Like humans, soil has it's own microbiome, rich in a spectrum of bacteria required for diverse life. Similarly, our health is dependent upon the microbiome that exists in our digestive tracts. However, with the advent of technology and mass production, our modern society has allowed and accepted the illusion that we are separate from nature. Albeit, research suggests that this illusion is far from reality.
Soil Bacteria Has Been Observed Improve The Immune System
Mycobacterium vaccae is a safe, non-pathogenic strain of bacteria found in the soil. Considered as a possible vaccine or immunotherapeutic agent for human tuberculosis, researchers has evaluated and determined that M. vaccae promotes a strong Th1 response (Skinner et al., 2001). A Th1 response tends to produce the proinflammatory effects responsible for killing intracellular parasites and for perpetuating autoimmune responses, ultimately stimulating a protective immune response (Berger, 2000). Due to it's ability to elicit an immune response via intranasal administration, researchers also speculate that M. vaccae may become a candidate for the development of new treatments for asthma. In addition, evidence suggests that M. vaccae holds promise in the treatment of other diseases such as prostate cancer and psoriasis (Skinner et al., 2001). Immunotherapy with M. vaccae may also improve the rate of cure in patients with multi-drug-resistance tubercle bacilli (Stanford, Stanford, Grange, Lan & Etemadi, 2001).
The Relationship Between the Immune System and Emotional Health
It is well established that chronic immune-related disease is associated with major depressive episodes and suicide ideation. However, it is unclear whether this association is a result of decreased quality of life, a genetic link between chronic immune system dysfunction and major depression, or if it indicates a cause and effect relationship. Evidence suggests that serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness, may play a role in the function of the immune system (Lowry et al., 2007). Low levels of serotonin are associated with depressive episodes (Cowen & Browning, 2015).
Sertonergic systems, systems pertaining to or affecting serotonin, regulate arousal, motor activity and mood. Researchers have observed that upon an acute activation of the immune system, sertonergic activity increases, particularly in regions in the brain associated with mood regulation (Lowry et al., 2007).
In an effort to understand the relationship between the immune system and emotions, researchers administered M. vaccae to mice and measured the response of a group of sertonergic neurons in part of the brain. The effects observed were associated with increases in serotonin metabolism and altered emotional behavior. These results suggest that immune-responsive sertonergic neurons in that region of the brain play an important role in physiological responses to acute and chronic immune activation, including regulation of mood, and are thought to play an important role in regulation of coping responses and behavioral responses to uncontrollable stress. In other words, stimulation of the immune system activates neurons that regulate feelings of well-being and happiness. Consequently, dysregulation of serotonergic systems may contribute to the dysregulation of coping mechanisms in some stress-related psychological disorders, including major depression (Lowry et al., 2007).
Berger, A. (2000). Th1 and Th2 responses: what are they? BMJ : British Medical Journal, 321(7258), 424. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27457/
Cowen, P., & Browning, M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression?. World Psychiatry, 14(2), 158-160. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/wps.20229
Lowry, C., Hollis, J., de Vries, A., Pan, B., Brunet, L., & Hunt, J. et al. (2007). Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior. Neuroscience, 146(2), 756-772. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.01.067
Skinner, M. A., Prestidge, R., Yuan, S., Strabala, T. J., & Tan, P. L. J. (2001). The ability of heat-killed Mycobacterium vaccae to stimulate a cytotoxic T-cell response to an unrelated protein is associated with a 65 kilodalton heat-shock protein. Immunology, 102(2), 225–233. http://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2567.2001.01174.x
Stanford, J., Stanford, C., Grange, J., Lan, N., & Etemadi, A. (2001). Does immunotherapy with heat-killed Mycobacterium vaccae offer hope for the treatment of multi-drug-resistant pulmonary tuberculosis?. Respiratory Medicine, 95(6), 444-447. http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/rmed.2001.1065
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