You know the outdoors has considerable benefits for your mental and physical health.
Previously, researchers associated spending time in the open air with substantial mood improvements. However, they remained uncertain about precisely how these mechanisms worked.
Now, new research suggests antidepressant microbes in soil can have a beneficial effect on the way the body manages serotonin. It promises an exciting natural method for treating depression.
Read on to learn how soil makes you happy, and how you can reap these benefits even if you don’t have a diagnosis.
Why Are Imbalanced Brain Chemicals Like Serotonin Hard to Remedy?
If you have clinical depression, you may have reduced serotonin transmission or altered levels of the substance (1). This brain chemical regulates your appetite and sleeping patterns. It also plays a role in inhibiting pain, and researchers associate low levels of a byproduct of this substance with increased suicide risk.
Other neurotransmitters also play vital roles in brain function. These include the following:
- Norepinephrine: While this chemical typically triggers anxiety, researchers also associate it with certain types of depression.
- Dopamine: This chemical is critical to movement, which can explain why some individuals with depression struggle with daily tasks. It also influences motivation. Many scientists associate imbalances of this chemical with substance abuse because it activates the brain’s pleasure center.
- Glutamate: Glutamate is thought to excite the mind and play a role in disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia. Researchers believe lithium works in patients with these conditions by smoothing out the highs and lows over time.
- Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA): This brain chemical serves an inhibitory function. Alcohol increases levels of this substance, which causes the signature slurred speech and slows reaction times.
With all these substances in play, depression is a complex disorder to treat. Antidepressant medications often seek to balance out the levels of these chemicals to help the individual achieve peak mental health. However, because it is challenging to determine which of these neurotransmitters causes the underlying problem, treatment often involves significant trial and error.
Nutritional factors also play a crucial role in protecting your brain health. For example, deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids often correlate to chronic diseases like depression and Alzheimer’s. Much of the global population doesn’t get enough of these substances, which you can find in foods like nuts. You can also get your intake from flax or chia seeds.
Magnesium is another nutrient that is vital to alleviating depression naturally. Researchers recently gave 126 adults with depression 248 milligrams of magnesium every day for six months. Over 89% of the study participants showed clinically significant improvements in anxiety and depressive symptoms . Many participants bettered their mood in as few as two weeks with this protocol.
External influences also impact the levels of brain chemicals like serotonin. For example, prolonged, chronic stress increases the amount of the hormone cortisol but decreases serotonin and dopamine (4). Sometimes, one challenging situation — such a loved one’s death — is all it takes to cause this response. The body’s amounts don’t return to normal, perhaps because other factors — like new financial pressures — arise in the wake.
The final complicating factor is that having a chronic illness itself qualifies as an ongoing stressor. Depressed individuals, like those with other disorders, may run into repeated issues with employment. The financial strain then causes continual problems.
Antidepressant Microbes in Soil
What can you do if you feel blue and you want to improve your mood quickly?
More critically, if you are one of the many without the means to seek the necessary professional help, is there a holistic remedy that might ease your suffering?
Fortunately, new research holds a promise that yes, you can boost your mood. Mother Nature may provide aid if you immerse yourself in her healing wonders.
One mechanism through which your physical body determines your behavior involves your brain stem. Your brainstem contains unique nerves called serotonergic systems, designed to transport the neurotransmitter serotonin. Researchers recently discovered that a common bacteria found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, activated these neurons in a specific region of the stem.
When the antidepressant microbes in soil activate these neurons, it directly stimulates an increase in serotonin metabolism in a region of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
This area of your mind controls your fear response and aids explicitly in the extinction of conditioned fear (7). This increase could substantially impact behavior, particularly in depressed patients.
How? Think about the last time you suffered a fright and your anxiety flew through the roof. Remember, not all stress is negative. When you see a bear, for example, adrenaline and cortisol get your legs moving and transport you out of range before the bruin spies you. However, your brain chemicals fall out of balance when this tension continues for too long.
Right now, everyone is wondering when they can re-emerge from their homes free from fear and participate in favorite activities. If you lack sufficient financial resources, you may worry your job will fall into jeopardy.
If you’ve already endured unemployment, you may wonder how long it will take before you can find another suitable position that pays the equivalent salary and benefits of your previous post. Many jobs nowadays don’t include coverage as part of the package, at least to start.
The longer this drags on, the more your brain chemical supply will start to dwindle. Remember, increased stress hormone production equates to lower levels of serotonin and dopamine. That downward spiral starts to swirl like a sucking black hole of despair. Before you know it, you find yourself curled up on a ball on your couch, unwilling to participate in the very activities that could bring you relief.
