Dirt Microbes Increase Serotonin
A certain healthy bacteria found in soil, Mycobacterium Vaccae, has been found to release serotonin levels in the human brain. The neurotransmitter Serotonin regulates mood, improves the immune system, memory, and social behavior. Depression, anxiety, bipolar and obsessive/compulsive disorders have all been linked to low serotonin levels. So, basically, getting your hands in the dirt can stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, which in turn makes you happy and healthier.
The happy microbes can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin while gardening. It is also possible for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream through a cut or scrape. Studies show that the health benefits may be felt for up to 3 weeks after contact and can work as well as anti-depressant drugs.
The Mycobacterium is also being studied for its positive impact on ailments such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pain. Cognitive functions have also been shown to improve. Some studies have shown that exposure to the soil bacteria by children will help protect against allergies and asthma later in life. So the next time your child makes mud pies or plays trucks in the dirt, you can feel good about it.
Since serotonin plays a role in learning, scientists hypothesized that exposure to Mycobacterium would make their mice smarter. Mice fed the bacterium navigated the maze twice as fast as the other mice.
A survey completed by Gardeners World Magazine reported that 80% of those who gardened felt happy and satisfied with their lives compared to 67% of those who did not garden. And those who spent a longer time tending their gardens, six or more hours per week, reported feeling happier than those spending less time.
Plant Harvesting Triggers Dopamine Release
Anyone who has grown their own food or flowers knows the happy feeling of harvesting their crops. Now the science reveals that the feeling of joy you feel picking an apple is due to a dopamine surge in the brain.
The neurotransmitter dopamine helps control the centers in the brain related to pleasure and reward. It can also help with memory, focus, and sleep. Abnormal levels of dopamine can be the cause of eating, sex and drug addictions.
Dopamine bursts are why we seek out pleasurable activities. Dopamine mediates addictive and impulsive behaviors. Gardening can trigger these pleasure sites in the brain in a healthy way by either sight, smell or the picking of fruits and vegetables. That’s why we love to pick strawberries and why they don’t last long in the bowl on the way to the house. By filling up our pleasure centers with gardening we can avoid overindulging in eating, drinking, and shopping.
For years mental health professionals have used gardening for mental health patients. Horticulture Therapy recognizes the garden environment as having therapeutic benefits and has been used for war veterans since the 1940s.
For those of us that are avid gardeners, science has reinforced what we have experienced first hand; Gardening lifts our mood, lowers our stress, and puts a smile on our face, filling us with a pleasurable feeling of well being.