BACTERIA cause disease. The idea that they might also prevent disease is counter intuitive. Yet that is the hypothesis Chris Lowry, of Bristol University, and his colleagues are putting forward in Neuroscience. They think a particular sort of bacterium might alleviate clinical depression.

The chance observation that Dr. Lowry followed up to arrive at this conclusion was made by Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Dr. O’Brien was trying out an experimental treatment for lung cancer that involved inoculating patients with Mycobacterium vaccae. This is a harmless relative of the bugs that cause tuberculosis and leprosy that had, in this case, been rendered even more harmless by killing it. When Dr. O’Brien gave the inoculation, she observed not only fewer symptoms of the cancer, but also an improvement in her patients’ emotional health, vitality and general cognitive function.

To find out what was going on, Dr. Lowry turned to mice. His hypothesis was that the immune response to M. vaccae induces the brain to produce serotonin. This molecule is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between nerve cells) and one symptom of depression is low levels of it.

Dr. Lowry and his team injected their mice with M. vaccae and examined them to find out what was going on. First, they looked for a rise in the level of cytokines, which are molecules produced by the immune system that trigger responses in the brain. As expected, cytokine levels rose. They then looked directly in their animals’ brains for the effect of those cytokines.

Cytokines actually act on sensory nerves that run to the brain from organs such as the heart and the lungs. That action stimulates a brain structure called the dorsal raphe nucleus. It was this nucleus that Dr. Lowry focused on. He found a group of cells within it that connect directly to the limbic system, the brain’s emotion-generating area. These cells release serotonin into the limbic system in response to sensory-nerve stimulation.

The consequence of that release is stress-free mice.

Gardening can help reverse health imbalances including cancer?

That’s not the end of it.

Another article at healing “It’s in the Dirt! Bacteria in soil may make us happier, smarter” (2) sums up other benefits.

Just being in nature is already therapeutic, but actively connecting with nature through gardening is value-added.  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.

Merri and I use gardening as an exercise to stimulate writing and to keep it going.

An excerpt from one of the lessons in our course “Self Publishing 202… Tidbits on Kindle” explains:

Lesson 8:  Focusing on Fun & Profit to Overcome “Writer’s Block” and “Writer’s Agitation”.

This lesson looks at how to make writing and publishing fun and fulfilling.  When we enjoy the process, our chances of success rise.  More importantly we can use fun as one of nature’s most powerful forces to overcome writer’s block.

We all have a story to tell.  The most basic fundamental for success in writing and publishing is a good story that suits your specific reader.  When we live and tell the stories we are meant to share, we get in the zone.  Vice versa, when we are in the zone, the stories we tell are the ones we are meant to share.

When in the zone something wonderful happens. Words just flow… time stands still and stories write themselves.

Then there are the dreaded times when nothing flows… everything seems forced…  you can’t sit still.  Or even worse… writer’s block arrives and nothing comes out.

Let’s share how to overcome writer’s block.

I have been writing for almost 50 years and have such a clear vision of what my readers desire that my “stuff” comes out quite easily.  In fact often too many ideas come out and I picture being like my hound dog chasing our flock of chickens… running from one chicken to the next… in fits and starts… not sure which chicken’s tail feathers to grab.

I call this mental state “Writer’s Agitation.”

Either form of mental imbalance… too little… or too much can be equally disruptive to the writing process.  In either case… the most active… least creative of our brain waves…. the in the box, logical, linear, restrictive beta waves are dominating.

When in the zone, all the brain waves are integrating and pulling together.

First, before we write, Merri and I meditate or relax.    Then we walk in the woods or somewhere in nature… or something mundane and repetitive that we love doings… planting flowers… crops…. harvesting.  When we have Writer’s Block or Writer’s Agitation, we lay down our pen (actually it’s a keyboard) and pick up our gardening tools.

The exercise, the fresh air, the hands in dirt recharges our minds and help us get back into the zone.  As we dig or plant, ideas start to flow in a useful string.

 When we conducted Andean shamanic tours, I watched  indigenous healers treat numerous anxious, uptight people by telling them “go put their hands in dirt”.   At that time I wondered “What’s up with dirt?”

Now you and I know…

A simple bacteria that’s related to bad bugs that cause tuberculosis and leprosy can help us be calmer and happy.  The best part is we can be paid, in a supply of nourishing, toxin free food and gentle exercise, to dig around for this bug as we plant, piddle or dig in our garden.


Yes, we have some tomatoes and beans and corn and squash and peas and sunflowers.  They nourish us and growing them encourages our good health, wealth and success.


(1) Economist: Bad is Good

(2)  It’s in the Dirt! Bacteria in soil may make us happier, smarter.