Dirty Cure for Depression (No Really, It’s Dirt!)
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Rates of depression have been skyrocketing. Teen depression rates leaped by more than 60% over the course of only three years. As a society, our mental and physical health is seriously declining. While feeling unhappiness, dissatisfaction or loneliness every so often is completely normal; prolonged periods of these negative feelings takes a real toll on our lives.
Question: When was the last time you got dirty?
No, really, when did you last go outside and bury your feet in the ground or pick veggies straight from the garden?
We live sterile lives indoors. Hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap are never more than a few steps away, and we clean our homes with germ-killing sprays and sanitizers. But what would you say if I told you that research conducted in recent years has revealed that the bacteria and microbes in dirt can aid in enhancing your immune system and boosting your mood?! Let’s further explore the mental and physical benefits of getting dirty.
Dirt Throughout Time
Studies show that children who reside on farms have a significant reduction in allergies, asthma, and gut-associated ailments when compared to children who grow in more sterile environments. This is recognized as “the Farm-Effect,” which links low microorganism exposure to a high vulnerability for developing allergies by limiting the natural progress of our immune system.
If you think about it, it makes sense. For hundreds of thousands of years, we have coexisted with bacteria and microbes and lived lives outdoors. Babies crawl, which in paleolithic times, would have meant spending a lot of time in the dirt! (Plus, babies have a knack for sticking things in their mouth.) Throughout the course of time, until recent times that is, tiny humans had constant daily access to the dirt and all sorts of other microorganisms that boost the immune system and influence gut bacteria. We all require little dirt in our existing lives.
Dirt, Soil Microbes, and Depression
Soil microbes such as Mycobacterium vaccae have been studied for their serotonin-boosting and anti-depressant effects on the brain. Serotonin deficiency has been linked to mood issues including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In a study conducted on lung cancer patients, the patients were injected with Mycobacterium vaccae, afterward reporting less anxiety and an enhanced quality of life.
Ready to Get Dirty?
The microorganisms living in our natural environment have positive effects on our mood, immune system, and more! Below are some of the other top reasons to go outside and connect with nature:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Lowered anxiety
- Boosted cognitive function: Being outside engages your senses. Your brain gets a boost as it works to problem-solve and memorize your environment.
- Reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- If you’re playing outside in the dirt, the sunlight is helping you manufacture Vitamin D, and regulates your circadian rhythm, which means better sleep!
- Children who spend more time playing outside are more courageous, energetic, and imaginative!
The growing body of research on the human microbiome continually points to the impact of microbes on our long-standing health. Despite being invisible to the naked eye, millions of microscopic bacteria and microbes exist on your skin and in your gut. These bacteria have vital roles in everything from controlling your mood, to the development of diseases like arthritis and diabetes.
Outdoors as a Cure for Depression
Science knows that microbes in the natural world play a vital role in our health. Several antibiotics (like penicillin) are manufactured from the microbes that originate in the dirt.
The majority of the healthy bacteria our bodies benefit from are found in soil. Children flourish when they are allowed to play outside, but us grownups can get some fun nature time too! Gardening is a hobby that keeps on giving. Reap all the benefits of spending time outside in the sun, fresh air, and dirt. Plus, if you grow organic berries yourself, you can eat them fresh from the garden (without washing) knowing they’re safe and more health-packed than anything you’d buy on the shelf at the grocery store.
As the paleo diet and lifestyle movement carries on, researchers are beginning to take a look at re-establishing the relationship between humans and the earth. Research is ongoing, and the antidepressant effects of getting outside back up what gardeners have been saying for years: gardening is better than therapy and good for the soul!
Biome Building: Rebuilding the Microbiome
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when you’re feeling nervous? Have you ever felt a sense of dread, like your stomach’s dropping, when receiving bad news? Ever had a “gut feeling” about a person? This is because the human body has a “second brain” that we are just starting to learn about. This second brain’s location? The gut.
WHAT IS THE HUMAN MICROBIOME
The 2-pound community of microbes living in and on our bodies is called the microbiome. These microbes seriously outnumber our human cells; we have about 10x as many outside organisms within our bodies than we do human cells.
The vast majority of our microbiome is located in our digestive systems, which is where we also find our second brain. Or more scientifically, the enteric nervous system. There are neurons embedded in the walls of our gut, which measures nine meters from esophagus to anus.
