A recent study by UK scientists discovered that a common soil bacteria activates cells in the brain to produce serotonin and can alter behavior similar to antidepressants.
“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health. They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.” – Dr Chris Lowry, Bristol University
The research, published in the journal Neuroscience by collaborators at Bristol University and University College London, used lab mice treated with Mycobacterium vaccae and found that it activated a specific group of neurons in the brain that produce serotonin.
Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT) is an important neurotransmitter which plays a role regulating mood, metabolism, anger, aggression, sleep, and appetite, and is found in the brain, gut, and blood. A number of ailments are linked to low levels of serotonin, including anxiety and depression, bipolar disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Many antidepressants work with serotonin pathways to affect moods and anxiety, so finding a natural, commonly available substance that activates serotonin production could lead to new treatments for those suffering from depression.
While I don’t see that doctors are going to start prescribing spoonfuls of dirt for clinical depression, this study affirms what many parents already know: Getting dirty is good for you.