Gardening has been a passion of mine since I was a kid. And because I live in a subtropical climate, I get to garden all year long. I have vibrant hibiscus blossoms the size of dinner plates. And the smell of the jasmine is sweeter than any perfume.
But gardening is good for more than the senses. It can actually cure depression.
Studies have found that a friendly microbe in soil can affect your brain and boost your mood as effectively as Big Pharma’s antidepressants.
Drugs like Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro claim to ease depression by increasing serotonin in the brain. Having too little serotonin is linked to depression, anxiety and OCD.
But these medications often cause weight gain, dizziness and sexual dysfunction. For some unlucky people, the side effects can be much worse — manic behavior, gastrointestinal bleeding and drug-induced Parkinson’s disease.
The naturally occurring microbe Mycobacterium vaccae also boosts serotonin. But it doesn’t cause scary side effects.
When you dig in the dirt, the bacteria gets directly into your bloodstream, where it bumps up serotonin production.
The depression-busting effects of M. vaccae were accidentally discovered by an oncologist in England. She created a serum from the bacteria and gave it to her lung cancer patients to boost their immune systems. But she noticed another effect instead…
Her patients perked up. They felt happier and more energetic than patients who didn’t get the bacteria.
Further research backs this up.
In a recent study, healthy mice were injected with M. vaccae. They then were placed with a large, aggressive male for 19 days. Compared to untreated mice, the injected mice had less anxiety and fear and behaved in a more positive manner. And the effect lasted up to two weeks.1
And in another study, 12 mice were fed the bacteria and placed in a progressively challenging series of mazes. Compared to controls, the M. vaccae mice completed the course two times as fast — and without any additional anxiety.2
Getting outside and digging in the dirt is a great way to get your serotonin levels up. But if you can’t do that, there are other ways to activate serotonin. Here’s what I recommend to my patients…
3 Easy Ways To Increase Serotonin
1. Eat more tryptophan. Serotonin isn’t found in food. And you can’t take it as a supplement because its molecules are too big to cross the blood-brain barrier. To make serotonin, your body needs a precursor. And one of the best is tryptophan.
Your body takes the tryptophan and converts it into an amino acid called 5-HTP. This is then converted into serotonin. Good sources of tryptophan-rich foods include:
- Organic turkey or duck
- Raw, unprocessed whole milk
- Cage-free eggs
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
But it’s not easy to get enough tryptophan through food. I suggest supplementing with 500 mg up to three times a day.
2. Supplement with Griffonia simplicifolia. In the heart of West Africa, I discovered the world’s most powerful, absorbable form of 5-HTP. It’s a shrub known as Griffonia simplicifolia. Traditional healers call it “kajya.”
I’ve had great success treating my patients with kajya. I usually start them on a 20 mcg dose, and then gradually increase the dose to between 50-100 mcg, depending on how they’re feeling.
3. Expose yourself to sunlight. There’s a direct relationship between serotonin production and the time you spend in the sun.
In a study of 101 people, researchers found serotonin levels plummeted during dark winter months. But they surged in the summer when people were exposed to sunlight for a significant time.3
That’s because the sun’s UV rays that are absorbed by your skin produce vitamin D, which in turn promote serotonin production.
I tell my patients to sit in the midday sun for 15-20 minutes. Try to expose as much skin as possible.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1 Reber SO, et al. Immunization with a heat-killed preparation of the environmental bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae promotes stress resilience in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 May 31;113(22).
2 Matthews DM1, Jenks SM. Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behav Processes. 2013 Jun;96:27-35. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2013.02.007. Epub 2013 Feb 27.
3 Lambert GW, et al. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet. 2002 Dec 7;360(9348):1840-2.