Back to Health, Back to the Land

| 9/10/2008 10:45:17 AM

GardeningMany gardeners feel that digging in the dirt and planting seeds helps them relax. Now researchers have found that gardening can have real physical and psychological health benefits. According to an article in Psychology Today (article not available online), gardening exposes people to soil-borne microbes called Mycobacterium vaccae that can stimulate their immune systems. The same microbes also boost the levels serotonin in mice, much like prozac and other antidepressants. Some researchers think that depriving children from playing in the dirt may have led to the recent rise in immune disorders, including asthma. Daniel Marano writes for Psychology Today that “the components of the soil itself might be as critical to human heath as the finest fruits and veggies grown in it.”

9/13/2008 11:16:19 AM

Of course this is true. Why are we so surprised that our immune systems are enhanced by contact with dirt? It is after all our natural environemt from which we have emerged and only in recent years have we become obsessed with extreme cleanliness. It is extremely likely that asthma is at least linked to weakness in our immune system and ironically, the harder we try to protect our children from disease, the more we put them at risk. It would be better to allow a sensible exposure to our natual environment, including mud and dirt, so that our children can develop a strong natural immunity. It has recently been shown that in families where there are boys, the overall incidence of asthma is lower than in families of girls only, surely because boys revel more in "dirty" play and are less likely to follow maternal instructions that lead to an obsession with cleanliness.

Rachel Levitt
9/10/2008 2:03:25 PM

I've definitely heard this idea from other sources. It makes me think about how obsessed our society is with antibacterial products (hand soap, wipes for grocery carts, etc.) and how that leads not only to increased susceptibility to illness but also to antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases. Unless you live in a plastic bubble, building up natural immunity is essential, so go make a mud pie.

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