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!
How Our Emotions Affect Our Physical Health
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Your sense of health and wellness is determined by a combination of things, including how you feel emotionally, psychologically, and mentally.
An exchange of messages is constantly taking place inside of us. Researchers have found that our emotions create signals that our hearts send to our brains. These messages to our brain determine which chemicals and hormones we produce and course throughout our entire body.
When we feel negative emotions—like rage, disgust, suspicion, and anger—the heart sends a signal to the brain that reflects our mindset. Such emotions are unbalanced and disordered, and this is exactly how the messages they send to the brain arrive—chaotic and unhealthy.
Stress and Anxiety
When we have a whirlwind of a day and our emotions are all over the place, our body reads these ups and downs as anxiety. This sets into motion several mechanisms to help us act in response to this nervous tension.
The anxiety or stress from negative emotions enhances the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the blood, and as a result, the stress hormones prepare our body for a fast and potent reaction to whatever is leading to the stress. Our bodies prepare to either deal with the cause of our stress, or to run as fast as we can away from it. You may be familiar with this concept, commonly referred to as “fight or flight.”
Suppressing Your Emotions
If, on the other hand, you are someone who suppresses your emotions, you are probably harming your body in a different yet still intense way. Emotions exist for a reason: they help our physical body react appropriately to the situation we are in and how we feel about it. When we feel emotion and process it healthily, we defend ourselves from the problems at hand and overcome them—both physically and mentally. While the pace of our modern life can make it difficult to process all of the stressors we face on a daily basis, it’s healthier to learn to listen to your body. When we ignore our emotions and let stress overcome us, there’s a serious price we have to pay.
Avoiding emotions can be very harmful to your health, mentally and physically. Research shows that suppressing emotions is linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular ailments. Whether you are facing rage, depression, unhappiness, or disappointment, pushing those feelings to the side causes real physical stress on your body. Over time, untreated anxiety and stress can lead to an enlarged risk of diabetes, memory problems, nervousness, and chronic depression. In other words, making your mind to hide your feelings, paying no attention to them, or trying to convince yourself that there is no need to manage them can literally make you ill.
Developing a Healthy Connection with Your Emotions
If you aren’t used to listening to your emotions, it may feel intimidating or kind of odd. You might have spent a large chunk of your life avoiding your feelings, so you need to gain self-assurance about what you’re feeling and become skilled at trusting your emotions.
There are several healthy habits to positively deal with how you are feeling. Journaling, meditating, talking with a friend, or trying talk-therapy with a qualified professional. You may also be interested in taking adaptogenic herbs as a tea or tincture. Adaptogens are a natural way you can improve your body’s response to stress.
We all deal with our emotions differently. The important part is that you are dealing with the stressors that come up in your daily life in a healthy way, rather than brushing them off, or allowing them to overtake you. Your health depends on it!