Gardeners understand this best: spending time in the garden heals their mind and soul, relieves stress, and improves mood. But consider this: you, too, enjoyed playing in the dirt as a child!
It is simply adored by dogs!
So, what makes it so magical? Scientists kept mentioning the possibility of dirt raising our serotonin levels and thus aiding in the treatment of depression, but the secret was discovered by accident!
Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium found in soil, has been found to reduce anxiety and improve cognitive function.
Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, published a paper revealing her findings in 2004. She used the harmless soil bacteria on lung cancer patients to relieve symptoms and strengthen their immune systems, but she noticed that it “significantly improved patient quality of life” over time.
They felt less pain and nausea, and they were happier and in a better mood.
These findings prompted Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, to conduct additional research.
He injected M. vaccae into mice and discovered that their cytokine levels, which ultimately produce serotonin, were higher. He stated that the bacterium had “exactly the same effect as antidepressant drugs.”
Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenkins of The Sage Colleges in New York fed mice little peanut butter sandwiches mixed with dirt in a separate experiment. When the mice navigated a maze, they were able to concentrate and think more clearly, their anxiety levels decreased, and the effects lasted for up to 3 weeks!
“Gardeners inhale these bacteria while digging in the soil, but they also come into contact with M. vaccae in their vegetables or when soil gets into a cut in their skin…
Based on our research, we can conclude that being outside is definitely beneficial–it is beneficial to have contact with these organisms.
It is intriguing to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time spent outside in areas where M. vaccae is present may reduce anxiety and improve ability to learn new tasks.”
So, what are you holding out for? If you go outside and roll around in the dirt, go for a walk in the woods, or visit the neighborhood park, you’re bound to come across some M. vaccae.
Grow some food if you have a garden; according to Lowry, you can get the healthy bacterium directly from the food:
“You can also consume mycobacteria through water sources or by eating plants, such as lettuce from your garden or carrots.
Over 800 different types of bacteria can be found inside a three to four leaf spinach plant.”