Disconnection of man and the soil
Healthy soil, healthy people
The microbial community in the ground is as important as the one in our guts.
MIKE AMARANTHUS & BRUCE ALLYNJUN 11 2013, 9:06 AM ET
. . . . With the release last summer of the results of the five-year National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project, we are told we should think of ourselves as a "superorganism," a residence for microbes with whom we have coevolved, who perform critical functions and provide services to us, and who outnumber our own human cells ten to one.
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But there is another major revolution in human health also just beginning based on an understanding of tiny organisms. It . . . allows us to understand and restore our collaborative relationship with microbiota not in the human gut but in another dark place: the soil.
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. . . As Michael Pollan recently noted, "Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their 'old friends' -- the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved."
. . . By many calculations, the living soil is the Earth's most valuable ecosystem, providing ecological services such as climate regulation, mitigation of drought and floods, soil erosion prevention, and water filtration, worth trillions of dollars each year.
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We hear about many endangered animals in the Amazon and now all around the world. We all know about the chainsaw-wielding workers cutting trees in the rainforest. But we hear relatively little about the destruction of the habitat of kingdoms of life beyond plant and animal -- that of bacteria and fungi. Some microbiologists are now warning us that we must stop the destruction of the human microbiome, and that important species of microorganisms may have already gone extinct, some which might possibly play a key role in our health.
Real soil is good for mood and learning
Many people, including me, talk about the restorative benefits of gardening (see last Tuesday’s post, for example) and the reasons why it makes us feel good. Just being in nature is already therapeutic, but actively connecting with nature through gardening is value-added. And why is that? All sorts of reasons have been posited: It’s a meditative practice; it’s gentle exercise; it’s fun; it allows us to be nurturing and to connect with life on a fundamental level.
And some recent research has added another missing piece to the puzzle: It’s in the dirt. Or to be a little more specific, a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases. Which means that contact with soil, through gardening or other means (see Elio, above), is beneficial.How did this discovery come about?