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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Antidepressant Bacteria in Soil – Boosts Serotonin


Nature provides! There’s a bacterium living naturally and ubiquitously in the soil that we’re likely to ingest or inhale when we spend time outdoors in natural environments: Mycobacterium vaccae – also called  The Golden Bacillus. You can see why it’s called that: Mycobacterium vaccae


Beautiful, isn’t it? This bacterium is highly beneficial. It boosts our serotonin levels, reduces anxiety and makes us feel happier. Golden Bacillus, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been shown to act like a natural Prozac (without the bad side effects). Like Prozac, it apparently stimulates serotonic production, making you feel more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier. In studies, when the bacterium was given to cancer patients, they reported feeling less stressed and experiencing a better quality of life. (Grant, 2014) (Hemmingway, 2015)

In  a lab rat study,  Mycobacterium vaccae received by injection and via feeding led to improvement in the animals’ cognitive ability, increased concentration when performing tasks, and lowered stress level compared to a control group that didn’t receive the soil bacteria. And the effects were seen for up to three weeks. (Grant, 2014).


SEROTONIN (Cann, 2015) (McIntosh, 2015) (Wikipedia, 2015A) The Serotonin Molecule

Serotinin is an important chemical manufactured by our bodies that acts as a neorotransmitter, enabling brain and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other – though some prefer to regard serotonin as a hormone. The vast majority of the body’s serotonin, 80-90%, is produced in the GI tract’s intestinal mucosa (by enterochromaffin cells). The small amount made in our brains cannot cross the blood-brain barrier so must be produced there. Serotonin plays many essential roles in the body, affecting:

  • Mood and social behavior

  • Appetite and digestion

  • Bone metabolism

  • Breast milk production

  • Liver regeneration

  • Cell division

  • Intestinal movements

  • Sleep

  • Memory and learning

  • Sexual desire and function

SEROTONIN IMBALANCES If your body produces too little or too much serotonin, you’re likely to experience all kinds of common gut issues: Too little serotonin and you’re likely to feel depressed and anxious – and be constipated. Too much and you’re likely to feel nervous and nauseated – and have diarrhea. Too Low Serotonin Level

Symptoms of low serotonin levels include (Boeree, 2009)  (Wilson, 2015):

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety

  • Negative thinking

  • Problems with anger control

  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

  • Suicidal thought and behaviors

  • Craving carbohydrates (starchy foods)

  • Obesity

  • Fibromyalgia pain

  • Migraine headaches

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Too High Serotonin Level

Having too much serotonin, can lead to excessive nerve cell activity, a state called Serotonin Syndrome, that often begins within hours of taking a new medication that affects serotonin levels or from greatly increasing the dose of one you’ve been taking. Symptoms include (WebMD, 2015A):

  • Confusion

  • Agitation or restlessness

  • Dilated pupils

  • Headache

  • Changes in blood pressure and/or temperature

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Tremor

  • Loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles

  • Shivering and goose bumps

  • Heavy sweating

In severe cases, taking too much serotonin can be life-threatening. If you have these symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, get medical attention promptly:

  • High fever

  • Seizures

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Unconsciousness

ON PROZAC (Naish, 2013)

Prozac (fluoxetine) is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) pharmaceutical widely used for treating major depression and depressive disorder, OCD, premenstrual syndrome, panic disorder, and bulimia. It was first developed and marketed by Eli Lilly in 1988 and was an instant hit … as the “Happy Pill”. 27 years later, more than 20% of Americans (children, adults, the elderly) regularly take mood-altering drugs prescribed by their doctors. Even anxious dogs are put on Prozac. Scientists at Eli Lilly first found that fluoxetine reduced hypertension in some animals but were disappointed when it didn’t have this same effect when tested on human subjects. Then the company thought the chemical could be marketed as an anti-obesity pill but again their clinical trials failed. When they tried it out on five volunteers who had mild depression, the subjects felt much better. Eureka!, they’d discovered a gold mine of profits. Fluoxetine apparently had the ability to improve mood. Fluoxetine was rebranded as an anti-depressant by marketing experts and sold as Prozac. The two-syllable name combined something positive sounding (pro) with something zippy sounding (zac). Doctors now had a one-pill fix for all those people in their practices suffering from depression and its accompanying variety of pesky symptoms. These people could now be zapped into positivity. Prozac’s great success then led to a spate of other SSRI anti-depressant drugs – including Aropax, Celexa, Cipralex, Cipramil, Lexamil, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Seroplex, Viibryd, and Zoloft. What a great boon for humanity. Well, perhaps not.

The following side effects are associated with Prozac (WebMD, 2015B): Common side effects of Prozac:

  • Anxious

  • Chronic Trouble Sleeping

  • Diarrhea

  • Dizzy

  • Drowsiness

  • Dry Mouth

  • Excessive Sweating

  • Feel Like Throwing Up

  • Feeling Weak

  • Head Pain

  • Indigestion

  • Involuntary Quivering

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Nervous

  • Rash

  • Sinus Irritation and Congestion

  • Throat Irritation

  • Yawning

Infrequent side effects of Prozac:

