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.
Image: lori05871 at Flickr under CC License
I find it very fascinating that soils contain antidepressant properties.
African tribes as well as some tough westerners go barefoot all the time report that they feel better, more free when they go barefoot hiking and walking in the woods.
Perhaps barefoot walking is more than just spiritually stimulating afterall…
Rinaani Musutua says
After giving birth, my aunt in Africa would crave sand. We would go to the woods and dig for red colored sand for her to eat. Now I think that it must have had that anti-depressant effect on her. Sand also contains alot of iron, especially the reddish one.
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Mary Ann McMahan says
Know wonder I always felt better after walking barefoot in newly plowwed and disked gardens and fields!
Brenda Josephine says
I’ve also heard going barefoot has other healing benefits, such as grounding our energy field to the earth. And no wonder so many people love gardening and being near the soil. What an interesting study.
They want say “Let the kids walking barefoot”? Great! I vote ‘for’ 🙂
This really gives a new perspective to the field of Horticultural Therapy. It is always interesting to me that we somehow need science to validate what humans have known for centuries…it’s just good to go outside and get your hands in the dirt! But, literally, this implies the importance of having a physical relationship with the soil and other aspects of nature.
Izuki Nomura says
Plant your self firmily in the soil and grow happy.
I can totally believe that!!! I have always worked outdoors lived in a townhome for 6 yrs and was the most depressed I have ever been. On more than one occasion I said I was going home when I was actually going to work, I work in an underground storage field for naturalgas its an old oil field we inject gas into for storage so no its not huge tanks underground. I know live in a house without the nightmare I left her behind with everything dog furniture etc etc. I so much enjoy working in my backyard playing in the dirt I always feel happy when I am working on the garden especially when I am barefoot in the dirt something about the way it feels between the toes now I know wooo hoooo its better than any prescription drug out there!!!
As an avid gardener today, and for many years, and also, a sufferer from OCD and depression, occasionally, I now know, why, I have been so drawn to gardening. I love all aspects of working with the soil from tilling to weeding. I knew that gardening was therapudic, but did not know the secret healing properties was bacteria in the soil which boosted serotonin levels. I took anti-depressants for years but for last 4 years take only an all natural vitamin called 5-htp, which has done wonders for me with zero side affects, cheap too! I will never take another Paxil as long as I live. Check it out!
Before we get too excited about the potential for soil to regulate serotonin, we should know a little more about how it would work. If the soil bacteria presumably need to be transferred through the skin or injected to get into your bloodstream in order to work their magic with serotonin, then simply walking barefoot or playing in dirt for an hour probably won’t do the trick. The bacteria need to grow, reproduce and get into your system. You wouldn’t be able to wash as the bacteria would need time to do all this. We also don’t know the quantities that would need to be present in order for this to work. Bacteria can multiply exponentially in your body, but would there be possible side effects if they over- populate your system? The placebo effect is capable of producing amazing success, so maybe just playing in the dirt or walking barefoot (or the spiritual oneness with communing with Mother Earth is all it takes!