You’ve been told about a billion trillion zillion times to wash your hands as an important step in staying germ-free and healthy. But what if we told you that there’s a way to get your hands dirty that’s even better for you? And what if we told you that there are some bacteria that you don’t want to wash away?
Great news for all you gardeners and nature lovers out there – playing in the dirt is actually good for you! In fact, a healthy mind and body rely on friendly bacteria, some of which you can get when – you guessed it – get down and dirty with your garden soil.
Here’s a peek into how friendly soil bacteria can improve your mood, help you sleep better, boost your immune system, curb anxiety and just make you feel all-around better.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Garden Bacteria
Meet Mycobacterium vaccae, a common and non-pathogenic bacteria that lives naturally in soil, right there beneath your petunias and peonies, cabbages and kale.
It is considered one of our “old friends” – a hypothesis that says certain microbes evolved right along with our immune system since the days of cave dwellers. These microbes coexist with us and even live in our bodies, where they play a protective role in preventing inflammation and stress-related disorders, as well as promoting good brain function.
Deficiencies in some of these microbes can lead to chronic physical and mental health problems, from allergies and autoimmune diseases, to anxiety, insomnia and depression.
There is an abundance of research that shows we need a diverse array of friendly organisms found in air, water, plants, animals and soil for optimal functioning of our immune and nervous systems.
The best part is that you can reap the benefits of these microbes simply by gardening!
The Healing Power Of Soil
Our old friend Mycobacterium vaccae, found right there in our flower beds and vegetable gardens, has been used with cancer patients to improve quality of life and alleviate depression. It has also been tested extensively in mice, where it has been shown to decrease anxiety, increase resilience and improve cognitive function, making the mice more persistent in solving mazes and more creative in completing tasks.
In both mice and humans, this special microbe works by stimulating serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, sleep and concentration. In fact, ingesting or inhaling Mycobacterium vaccae while outdoors works in much the same way as prescription antidepressants, without any of the chemicals or negative side effects.
You’re not just imagining it – being outside and in contact with the earth can actually make you happier, healthier and more relaxed. It can improve your quality of sleep, ease insomnia, reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate depression, OCD and bi-polar disorder, reduce inflammation, strengthen your immune system and even improve your concentration and creativity.
Getting A Good Dose Of Dirt
Gardeners, rejoice! Pull off those gloves and dig your fingers into the cool, loamy ground. Whether you’re planting in a garden, a raised bed or a container, don’t be afraid to just about bathe in soil. When you’re up close and personal with the earth, you’re bound to inhale and ingest Mycobacterium vaccae.
Even if you’re not the gardening type or aren’t fond of getting dirt under your fingernails, you can still take advantage of this microbe’s healing power simply by being outside. Get in touch with your inner child and stretch out on the ground to do some cloud watching. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass.
And remember to breathe in the delicious, earthy smell of soil – yes, you can even reap the benefits just by breathing!
Perhaps best of all, the positive effects can be felt for days and possibly weeks to come.
So if you haven’t been out to play in a while, it’s about time you did your health and well-being a favor. Go make mud pies with the kids, or grab a glass of wine and have a lawn picnic. You’ll literally be happy that you did. And don’t forget to wash your hands before dinner!