Dirt is Better Antidepressant Than Prozac

Dirt is Better Antidepressant Than Prozac

There’s no denying that standing in the garden and picking your first summer tomato gives you a good feeling. Even in an urban environment a small pot of basil on the windowsill can brighten your day. But is there a scientific reason that getting our hands dirty makes us feel good?

In 2007, Christopher Lowry, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Center for Neuroscience at Universtiy of Colorado Boulder, and a team of researchers published an article in Neuroscience that had people wondering if dirt was the new Prozac. The study examined a specific soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, and its potential role in the regulation of emotional behavior. In other words: did the bacteria have antidepressant qualities?

“Soil, especially soil with abundant organic matter, contains saprophytic bacteria, meaning that they live off of dead and decaying organic matter, such as leaves,” says Lowry. “Humans coevolved with these bacteria over millennia and they have been shown to affect the immune system in a way that suppresses inflammation. This means that these bacteria may be helpful in preventing or treating diseases with excess inflammation.”

So what exactly are diseases with “inflammation?”

“This includes conditions like asthma, but also, perhaps, stress-related psychiatric disorders characterized by elevated inflammation, such as major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Lowry.

It’s not so surprising that we may benefit from microorganisms in the soil, given that we need them to live.

The regulation of the immune system is indeed connected to the biodiversity of the natural environment. We benefit from being outdoors and exposed to things like soil and animals, because of the fact that we’re exposed to microorganisms.

“A human is not an individual. We are ecosystems. At least 90% of the cells in a human body are microbes, most of them living in the gut,” says Graham Rook, professor at the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at the University College London. ” These organisms constitute the ‘microbiota,’ and the microbiota should be regarded as an organ, just like your liver or your brain.”

While the organisms that make up that microbiota are inherited – like we inherit genes – there is a proportion of the organisms that come from elsewhere, and that’s where things get interesting.

“An unknown proportion of the organisms that constitute the microbiota come from the environment,” says Rock. “It now seems that the most likely explanation for the health benefits of exposure to farms, dogs in the home, and green space is that the natural environment (including the animals in it) is a resource that provides organisms as we need them.”

Just last year Rook published an article that explored those connections, concluding that the regulation of the immune system is indeed connected to the biodiversity of the natural environment. We benefit from being outdoors and exposed to things like soil and animals, because of the fact that we’re exposed to microorganisms.

The psychological benefit of nature has been well documented. When it comes to being happy or not, many studies show that psychiatric problems are more common in urban than in rural communities. That makes Lowry’s and Rook’s research interesting, as it gives us a better understanding of exactly why being outside, in a garden or on a farm, makes us feel good.

“People usually assume that the health benefits of exposure to green space are due to exercise. In fact two large studies now demonstrate that although exercise is definitely good for you, it does not explain the beneficial effect of green space,” says Rook. “Contact with microbial biodiversity is looking like the most probable explanation for the green space effect.”

So if microorganisms are good for you, how much exposure do you need to have in order to reap the benefits? How many days in the garden do you need to commit to?

That’s what’s still unclear.

“We don’t yet know how much exposure to environmental bacteria (for example, through activities that involve contact with the soil) is enough to confer health benefits,” says Lowry. “It is clear, however, that exposure through breathing or consuming specific types of environmental organisms has the capacity to reduce inflammation and confer health benefits.”

Which means that you now have another reason to go outside and get your hands dirty.

Seattle. Sixth City to Sue Monsanto Over PCB Contamination

The city of Seattle is suing agrochemical giant Monsanto over the contamination of the Lower Duwamish and city drainage pipes with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The complaint, filed Monday in federal court, alleges that Monsanto knew how toxic PCBs were to humans and the environment, but continued to produce and sell the chemicals for decades anyway. Seattle is now the sixth city to sue Monsanto over PCB contamination, following San Jose, Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego, and Spokane.

“Long after the dangers of PCBs were widely known, Monsanto continued its practice of protecting its business interests at our expense,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement. “The City intends to hold Monsanto accountable for the damage its product wreaked on our environment.”

The Lower Duwamish is now considered a federal Superfund site, ranking as one of the most toxic waterways in the United States. The EPA estimates that the full cleanup of the waterway will cost $342 million.

According to the city, PCBs have been detected in 82 percent of drainage pipe samples and 73 percent of street right-of-way catchment basin samples in Lower Duwamish drainage basins. PCB exposure has been linked to several different different types of cancers, as well as endocrine, reproductive, immune system, and nervous system issues. Exposure is wide-ranging; PCBs have been found in everything from fish to human breast milk.

