Have you ever noticed how satisfying it feels to get your hands dirty in the backyard? Does working in your garden make you feel like everything is right in the world? Perhaps you’ve chalked it up to the sunshine and the exercise. After all, everyone knows that a good workout and a job well done is great for your self-esteem. But is there more to it than that?
There just might be if science has anything to say about it. As all experienced gardeners know, soil doesn’t just consist of dirt and minerals. It is teeming with so much bacteria that it could be considered an ecosystem all by itself. And apparently, some of that bacteria might have an effect on your sense of well-being.
Did you know that there’s a natural antidepressant in soil? It’s true. Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress.
Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. The bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil and has no adverse health effects. These antidepressant microbes in soil may be as easy to use as just playing in the dirt.
The serotonin boost that is provided by this bacteria, might also aid our learning abilities. One study that was conducted with mice, found that if the rodents ate the bacteria, they could traverse a maze twice as fast as their fellow test subjects. The scientists also found that the mice “exhibited a reduction in anxiety behaviors as well.”
With that said, I suspect most gardeners won’t be deliberately eating their soil anytime soon. However, consuming the bacteria isn’t the only way to feel the effects.
Gardeners inhale the bacteria, have topical contact with it and get it into their bloodstreams when there is a cut or other pathway for infection. The natural effects of the soil bacteria antidepressant can be felt for up to 3 weeks if the experiments with rats are any indication. So get out and play in the dirt and improve your mood and your life.
It’s safe to say that modern life has done more than just separate us from mother nature. It has also removed us from an environment that is essential to our well-being, and done so without us even realizing it. While the modern world claims to provide all the solutions to our problems (in this case, stress, and anxiety) it neglects to tell us that sometimes, it is the source of our problems.
So the next time you find yourself away from the concrete and pavement of civilization, dig your hands into the soil and breathe deeply. That high you feel is exactly how our ancestors experienced the world on a daily basis, and being separated from it is, in all likelihood, unhealthy and unnatural.