My decades as an alternative health practitioner leads me to varying reading that might not be readily available, and sometimes I find priceless little tidbits. A study in the Neuroscience Journal from 2007 found that exposure to the bacteria found in dirt boosts Seratonin levels in the brain. Gardeners already know this, even if they don’t know the science behind it.
Seratonin is the neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of serenity, peace, joy and happiness. Seratonin also balances Dopamine, the excitability neurotransmitter that makes us nervous, edgy, irritable and sharp. Digging in the dirt literally is an anti-depressant. Studies also have shown that kids that dig in the dirt are exposed in a healthy way to bacteria that improve their immune systems. You don’t have to dig barehanded; sitting, kneeling, and as you know – scooting and crawling sometimes – will do it. Once you start digging and planting, the bacterium spores are available airborn as you breathe.
But no need to tell anyone reading this blog; if you are having a bad day, go out into the garden! No wonder sending kids outdoors to play helps so many things. And perhaps the dramatic rise in antidepressant medication prescriptions might have to do with the urbanization of our culture, travelling in vehicles, using electronics instead of playing outside, and the lack of connection to the earth. Many times I would ask a patient: “When was the last time you walked barefoot on the earth?”, and many times that person couldn’t remember. Amazing!
Even when I didn’t have time to “garden” and only planted annuals, containers or the occasional hardy evergreen, I couldn’t get through the day without sitting outdoors and breathing the plant-cleansed air. I think if I hadn’t been in the healthcare industry for so long, I would never have realized just how many people don’t do these basic things. People go on vacation to rejuvenate; oftentimes these vacations are the only connection people get to the earth and mother nature. I can’t imagine living in a city like New York or Hong Kong, where asphalt, conrete and dirty air is a way of life.
And though I haven’t yet seen a study on it, I’m convinced that water, especially ocean water, contains the same seratonin-boosting qualities. I’m never as happy as when I’ve spent a week on the ocean. I think I need a vacation!