I’ll be heading to a 10:30 press conference at City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office to learn more. In the meantime, read the complaint here.

 

Vermont Governor Interrupted By Fractivists In Paris

PARIS, France – In one of the first edgier, unsanctioned confrontations at the official “Le Bourget” climate summit, a flank of young anti-fracking activists on Wednesday interrupted a panel of US politicians, including Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, calling out their hypocrisy as climate leaders.

Soon after Gov. Shumlin took the podium, two young women rushed the stage, and unfurled a banner that read “Fracked Gas = Climate Change.” Activists continued to stand up and speak out for the duration of the panel, with one declaring to the room: “These aren’t climate leaders, these are climate cheaters.”

Protestors were keen to get across that while Shumlin is being lauded as a climate leader in Paris, back in his home state he’s marshalling forward a major fracked gas pipeline that would snake its way through small Vermont farms and accelerate fracking across the U.S. east coast.

Nathan Joseph, 27, a former Vermonter who now works on a farm in rural Pennsylvania-a state heavily impacted by fracking-stood up in the middle of the Shumlin’s speech.

“I live on the frontlines of fracking in the Marcellus Shale and you are putting through a fracked gas pipeline that jeopardizes people’s livelihoods,” declared Joseph. He also mentioned the concerns of farmers in Vermont whose land was being seized by eminent domain for the pipeline.

Next up, Aly Johnson-Kurts, 21, a native Vermonter, stood up and addressed the governor.

Aly acknowledged that Shumlin banned fracking a few years ago-but highlighted how championing new fracked gas infrastructure simply pushes fracking onto other communities outside Vermont’s borders.

“Vermont banned fracking in 2012, and in the announcement speech you cited risks to safe drinking water and health. In supporting the Vermont gas pipeline, you are simply putting those risks on other communities,” Aly said, facing the governor. “If you want to convince everyday Vermonters that your legacy as governor is one of true environmental stewardship, you must reverse your position on the pipeline.”

Shumlin called Aly “beautiful and eloquent,” but encouraged her to settle down.

A couple vocal audience members countered the protesters by saying: “Shut up”; “That’s enough”; and “Nobody wants to hear you.” Curiously, very similar comments were heard when now Middlebury alum Abigail Borah interrupted U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern’s comments at the Durban climate talks in 2011. By the time Borah finished her remarks, calling on the U.S. and other delegates to “to act now…or threaten the lives of the youth and the world’s most vulnerable,” she received plenary-wide applause.

Shumlin retorted with a line often used by climate deniers and obfuscators: “How did you get here, on an airplane? Or did you swim over?” he asked the protesters. “Because you used fracked gas in that plane, so you better find a way to swim home.”

Earlier, Shumlin told the packed audience “we can’t move fast enough to get off oil and coal” as a way to fight climate change and boost the economy. His seeming exception for natural gas not only flummoxes but also deeply frustrates Vermonters who’ve staunchly opposed the this pipeline in their state for the past three years.

To the Vermont Governor’s credit, he eventually offered the microphone to Aly-but the moderator with Georgetown Climate Center would not allow it.

Soon afterwards, Shumlin left the panel, exiting the event a half an hour before it was set to close.

Bill McKibben, a long-time resident of Vermont, who’s partaking in a number of anti-fracking workshops and events in Paris, offered his support.

“It’s good to see the boisterous spirit of VT translated across the Atlantic,” McKibben told me. “I think the fracked gas pipeline was planned in a different age back before we knew much of what we know about the effects of fracking and methane on the atmosphere. So, it’s a good time for a re-evaluation.”

When Maeve McBride, lead organizer with 350 Vermont, heard about how Vermonters were tailing Shumlin in Paris, she was “proud and heartened.”

“Governor Shumlin has talked a good talk on climate, yet he and his staff actively advocate for expanding fracked gas infrastructure in Vermont,” Maeve wrote in an email. “While Vermont banned fracking, Shumlin’s administration has been promoting the import of fracked gas and cutting deals with Vermont Gas. Vermonters would end up footing the more than $154 million bill for this new pipeline, and Vermont Gas is seizing Vermonters’ land through eminent domain. Governor Shumlin is no climate hero.”

After Shumlin left the session, other speakers took to the podium, including California’s EPA chief, and a senior advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state.

These speakers were likewise met with rounds of pointed, mostly unsolicited, questions regarding the approval of fracking in California and why Gov. Inslee wasn’t halting a proposal for the “largest crude rail terminal in the nation” proposed for his state.

With two days left until the climate negotiation are supposedly set to wrap, expect young people to keep stirring the pot.


Written by Joe Solomon for Common Dreams.

 

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