How Healthy Soil Can Ease The Quarantine Blues

We all know that spending time outside has significant health benefits for our mental and physical health.

Researchers associate spending time in the open air with substantial mood improvements.  Any garderner can attest that day spent in the dirt leaves them feeling great.  But why?  We know about the benefits of sunshine on mood through the action of Vitamin D, but is there something more to it?

Researchers decided to dig into the dirt of gardening and this is what they’ve found:

New research suggesting microbes in soil may have a beneficial effect on the way the body manages serotonin (1).  This explains alot of the mood-lifting effect gardening can have on people.  Depression is linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain and low levels of serotonin (2).  This interesting research suggests that spending time getting your hands dirty with soil may help manage depression naturally.

 

Good Bacteria: Probiotics

A common bacteria found in soil is called Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae.  This bacteria activates neurons in the brain responsible for regulating serotonin release.  When these antidepressant soil microbes activate these neurons, it directly stimulates an increase of serotonin.  Balanced levels of serotonin in the body are associated with improved mood, regulated sleep and a decrease in anxiety (3).

When you hear the word ‘bacteria’, don’t assume it’s a bad word.  In fact, many microbes, like the ones in our intestines, perform beneficial health functions including improved immune function, mood and much more(4).  To learn more about probiotics and where to get them, visit Dr. Reid’s post on how to purchase a quality probiotic product.

When it comes to garden soil and its’ concentration of M. vaccae, it is important to consider the quality of your soil.  Soil that is heavily treated with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers will not have the same concentration of M. vaccae as soil that is organic and naturally occurring.  Get the good stuff and watch your mood rise!

 

No Plot? No Problem! Here are ways you can get the benefits of dirt, indoors or out!

Gardening

Gardening of any kind is a pretty effective way to get your hands “dirty”.  Even without outdoor space, as many Vancouverites experience, gardening is still possible. Planting a few fool proof herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary in a small planter container offers the promise of tasty dishes, health benefits and gardening bliss. These can be planted indoors or out!

No space for planters at all? No problem!  With the simplicity of food scraps, a window sill and a small container of water, you too can grow your own food.

Look how these store bought veggies re sprouted new growth by simply putting their “roots” in a smidgen of water!

 

This can be done with celery, bok choy, lettuce, garlic and green onions.

How?

  1. Cut the ‘bums’ off your vegetables. This is the bottom part of the vegetable that you would usually throw in your compost.
  2. In a container, place the bottoms of the veggie scraps in some water, do not cover the whole thing.
  3. Place on a bright window sill with lots of sunlight.
  4. Watch them grow!
  5. Option to plant the scraps into some soil once they’ve established a bit of growth.

Growing your own food can be extremely rewarding and very simple.

 

House Plants

There has been a large increase of ‘plant babies’ being brought into homes as of late which is fantastic!  Not only do plants clean the air and provide oxygen, they provide their home of soil to bring you gifts of good bacteria.

Watering tip: in order to expose yourself to the M. vaccae bacteria in your plant’s pot, place your finger deep into the plant’s soil to check it’s water level before giving your plant a drink!

But beyond the dirt?  Simply seeing your plants grow is associated with a more positive overall sense of well-being. Progress and growth are positive, maybe our plants are sending us a deeper message than we ever imagined!

Earthing 

This is a concept that is believed to improve sleep, reduce pain and improve mood (5) by walking barefoot in the dirt, grass and soil in the forest or parks and sand at the beach. With each step you are exposing your feet to the healthy bacteria found in the ground. Please make sure while you are earthing (or grounding) that you are walking in a safe, quiet space. Take a few deep breaths of the fresh air and enjoy connecting back to nature.

Collecting

This is another fun and easy task. While out on a nature walk (barefoot or not), collect and observe nature objects without disrupting ecosystems. You can collect rocks and brush the dirt off with your hands, pick wild flowers or weeds, discover different types of mosses by touching them gently or wash your hands in a clean, fresh water stream.

The important take away is dirt doesn’t necessarily mean ‘dirty’, especially when it comes to soil!  So get your hands in some soil to ease the quarantine blues!

 

Resources:

  1. https://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/01/05/study-linking-beneficial-bacteria-mental-health-makes-top-10-list-brain-research
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression
  3. https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/serotonin
  4. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/foods-to-restore-your-intestinal-flora/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/