There is a natural product that surrounds us, and can have the same effect as Prozac (without any of the side effects) when we get down and dirty with it.

That substance is soil, and it contains Mycobacterium Vaccae, a type of bacteria that can stimulate serotonin production. These microbes are also being studied for their potential to increase cognitive function and treat Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, skin diseases and other inflammatory conditions.

In rats, studies have shown that exposure to M. Vaccae decreases stress and increases cognitive performance and concentration levels.

Other studies have found that harvesting fruits and veggies from the garden causes a release of dopamine, the reward hormone that can be triggered even from just seeing ripe berry before it is plucked.

Gardeners are “infected” with this bacteria through inhaling the microbes, skin contact and small abrasions that allow the microbes into the bloodstream. The bacteria then causes the release of cytokines, which prompts the body to produce more serotonin.

Lack of serotonin has been directly linked with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety. Most gardeners will tell you that gardening is calming, soothing and leaves them feeling good for a long time afterward. If the studies done so far are anything to go by, that feeling can last up to three weeks after the exposure. Other natural antidepressant sources can be found here and here, or at our page dedicated entirely to Gut Health.

So what should I do?

·         Take up gardening! Even if you don’t have the outdoor space, start off with some indoor potplants and investigate the nearest allotment complex.

·         If gardening just isn’t your thing, then find other ways to get muddy – outdoor sports like rugby, hockey and football will leave you gloriously decked out in Mycobacterium Vaccae.

·         If none of the above appeals to you, simply reading a book in the grass of a park may get you some exposure.

·         Read about other natural spaces that can induce happiness through a variety of mechanisms.