Get High(er) on Dirt: How Huffing Soil Will Make You Happier, Smarter, and More Stress Free
Have you ever wondered why dogs love to roll around in the dirt, why you can’t ever seem to get enough of that sun baked soil smell when you shove your face into Fido’s fur, or why people place their hands near their nose when they are concentrating? The answer lies in the dirt.
Meet Mycobacterium vaccae, a dirt-dwelling microbe implicated in reducing anxiety, elevating mood, and improving learning ability. It can be inhaled from soil, ingested via organic garden vegetables (i.e. not chemi-waxed franken-veggies from your local Monsanto farm), or absorbed through cuts on the skin*. In addition to its cognitive performance boosting, anxiolytic, and anti-depressant properties, M. vaccae is also being investigated as a treatment for cancer, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers believe that the M. vaccae wonder bug accomplishes what it does (at least in part) by triggering a release of the neurotransmitter serotonin (often dubbed the “happy hormone”), which although it exists in other parts of the body cannot cross the blood brain barrier, and must therefore be synthesized in the brain in order to be used there.
In general, serotonin tends to exhibit inhibitory effects on functions such as sexual behavior, appetite, aggression and pain perception. It is also involved in sleep, memory, learning, temperature regulation, mood, behavior, muscle contraction, depression, cardiovascular function, endocrine regulation, regulating aging, bone metabolism and wound healing.
Depressed individuals tend to show significantly lower serotonin levels than their non-depressed counterparts and low levels of serotonin have also been associated with increased aggressive behavior, as well as higher levels of impulsivity, irritability, disordered eating and sleeping problems.
So, go outside, get your hands dirty, and inhale the sweet scent of delicious Myobacterium vaccae.
*WARNING: Do not actually inhale or ingest soil. Merely being in the aromatherapeutic presence of M. vaccae is enough to breathe it in. If you can smell earthiness, you’re most likely getting a fair dose. Inhaling particulates on the other hand, is generally harmful and potentially life threatening. On that note, while a few tiny speckles of dirt on your strawberry may be beneficial, consuming a hand full could trigger a potentially life threatening immune response that causes your body to eat itself, so be sure to exercise logical moderation and remember that if we had evolved to eat dirt in large quantities we would likely already be doing so.
American Society for Microbiology. (2010, May 25). Can bacteria make you smarter?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100524143416.htm
Matthews, D. M., & Jenks, S. M. (2013). Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behavioural processes, 96, 27-35.