Every gardener who’s spent an hour watering, weeding, or just turning the dirt over, comes indoors feeling more peaceful than when they went out. Every kid that ever came in covered in dirt from outdoor play goes to bed tired and happy (and hopefully, washed).
We all know that being active in the sun and fresh air is good for us – but now we’re finding out that contact with dirt itself helps relaxes stressed nerves and may even treat depression.
It’s all about the mycobacterium vaccae microbe that lives in dirt.
Tests conducted on mice show that direct contact with this microbe stimulate serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain, much the same way that prescription anti-depressants do. (Among other effects on the body that serotonin has, it regulates mood. Low serotonin levels are linked with depression.)
It may be possible to medicate depression, anxiety, OCD and even bipolar disorder using M. vaccae. That’s without chemical side effects, addiction, and the torment of withdrawal.
There’s more. A recent study conducted by Christopher Lowery et al, published in Neuroscience, showed that injections of dead M. vaccea relieved much of the nausea and pain suffered by cancer patients. Lab tests also showed higher cognitive ability, lower stress, and better concentration in mice injected with M. vaccae.
Studies are also being conducted on possible M. vaccea benefits to patients suffering from cognitive dysfunction, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
So go out and get dirty. You don’t need access to a large garden. Tending your potted plants gives the same benefits. I testify to this from my personal experience after the death of a loved one: nothing soothed me like pulling weeds out of my balcony plants, turning the dirt over and planting a few hopeful seeds.
It seems that turning to mother Earth is a natural instinct when we’re feeling blue.