Being a dog owner changes your children's poop. In fact, just by looking at a kid's faeces, scientists can tell whether there's a pooch at home.
This is the sort of thing you can expect to learn more about on You Make Me Sick, a new podcast from the Environmental Defense Fund's Health Programme in the US. Hosted by Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist with the Health Programme, and Jonathan Choi, a chemical policy fellow there, it features chatty interviews with environmental-health experts who break down the latest findings in their fields.
The debut episode dived deep into the effects of lead exposure. Summary: It's really bad. Next up is a conversation with Canadian microbiologist B. Brett Finlay, co-author of Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child From An Oversanitised World. His message is that we've gotten too obsessed with hygiene, managing to throw out the good microbes along with the bad ones.
One method he suggests for increasing your offspring's exposure to microbes is to get a dog. They muck about outdoors and then lick their little human friends like crazy, and this can reduce a kid's chance of asthma by 20 percent, Finlay says. (What does having a cat do? Nada.)
For folks in need of more microbes pronto, there's a more direct option: faecal transplants. It's what it sounds like: putting one person's waste into another.
The technique has been remarkably effective in some cases and has had mixed results in others. Finlay says the difference probably lies in the donor, because everyone has a different mix of microbes and no one knows which ones should be passed on. He predicts that researchers will someday be able to pinpoint a select set of microbes that can safely "repoopulate" a person.
And there are some microbes we'd all be better off without, Finlay notes. For instance, there are the ones that start the process of turning red meat into hardening of the arteries. There are others, he adds, that seep into the gums of older people and cause dementia and Alzheimer's.
Unfortunately, having a dog won't help with that.