Gardening is very beneficial for people and this has become scientifically proven. People who like to work in the garden always say that this hobby offers them great satisfaction and as well as many other benefits like fresh air, sun exposure, and physical exercise. They also report great benefits in terms of mental health like lower stress and better mood.
Scientists have confirmed that gardening can fight depression as a result of the antidepressant microorganisms that are present in the soil. Namely, the dirt and soil in the garden have in their content Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) that has a way to naturally activate the serotonin and dopamine release in the brain.
Therefore, when a person works in the garden, the present microorganisms are absorbed via the skin and inhaled when breathing. Once they are in the bloodstream and respiratory system, the mood of the person becomes better and the pain gets soothed.
The antidepressant bacterium present in the soil does not show any side effects, and its benefits can be reaped just by playing in the dirt.
In terms of serotonin and dopamine release it offers the following benefits. Dopamine is accountable for our emotions via the sensations of pleasure and pain; and the serotonin regulates the mood, sleep, memory, social behavior, and libido. Low serotonin levels are related to anxiety, depression, bipolar issues, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The positive effects of M. Vaccae were found out by chance when Dr. Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, in 2004, administered M. Vaccae to her lung cancer patients for better immunity. She discovered that not only the bacterium enhanced the immune system, but as well as alleviated their pain and improved their vitality and happiness. O’Brien noted that the bacteria injection “significantly improved patient quality of life.”
Another expert tested the efficacy of this bacterium, the neuroscientist, Christopher Lowry at Bristol University. His subjects were mice that were administrated with M. Vaccae and their behavior was observed in stress tests. It was revealed that those mice that were inoculated with the bacterium were less anxious and did better in tests. He stated that the bacterium activated the neurons accountable for the release of serotonin and other compounds that affect the immune system.
Another team of neuroscientists, Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks, also performed a study on mice on the effects of M. Vaccae. Their findings were released in the Behavioral Processes Journal, and maintained that “eating, touching and breathing a soil organism may be tied to the development of our immune system and nervous system.”
They have also inoculated the bacterium to the mice and after that carried out several behavioral tests that demonstrated that the mice were less anxious and had better cognitive function than before.
Regarding these findings, Matthews states: “it is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”
Graham Rook, a professor at the University College London, maintained that our gastrointestinal tract is a home of a hundred trillion microbes resulting from the lifestyle we lead and the inherited genes, which interact with the entire body. According to his research, he maintains that lack of microbial exposure is one of the causes of the increased occurrence of chronic health issues like depression. The gut is linked to the brain and from there comes the connection between gardening and mental health.
Bacteria, fungi, and parasites have existed for centuries and our ancestors have been living along with them all the time. Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist and neuroscientist at the University of California-Los Angeles and author of The Mind-Gut Connection, stated the following:
“We’ve forgotten that these were beneficial. They might have caused an initial infection, but could then live in symbiosis with us. Many of these organisms evolved alongside humans, and likely the entire line of mammals we descended from, too. The benefit we got was that we had a much more clever immune system that didn’t attack our own selves.”
Many experts recommend going outside and doing some gardening, hence, take up on their advice and enjoy the benefits that a simple dirt and soil can offer to your mental health.