Soil microbes help relieve stress and combat depression

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gardening(NaturalHealth365) Gardeners have always known that tending to the soil is good way to relieve stress. Getting the hands a little dirty while cultivating food or flowers has an uplifting effect, but now science is explaining the link between soil exposure and a reduction in depression.

Researchers from University College London and Bristol University found that a benign, naturally-occurring soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae has a proven mood-boosting, antidepressant effect. Mice treated directly with Mycobacterium vaccae had notably higher levels of serotonin in their brains.

Science is finding out why being in nature feels so good

Previous studies have shown this exact same bacteria helped to reduce pain and nausea while increasing vitality and cognitive function in cancer patients. It has also been shown to protect children against asthma and allergies. The British study has now linked Mycobacterium vaccae with the stimulation of the production of serotonin, the body’s natural mood elevator.

Low levels of serotonin is one of the causes of depression. Low serotonin is strongly associated with anxiety, depression, aggression, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and other mental illnesses. A serotonin shortage is also linked with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.

Serotonin crucial to 14 different brain and body processes

Serotonin, or 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine) is a multi-functional chemical messenger found in the brain, gut, blood and nerves. Fourteen different cell receptors can bind to serotonin to work with it in different ways.

Besides its mood boosting effects, serotonin helps brain cells to communicate, regulates digestive secretion, assists with food passage through the gut, and constricts blood vessels as needed.

The amount of serotonin needed throughout the body varies, with the brain’s mood-regulating hypothalamus needing a lot of it, while the cortex (involved in thinking, attention, memory, awareness and consciousness) requires a much smaller amount.

Serotonin is balanced in the brain and body via its release, followed by inactivation once received in synaptic spaces between nerve endings, and finally absorption, also known as “reuptake.”

A natural way to avoid depression

Antidepressant drugs raise serotonin levels by inhibiting the brain’s ability to initiate serotonin inactivation or reuptake. However, the Mycobacterium vaccae soil bacteria works differently; it has the effect of increasing the release of serotonin in the brain.

While the mice treated with Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria were found to have increased brain activity in the neurons that produce serotonin, the psychiatric concept of “microbe-gut-brain axis” was also involved. There is a known link between the gut flora and brain allowing microbes to assist in supporting optimal body chemistry. Mycobacterium vaccae is not naturally occurring in gut flora, but can be obtained through exposure through activities like gardening.

Most people have experienced the sense of well being that comes from being outdoors in wooded areas, gardening, playing touch football or picnicking on the grass. While nature, fresh air and sunshine relieve stress and have uplifting effects, part of the feel-good equation seems to be the friendly soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae.

Whatever the causes of depression, exposure to soil can help to relieve stress and boost mood. All the more reason to get out there and play in our natural surroundings!

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868963
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=11899903&dopt=Citation
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/66840.php
http://www.garden.org/subchannels/care/soil?q=show&id=2791
http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/raw-data-is-dirt-the-new-prozac
http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster/Horses%20Mouth%2003-06-15.pdf
http://www.decodedscience.org/gardening-chemistry-soil-microbes-good-mental-health/48559

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  • Malcom Rodman

    We need to wash our vegetables and to get rid of the pesticide residue on them. I remember when I was young just picking blueberries and eating them on the spot.

    Not only did we do that, we also went barefoot outdoors often. Times sure have changed.