elimination diet. But for most kids, then you should just buy whole foods. Foods that you recognize that grew out of the ground or from a tree. You want to know where your vegetables and meat have come from.

This can feel overwhelming at first but it’s a temporary difficult period of a reset that takes you to a much better place and it will become second nature. Once you know the great brands then you will always give them a priority. Go to farmers’ markets whenever possible! You can ask them questions about how they grow their food. 

Also, know that with picky kids, some children need to try a new food up to 30 times before they develop a taste for it! 

So if you think about a kid saying no once and then the parents saying “okay forget about it they don't like this.” they really did not give it a shot. Don't give up and keep offering it. Make sure that they have to take 1 or 2 bites of something new each day. Engage them in cooking, meal planning, take them to farmers markets, and have them look at cookbooks. Don’t try to win a popularity contest with your children. Make them delicious healthy food and let them know it may not always be their favorite but it will make them feel better.

What Is A Victory Case You Had With A Child?

I had twins that came to see me with seizures and they were both picky. They each only ate 4 foods but they were different from each other. We did lab work and we changed their diet. It turned out they were allergic to several foods. We took them off of those foods and within a few months their mother changed how she cooked and changed what they ate and they were seizure-free. Without medication! Just by changing their diet and taking a few basic supplements these 2 kids were seizure-free. This is the power of food and how eating the right things and eliminating ones that don't work for you can have a major impact.

There you have it, make sure to get out into nature every day to improve your gut health! Make it a regular practice every day. Take in the sunshine and be connected. Go hug a tree, dig in the dirt, or make a mud pie! It is such an important way to connect. That is the best way that you can improve your gut health and overall health. Add in meditation, nature, stillness, herbs and take out foods that do not agree with you for a happier life. Get yourself a great probiotic and share this with a friend that you would go “forest bathing” with!

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