Dirt Makes You Happy!

Happy Gardening! Gardeners say it all the time, but what does it actually mean? In the simplest way, it just means to have a good time gardening, but did you know that dirt itself can make you happy? Not just in the way gardening is a fun and satisfying hobby, but scientifically.  

According to studies done by Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and later, Dr. Chris Lowry at the University of Bristol and University College London, it seems the culprit is the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae. This particular bacterium appears to be a natural biological antidepressant that is present in soil and has no discernable adverse health effects. Just a tablespoon of earth can contain as many as 50 billion microbes of which the Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria are just a portion. This bacterium seems to work on us like antidepressant drugs such as Prozac.

Interest in this natural miracle arose after cancer patients were treated by O’Brien with Mycobacterium vaccae as a cure for lung cancer. Although the treatment failed as a cure, subjects unexpectedly reported increases in happiness, vitality and quality of life. Lowry tested the theory on mice and reasoned that this effect could be caused by activation of neurons in the brain that contained serotonin.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabilizer. It also assists in motor skills, healing of wounds, digestion and bone health. It helps produce healthy sleeping patterns and is commonly linked to feeling good and living longer. Conversely, a lack of serotonin is linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar problems.

These antidepressant microbes are easy to utilize as they are introduced to our bloodstreams through physical contact with earth and by breathing them in. To reap the benefits, all you need to do is garden. Perhaps we should all be spending more time playing in the dirt!

Most avid gardeners say that their green spaces are happy places; that gardening is a stress reducer and mood lifter. Therefore, the presence of a soil bacteria antidepressant isn’t surprising to them. The science is fascinating, but not shocking to the happy gardener.

Need motivation to hoe out weeds, plants trees or sow that garden?  Worry not. Just rub some dirt on your hands, take a deep breath and carry on. You have harnessed the natural antidepressant in the dirt!  You’ll be happier, healthier and getting things done in the garden. Happy Gardening!

(adapted from Greengate Garden Centre April 2018 Newsletter)