Soil microbes have been found to have similar effects on the brain as prozac, without the negative side effects and potential for chemical dependency and withdrawal.
It turns out getting in the garden and getting dirty is a natural antidepressant due to unique microbes in healthy organic soil. Working and playing in soil can actually make you happier and healthier.
What gardeners and farmers have talked about for millennia is now verifiable by science. Feeling like your garden or farm is your happy place is no coincidence!
The soil microbe mycobacterium vaccae has been found to mirror the effect on neurons in the brain that drugs like Prozac can provide, but without side effects.
The way it works is the “happy” microbes in soil cause cytokine levels to rise, which leads to the production of more serotonin.
This bacterium is found in healthy soil and when humans are exposed to it, the microbe stimulates serotonin production. Serotonin makes us feel relaxed and happier.
Conversely, lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorders.
Some studies on cancer patients have demonstrated better quality of life and less stress when patients were given mycobacterium vaccae.
Scientists also tested the microbe via injection and ingestion on rats and compared results to a control group. They found that cognitive ability, lower stress, and better concentration were notable benefits that lasted 3 weeks time.
Mycobacterium antidepressant microbes in soil are also being investigated for improving cognitive function, Crohn’s disease, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Farmers and gardeners come in contact with this bacterium by having topical contact with it, inhaling it, and getting it into their bloodstreams when they have small cuts or other pathways for infection.
So while the physical act of gardening may reduce stress and lift moods in and of itself, it is fascinating to know there is some science to add to the happy gardener sentiment.
With no adverse health effects caused by mycobacterium vaccae and so much to gain, you might as well grow something. As a bonus you’ll produce fresh, local food, or at least something pretty to smell and look at if flowers and ornamentals are your thing. Bees and other pollinators will appreciate it too!
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“Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28, 2007 in Neuroscience.
Mind & Brain/Depression and Happiness – Raw Data “Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz, Discover Magazine, July 2007 Issue.
Image: Tim Samoff/Flickr