It’s April, and little things are growing. Seeing buds on the trees and crocuses poke out of the ground inevitably gets us thinking about our summer veggie garden plans. Having a vegetable garden is a great way to grow your own local organic produce and reconnect with the land. Gardening can serve as a pleasant escape from our constant connectedness, but there’s another secret benefit that could make gardening your new favourite, and happiest, pastime.
Mycobacterium vaccae is a harmless species of bacteria found in soil that has been tested for use in immune-based therapies for everything from asthma to leprosy. After cancer patients received M. vaccae treatments and reported an increased quality of life and improved mood, a researcher at the University of Bristol was intrigued. Now, M. vaccae could be the newest treatment for depression, PTSD, and schizoprenia.
It has been well-established that chronic immune system imbalances are strongly associated with major depression, but it’s unclear whether the depression is derived from patients’ decreased quality of life or whether the immune system has a direct link to mood regulation. Some measures to counteract depression have included activation of the immune system and the use of antidepressant drugs. But antidepressant drugs have their own nasty set of side effects, including addiction.
In 2007, Christopher Lowry and his associates activated the immune systems of white mice with M. vaccae in order to test the link between the immune system and depression. They found that the soil-dwelling bacteria “had the exact same effect as antidepressant drugs” on the nervous systems of the mice, without the dangerous addictive side effects. The same friendly M. vaccae that had triggered the mice’s immune systems had triggered the production of serotonin (the brain chemical that keeps us happy) in their brains.
More recently, Lowry followed up with studies of fear and anxiety in mice and presented his findings at the 2015 IBNS meeting. He found that mice treated with M. vaccae were able to “proactively” deal with other aggressive animals than their untreated counterparts. Plus, the treated mice maintained more healthy and un-inflamed digestive systems throughout the study, without showing normal physiological signs of stress. He also found that treated mice were better able to recover from a conditioned fear (i.e. they lost their fear of the stimulus faster) than those who were not exposed to the soil bacteria.
In 2013, a study published by Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks in Behavioural Processes indicated that the ingestion of live M. vaccae produced reduced anxiety in white mice who were completing mazes for rewards. They also reported that the mice’s ability to learn the mazes improved with M. vaccae treatments, indicating that these friendly bacteria could not only be preventing the development of depression and reducing anxiety levels, but also enhancing brain function!
Interestingly, these studies’ findings support the effectiveness of certain centuries-old folk and Ayurvedic remedies that used cow dung and soil to treat inflammatory immune system diseases, hysteria, and depression. Lowry’s results suggest that even the simple inhalation of M. vaccae can be enough to boost your mood and reduce your stress. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry explained to Discover Magazine. So what are you waiting for? Get down and dirty with some of your friendly neighbourhood bacteria in the garden of your choosing to get happier, calmer, and smarter!
Are you interested in gardening this summer, but don’t know where or how to get started? Get in contact with us!
We’ll be showing off our permaculture setup and serving produce grown in our on-site kitchen garden during our 8th Annual Free School in Glassville, NB. You’re also welcome to schedule a site visit or tour throughout the summer.
In Fredericton, our staff will be managing plots at the NB Community Harvest Garden in Marysville and The Ville Cooperative. Get in contact with us to schedule a visit to our plots, or follow our gardeners’ adventures on social media with the hashtag #FBCGrows! We’ll also be showing off our green thumbs here on the blog, with regular updates and more posts like this one.