  • Chills

  • Hives

  • Trouble Breathing

  • Abnormal Dreams

  • Abnormal Heart Rhythm

  • Altered Interest in Having Sexual Intercourse

  • Chest Pain

  • Confused

  • Cough

  • Excessive Thirst

  • Fast Heartbeat

  • Feeling Restless

  • Fever

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

  • Frequent Urination

  • Gas

  • Hair Loss

  • Heart Throbbing or Pounding

  • Hyperactive Behavior

  • Inability to have an Erection

  • Incomplete or Infrequent Bowel Movements

  • Itching

  • Joint Pain

  • Problem with Ejaculation

  • Problems with Eyesight

  • Ringing in the Ears

  • Sexual Problems

  • Stomach Cramps

  • Taste Problems

  • Weight Loss

  • Widening of Blood Vessels

Rare side effects of Prozac:

  • A Spasm of the Larynx

  • Abnormal Liver Function Tests

  • Allergic Reaction causing Serum Sickness

  • Angle-Closure Glaucoma caused by Another Disease

  • Behaving with Excessive Cheerfulness and Activity

  • Bleeding of the Stomach or Intestines

  • Bronchospasm

  • Erythema Multiforme

  • Giant Hives

  • Having Thoughts of Suicide

  • Hepatitis caused by Drugs

  • Increased Risk of Bleeding

  • Inflammation of Skin caused by an Allergy

  • Life Threatening Allergic Reaction

  • Low Amount of Sodium in the Blood

  • Mild Degree of Mania

  • Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome

  • Prolonged Q-T Interval on EKG

  • Reaction due to an Allergy

  • Seizures

  • Serotonin Syndrome – Adverse Drug Interaction

  • Stomach or Intestinal Ulcer

  • Swollen Lymph Nodes

  • Throwing Up

  • Very Rapid Heartbeat – Torsades de Pointes

  • Abnormal Bleeding from the Uterus

  • Abnormally Low Blood Pressure

  • Difficult or Painful Urination

  • Dilated Pupils

  • Grinding of the Teeth

  • Loss of Memory

  • Loss of One’s Own Sense of Reality or Identity

  • Low Blood Sugar

  • Mood Changes

  • Sun-Sensitive Skin

  • Uncoordinated

Serious birth defects are also associated with a woman’s taking Prozac during pregnancy, especially during the last four and a half months. (DrugWatch, 2014)

YOUR GUT FEELINGS So maybe you’re anxious or depressed and prefer avoiding the side effects of pharmaceuticals. In my psychotherapy practice over the years, I’ve noticed that people on long term anti-anxiety/anti-depressant drugs are often separated from their feelings. They may not feel very depressed or anxious but they also don’t have easy access to who they are or how they actually feel – ie, they tend to make decisions based on their thoughts rather than with their vital gut feelings. Maybe this doesn’t appeal to you.

We already know that the health of the microflora living in our intestines is directly connected to the overall health of our bodies – including mood.  And remember that the vast majority (80-90%) of the serotonin (our natural feel-good chemical)  in our bodies is produced inside our intestines, in the gut’s mucosal layer – which is also, not coincidentally, where the bacteria and other micro-organisms that make up our gut microbiome live. So it’s not the least surprising that a bacterium found in soil would have anti-depressant qualities. Mycobacterium vaccae (The Golden Bacillus)


OTHER RESEARCH ON MYCOBACTERIUM VACCAE Scientists are looking into whether exposure to mycobacterium antidepressant microbes in soil can improve Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis (both are autoimmune conditions stemming from chronic inflammation caused by an unbalanced gut microbiome), as well as cognitive functioning. (Grant, 2014) Research is also underway to see if a killed Mycobacterium vaccae vaccine can be effective in the treatment of asthma, cancer, leprosy, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and tuberculosis. (Wikipedia, 2015B)



I highly recommend taking a look at Michael Polan’s excellent New York Times article “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs“. He discusses the importance of our gut bacteria, how our modern obsession with finding and killing all germs is making us ill (The Hygiene Hypothesis), the fact that children who are exposed to dirt have healthier immune systems, and lots of other fascinating information. This is a photo from the article:

(Source: Image Credit: Hannah Whitaker for The New York Times)

THE HEALTH OF THE EARTH’S SOIL The presence of Mycobacterium vaccae, the Golden Bacillus, in dirt gives us yet another compelling reason to do something to stop the great rate at which we’re depleting the soil’s microbiome with GMO crops, herbicides, and other toxins.  Healthy soil presumably contains more Mycobacterium vaccaeis than depleted soil. If humans continue destroying the earth’s resources, we may succeed in killing off the beautiful Golden Bacillus. How depressing.


REFERENCES Boeree, E.G. (2009). Neurotransmitters. See: Cann, K. (2015). Low Serotonin and Gastrointestinal Disorders. See: (2014). Prozac. See: Grant, B. L. (2014). Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy. See: Hemmingway, W. (2015). Happy Dirt: A Microbe Found In Soil Mimics Prozac. See: McIntosh, J. (2015). What is serotonin? What does serotonin do? Medical News Today. See: Naish, J. (2013). The Jekyll and Hyde happy pill: It’s brought relief to millions but is linked to suicide, low libido and birth defects, and we still don’t know how Prozac works. See: Polan, M. (2013). Some of My Best Friends Are Germs. New York Times Magazine, May 15 2013. See: WebMD. (2015A). What Is Serotonin Syndrome? See: WebMD. (2015B). Prozac: Side Effects. See: Wikipedia. (2015A). Serotonin. See: Wikipedia. (2015B). Mycobacterium vaccae. See: Wilson, J. (2015). Low Serotonin Levels Symptoms. See: © Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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