Could you ease your pain — and your brain — by digging in your garden? This research suggests that yes, you can.
How Soil Makes You Happy — Suggested Activities
For the magic of M. vaccae to work its magic, you need to expose yourself to it. If you hear the word bacteria, don’t automatically flee in terror. Some of these microbes, like many in your intestines, perform beneficial immune functions, as well as improve your mood (8).
Here are five ways to enjoy all the microbes that soil has to offer:
Gardening, of course, is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the antidepressant microbes in soil. Even if you only have a small patio, you can still garden with much success. Make sure you’re using high-quality organic soil, and start some seedlings indoors so that when it’s time for planting, the plants are well established. If you don’t have the money to buy sprouting containers, you can use old egg crates to start sprouts from seeds from the produce you eat.
There’s also the attachment to your garden. If you’ve ever gardened before, you know how much effort it takes. And because of this, we naturally feel responsible for the survival of our crops. If you forget to water, your plants die – that’s a lot of responsibility! Caring for something other than yourself can be gratifying and purposeful. In addition, all that hard work you put into your garden will eventually gift you with some of the tastiest fruit and vegetables you could possibly imagine.
If you want your garden to grow with much success, think about doing some companion planting. This will ensure that the plants you grow next to each other benefit each other in some way, helping them grow faster and stronger.
If you want to get your hands dirty and save money, why not learn to make a compost bin with your organic food scraps? You will need to head out regularly to add new material and churn the old, but it’s well worth it for the nutrient-rich soil you’ll reap at the end.
You can either start a heap in your back yard and regularly toss it with browns like dead leaves or straw, or you can invest in a composter like the Joraform Composter, which is insulated for winter use.
3. Enhance Your Deck or Patio
If you have any extra time to spruce up your deck or patio, consider adding some plants to boost your mood. All you need is some soil, planters, and some plants. If you can manage to get your hands on some relatively large planters, you can grow things like beets, carrots, potatoes, kale, tomatoes and much more.
Alternatively, if you live somewhere where it doesn’t get too cool in the winter, you can plant some more hardy year-round plants as decoration.
4. Collect Flora and Fauna
Do you have little ones who could use some outdoor activity as well as a homeschool lesson in biology? When you go for a walk, take a pair of binoculars and identify the various species of birds you see. Challenge yourself to identify them by their songs. You can also use the PictureThis app if you have an iPhone to identify your region’s native plants.
You can collect various items like moss, tiny plants, rocks, and forest soil to create your own terrarium and watch it naturally grow in the new home you created for it.
If you have a backyard and can spread out on the lawn, I highly encourage you to do it! Not only will you get the grounding effects from being on the land, but you’ll be close enough to the ground to inhale any antidepressant microbes from the soil beneath you.
Other Ways to Boost Your Mood Naturally
While immersing yourself in nature and breathing in beneficial microbes acts as a natural antidepressant, there are other modalities you can take advantage of to help boost your mood.
Here are some other holistic therapies you might want to try:
- Improve your diet: As much as you might feel tempted to binge on low-quality carbs like chips and pretzels right now, try to stick to wholesome, plant-based foods made from unprocessed ingredients. Check out the recipe eBook ‘Freedom from Inflammation’ to include more anti-inflammatory meals into your diet. They’ll naturally improve your immunity and leave you feeling full and satisfied.
- Get some exercise: When you feel depressed, moving around can be the last thing you want to do. However, one way to psychologically motivate yourself is to promise you’ll only force yourself through the motions for 10 minutes. Chances are, once you start a workout, you will find the motivation to finish once those feel-good endorphins begin taking effect
- Adopt a calming routine: When you become overwhelmed, your brain chemicals do all sorts of party tricks that leave you feeling worse. If you struggle with addiction, this tension can act as a trigger to make you engage in harmful habits. You can interrupt vicious, racing thoughts with a calming routine. Try practicing yoga for approximately 10-15 minutes, then listen to an uplifting guided meditation video on YouTube. You can follow this with a relaxing bath or — yes — a nap. Whichever healthy routines stop the cycle will work.
The Bottom Line
Antidepressant microbes in soil offer one answer for how getting outdoors makes you feel more positive overall. One of the best ways of taking advantage of this is by gardening, composting and increasing the number of plants you have indoors.
The next time you’re feeling stressed spurs a low mood, head outside and breathe in those happy bugs!