Turns out that getting your hands dirty in the garden has demonstrated mood-lifting benefits.
The dirt-mood connection surfaced several years ago when Dr. Christopher Lowry and colleagues injected harmless soil bacteria (M. vaccae) into mice. Creatures exposed to the bacteria had more activity in serotonin-producing neurons and higher levels of serotonin in several areas of the brain, the “exact same effect as antidepressant drugs,” according to Lowry. The scientists concluded that the benefits of dirt can be accessed any number of ways, including getting your hands dirty in the garden and even making mud pies. We can safely presume that tending our compost piles does the trick as well! You can read more about Dr. Lowry’s research in “Dirt-the New Prozac?”
A related and relatively new idea in medicine is the “hygiene hypothesis.” According to this concept, children who are exposed early in life to the bacteria, fungi and viruses found in everyday dirt, have a lower incidence of infections, asthma, allergies, and eczema compared to kids raised in “clean” urban environments. We already knew that from comparing the barefoot kids down the block to coddled toddlers with chronic sniffles!
Another item reinforcing the benefits of getting your hands dirty aired recently on NPR–titled “Craving Earth: The Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice and Chalk” in which a Cornell researcher chronicles folks who eat these substances and why. Turns out, most of the people who develop these cravings have micro-nutrient deficiencies. Pregnancy seems to turn on these cravings in some women to boost their suppressed immune systems.
The moral: dirt makes you happy and healthy. We already knew that gardening, hiking and playing outdoors feels great—now we have scientific research to help us understand why. Another reason to keep up the composting and organic gardening.
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