What Microbes Have To Do With Our Mental Health

Here at Food2Soil, we often talk about the wide benefits of microbes in the soil. Just as the human gut microbiome is dependent on microbes to function at its best, so is soil!

Josie, Food2Soil Co-founder and dietitian has always been interested in the role microbes play in human health and the parallels between the functionality of our digestive system and soil. Both soil and the gut are reliant on our unseen heroes, microbes, to increase immunity and build resilience to pests, allergies, and diseases, and boost health and vitality. In addition, specific bacteria found in soil are also a primary source of antibiotics and other medicines.

Through research, we now understand microbial diversity below ground equals abundant and healthy life above ground. When there is thriving life in the soil, plants and crops are less likely to be affected by pests above ground. As discovered by researchers, microbes feed and support the area around the plant’s roots, called the rhizosphere. Microbes help break down essential nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive, plants also emit substances that feed the microbes..and we in turn eat the produce!

In areas where regenerative agriculture farming methods are practised, it is reported that foods not only taste better but have a wider range of microbial life in and around them, which the human gut directly benefits.

And The Cycle Continues!

It doesn’t end here. Not only do microbes benefit our digestive and physical health, but research is now linking microbes to improved emotional and mental health. Modern lifestyles and industrial agricultural practices have led to a reduction in our connection with soils, contributing to the depletion of soils, and consequently the gut microbiome, adversely affecting life globally.

Research Exploring Microbes and Human Health

In 1908, Nobel prize winner Elie Metchnikoff was the first to observe that those living in a region of Bulgaria consuming large amounts of fermented food in their diet tended to live longer. This gave rise to the popularity of probiotic foods with health benefits and further studies into what we eat – and the relationship between food, health and well-being.

Years later, researchers are still discovering how microbes, such as the common bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae found in soil can act as an antidepressant, boosting levels of happy hormones and serotonin, while reducing the stress hormone, cortisol. In recent years, scientists have also found beneficial bacteria, namely Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium, significantly reduce psychological distress in the form of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The Smell of Rain and Microbes

Gardeners, you will love this one.

Did you know microbes are responsible for half of the chemical composition of petrichor, the wonderful soul-lifting aroma soils exude after rainfall on Earth? This is partly thanks to the microbial life in the soil producing a chemical called geosmin, combined with broken down long chain fatty acids from plant leaves. It doesn’t take decades of research to know that the smell of petrichor would often have a positive impact on a farmer’s or gardener’s mood – particularly in Australia, indicating moisture landing on dry soils!

Spending Time in Nature Improves Physical Health, Mental Health and Well-being

Gardening, walking or simply sitting in a green space provides a myriad of benefits including reduced stress, anxiety and negative thoughts, and these activities are now being prescribed by doctors to combat various different conditions, as well as factors linked to ill health such as loneliness and isolation.

Microbes Build a Better World

In the process of caring for, touching and tending to soils and eating produce direct from our veggie patch, we gardeners are unknowingly consuming trace amounts of microbes and receiving the life-enhancing benefits (both physical and mental) they provide.

By eating food from healthy soils, we can feel better and in the process, create a more sustainable future. Healthy soil really is a key component of a healthier world, which is why one of Food2Soil’s core missions is to nourish and return life back to the soil.

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