Get Outdoors to Get Your Bacteria

Hikers

Turns out that bacteria are critical to your health.  In fact some researchers suggest that microbes may outnumber human cells in a typical body by as many as 10 to 1 and many of those microbes are bacteria.  We know that a few species of these bacteria are good for us and a few are bad for us, but for the most part we have no idea what they are doing.  Recent research has found one bacterium that is particularly good for us, Mycobacterium vaccae, and we get it if we get outdoors enough.

Mycobacterium vaccae

Mycobacterium vaccae is normally found in soil.  Scientists have been investigating its effect, primarily using mice,  to see what good it might do.  The research suggests these benefits:

  • an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effect
  • positive effects in treating tuberculosis
  • increase in learning ability

Getting it Outdoors

GardeningIn 2007, Dr. Chris Lowry performed research at Bristol University in Bristol, England,  that revealed the anti-depressant effects of this bacterium.  At the time, he said, “These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health. They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

Researcher Dorothy Mathews at The Sage Universities in Troy, New York,  fed the mice in her experiments live bacteria so they got it in about the same way people would in nature.  She found that mice exposed to the bacteria could complete a maze in half the time as mice that did not eat the bacteria.  Not only that,  they retained their skill for three weeks after the bacteria was removed from their diet.  She says: “If you think about it, when we look at our evolutionary history, we spent a lot of time as hunter-gatherers, or even more recently in agriculture, where we had lots of contact with the soil. It’s only been the last 100 years or so that we’ve become more urbanized and are eating our foods in a different way.” It’s this change that has lead people to lack this particular bacterium in their bodies.

Whether you are eating carrots fresh out of the garden or hiking a dusty trail you are likely ingesting Mycobacterium vaccae and improving your mood.  So there’s yet another reason to get out and explore.  Keep it up!

References

C.A. Lowry, et al (2007). Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior. Neuroscience, Volume 146, Issue 2, 756–772

Matthews, D.M. & Jenks, S.M. (2013). Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in miceBehavioural Processes96, 27-35

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