When I was a kid, parents let their kids play outside after school and on weekends until the street lights went on. You could always tell where the children were by their tell-tale bicycles, parked or left lying in the yard in front of a neighbor’s house.
Every mom and dad know that it’s pretty much impossible to keep everything that isn’t properly food out of their children’s mouths. Everything is new to them and toddlers will scoop up a handful of dirt to sample its deliciousness.
You would think that, if dirt were bad for kids, they would spit it out (a la “ack ack ptooie ptooie”) and never sample it again. But no. How many times did my mom or dad instruct me not to eat the soil that was so abundant in the yard all around me?
Why do children eat dirt – and keep on eating it, unless some serious parenting happens? Do these tots know something we don’t know?
There is a detox where you consume bentonite clay and it absorbs intestinal toxins for natural elimination. When hosts in California raved about the great results and urged my traveling companion and me to give it a go, I accepted and tried to convince myself that the steaming mixture was very much like cocoa. But I couldn’t because it wasn’t.
I was drinking a mug a clay infused in hot water. As I recall, after a few perfunctory sips, I set down the mug and avoided it. There were no remarkable health consequences, good or bad, from this scant trial. I have to admit that I balked at the idea of “drinking mud.”
Kids, of course, have no such food prejudice. They eat worms – enough said. (And yes, worms are a valuable source of protein and served regularly in other parts of the world. More power to them, but I’ll pass, thank you very much.)
It also turns out – and this really blew my mind – that soil contains microbes (microorganisms that are invisible to the naked eye but visible under a microscope) that soil contains a natural antidepressant.
An antidepressant, such as Prozac, elevates your mood and makes you feel relaxed, happy, and good about life. The synthetic versions can have wicked side effects, especially when mixed with alcohol.
Not so natural soil – dirt, in lay terms. A soil microbe called Mycobacterium vaccae achieves the same effect on neurons as Big Pharma antidepressants but without the negative side effects.
Researchers believe that these wee, friendly germs may up the production of serotonin in the brain and the intestines. That’s the feel-good neural transmitter known as the “happy chemical” because…it makes you feel happy. More is better, if you catch my drift.
Low levels of serotonin have been linked to several serious health conditions, including:
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar psychological problems
Mycobacterium antidepressant microbes found in ordinary soil are also being looked at to improve cognitive function, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis.
Technically speaking, those antidepressant microbes in soil elevate levels of cytokine – microscopic proteins important in cell signaling. This triggers more production of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” serotonin in the body.
In 2011, a research team led by Paul Greengard revealed their truly shocking findings after studying the relationship between antiinflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs (commonly prescribed antidepressants).
These investigative scientists identified a specific molecular pathway that is responsible for your mood. The group of scientists had already found that a certain protein called p11 dictates depressive-like states and antidepressant responses.
The 2011 study went on to show that “antidepressants increase brain levels of certain cytokines, which increase p11 levels, which then induce antidepressant-like behavioral responses.”
That study also found that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) “antagonized both the induction of p11” which suggests that such medications could cause depression:
“…levels of numerous cytokines in the brain are enhanced by treatment with SSRIs, with increases blocked by nonsteroidal NSAIDs such as ibuprofen.”
According to researcher Solomon H. Snyder, who reported on the study, “patients receiving SSRIs should be advised that concomitant ingestion of NSAIDs and related drugs may diminish the therapeutic efficacy of their antidepressant regimen.”
In other words, if you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, they may reduce the therapeutic effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors you also take.
But kids and gardeners around the world know that playing in the dirt is nature’s way of feeling better. Now, we know why.
So go ahead and go outside. Find some nice, earthy soil (avoid the dog walk, know what I mean?) and get out the toy trucks or a trowel.
Dirt: it’s not just for kids anymore.