Scientists have discovered that ~90% of the fibers in the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain, and not from the brain downwards! Breakthroughs in science are being made on how the trillions of bacteria in our gut— the microbiome— communicate with the neurons in our gut lining.
The microbiome is responsible for more than you might realize. From controlling how many calories you extract from food and causing cravings, to impacting our mood and whether we suffer from allergies. If we learn how to get our gut bacteria in check, we can use this to our advantage to control how fast our metabolism works, boost our energy, prevent disease (up to 90% of all diseases can be traced back to the gut/microbiome), and extract more nutrients from our food.
WHAT DISEASES ARE CONNECTED TO THE MICROBIOME
Your gut houses 70% of your immune system. If you don’t have a healthy gut balance, your immune system will be severely affected. To read in depth about the three main types of bacteria that determine the health of the gut: beneficial, commensal, and pathogenic, check out our article on gut bacteria.
Poor gut health is tied to many health concerns and diseases. Autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and IBS, cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s, dementia), asthma, allergies, autoimmunity, fatigue and brain fog, parasite infections, fungal overgrowth, infertility, type 1 diabetes, gluten sensitivity, mood disorders (anxiety, depression), learning disabilities (ADHD), and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), just to name a few.
Preliminary findings show that in our day and age, our microbiomes are becoming increasingly unbalanced due to the dietary shift towards processed foods (which contain all sorts of pesticides, artificial food additives, artificial sweeteners and food coloring, MSG, and unlabeled genetically engineered ingredients), more C-section deliveries (going through the birth canal exposes newborns to vital microorganisms which “seed” the gut), increased antibiotics use (whose stated purpose is to (negatively) affect microbial life- killing both the bad and the good).
As you can see, a healthy gut community is crucial to your health, but modern conveniences have limited diversity within our gut flora, negatively affecting our health. Luckily for us, there are many changes we can make to take control of our microbiome and nurture a healthy community within.
REBUILDING THE MICROBIOME
The Microbiome Diet: Eating to support immunity and lower inflammation:
It’s critical to lower inflammation and support gut health. An elimination diet (cutting out certain foods that irritate your body or that don’t promote your health) is a great way to go about supporting a healthy gut. Paleo and autoimmune diets are two great starting points. Clean meats, clean fats, non starchy vegetables, and low-sugar/low-glycemic fruits are safe choices.
Foods to eliminate are the common culprits of inflammation, digestion issues, and brain fog. These include sugars, nightshades, nuts/seeds, dairy, and eggs.
Start adding back foods after it’s been at least 4 weeks and your symptomatic improvement has plateaued for at least 1 week. The basic structure of food reintroduction is to start with one very small serving (one scoop, one teaspoon, etc.) and increase the serving size over that three- to four-day period, seeing if we can tolerate it. We want to start food reintroduction with eggs, then nuts and seeds, dairy next, then nightshades, and lastly FODMAPS (click here for Dr. J’s guide to FODMAP).
Watch Dr J’s video, where he talks more in depth about his food elimination diet recommendations: Autoimmune Elimination Diets Can Help Improve Leaky Gut and Inflammation.
Other ways to establish a strong microbiome:
Limit your sugar intake. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. About one hundred years ago, each person was consuming an average of 3–4 pounds of sugar per year; now it’s about 150 pounds.
Get in your probiotics and prebiotics. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi are great sources of probiotics, while dandelion greens and plantains offer plenty of prebiotics.
Drink bone broth. Bone broth supports a healthy gut lining and provides a cornucopia of vitamins and minerals for your bones, as well as collagen for your joints, skin, and hair.
Avoid antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t discriminate, they eliminate both bad and good gut bacteria, which leaves you with a defenseless immune system and at a higher risk for infections and inflammation.
Listen to your gut (and nurture it to optimal health!). Leaky gut allows foods and unwanted bacteria in the intestinal tract to slip into the bloodstream. This can put stress on the immune system and is the main cause of autoimmune disease for most people.
Get dirty! We evolved in the dirty outdoor world, and our modern disposition towards all that is sterile deprives us of a plethora of the microbes the world has to offer us! Backyard soil actually contains bacteria that can produce serotonin in our systems, acting as a natural antidepressant!
Fostering a healthy microbiome comes naturally when we listen to our bodies and take care of ourselves. A clean diet and dirty lifestyle are two keys to success! Roll around with a dog in the dirt, pay attention to what foods work for you and which give you issues, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure.