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Therapeutic Horticulture

The ABC’S of Health

By Dr. Jo Gjelsten

Therapeutic Horticulture?

The Dirt on, Dirt!

So we’re sitting on the porch thinking how wonderful we feel about all the life around us thriving; birds, plants, trees, and I said to myself, why is that so much fun? By what mechanism do we continue to enjoy it all?  We realized then how many plants and shrubs had been given to us by former neighbors, friends, and family, such that each time we look at all of it, the hydrangea from my sister, herbs and plants from friends, hosta plants from former neighbors, many things coming back to us year after year; it all reminds us each year, of the love, kindness, generosity and nurturing coming our way, and so we nurture in turn, all the old and the new along. I believe it stimulates our estrogen to nurture, which is a good thing Thelma. I got a little 8” twig of a fir tree 10 years ago from my sister when we moved into the house. I had to replant it recently because it had grown into a 2 foot tree too close to the house. We were worried when the needles started to drop, thinking it was dying, but were thrilled to see it sprout new growth after I replanted it in the rich dark soil from the “way back” as we call the compost, way back in our little patch of woods where leaves turn into gardeners gold. Yet another reminder how nature needs nutrients, and all was not lost, and how much gardening impacts our health and the how the health of all things affects our human health as well. Seeing that little tree come back probably did more for my health than a shot of wheatgrass juice, given how upset I was about possibly losing it. Those of you who use Miracle Grow realize only too well what a difference the right nutrients make on health, both plant and human, which is why I use them myself.  So gardening, in any form, can help us be happy. How? Exercise, exposure to dirt, emotional well-being and possible cancer prevention, are a few ways. Any regular physical activity lowers chances of getting cancer, so gardening falls into that category. Gardening can also get you back in shape after an illness, with your Doc’s permission, as it can lower blood pressure, increase endurance, and if you plant veggies, you’ll likely reap a nice salad to boot! How much exercise? Depends. If you’ve ever wheeled around a barrow you know what I’m tawkin’ about heaah! You huff and puff and use up those dessert calories folks! Digging a hole for my little fir tree in the county we call not fa’ nuttin’ , “Rock” “land” took a lot of work! Gardening for a half hour can burn about 180ish calories. That’s 300 to 600 calories per hour, depending on how aggressive you are!  So weed away Wally! I like to take the “dandy” lions and put them in a pot for my bunny, who likes to eat their leaves and yellow flowers like they’re candy. Of course they don’t have pesticides so they’re safe for her little lamb-chop lips. And she doesn’t mind a little dirt; in fact dirt can be good for you Yolanda. How? When you breathe in a little dirt (if it contains mycobacterium-blahblahblah), it may act as an anti-depressant, never mind the hand sanitizer Zelda. No wonder I love the earthy smell of patchouli,and I love beets, and my friend and wine expert Joanne loves the word “terroir” which gives wine and sour dough it’s schmell…) but seriously, get this:  “When Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at Royal Marsden Hospital in London, was inoculating cancer patients with a strain of M. vaccae (pronounced “emm vah-kay”), she noticed that in addition to fewer cancer symptoms, patients also showed improved emotional health, vitality, and even cognitive function.” I wonder if anyone asked where Dr. O’Brien got the idea to shoot dirt into those folks.  Dr. Chris Lowry, at Bristol University was intrigued about this enough to do an experiment with a captive audience. He  found this soil ingredient to “boost the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine circulating in the systems of mice.” The mice were observed to be snorting this dirt up a straw as soon as the researchers turned their backs, and exhibited huge smiles on their little mice faces whenever they thought of their little dirt bags. He also observed that they enjoyed swimming in their little mice pools, as opposed to the stressed out mice, though they complained about the cabanas provided. But they enjoyed their mycobacterium  vaccae (vaysay…you don’t say?). That’s not all folks, one more. A couple of researchers “at the Sage Colleges in Troy, NY fed the mice tiny peanut butter sandwiches with a little of the bacterium smeared on. Yummm. Then they ran the mice through a difficult maze. Compared to those who did not eat the bacterium, the M. vaccae mice “navigated the maze twice as fast and exhibited half of the anxiety behaviors.”   They were probably trying to run away from the smell. I wish I had a picture of the tiny sandwiches, but the mice later commented…”thghhhshhaughthh-gotmilkggh?.” But it’s not just mice and adults who benefit from a little filth, and I mean that in every clean way I can think of.  The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that “children who grow up on traditional farms are 30% – 50% less likely than other children to develop asthma. Researchers correlated the high diversity of bacteria and fungi in household dust – from soil and farm animals – with the low likelihood of asthma.” I just attended a seminar where this “hygiene hypothesis” that essentially says that our immune system is primed by some bacteria that may be lacking in urban areas, or even suburban areas, could account for many autoimmune conditions. What conditions? Those ranging from what may be a factor in autism, to rheumatoid arthritis to Crohn’s disease, and possibly even depression. All could be affected by not enough exposure to normal bacteria.  So we have more research to do. But get out and play in the dirt and garden. We know that any activity that takes you away from problems you may not have control over, and allows you to design, plan, and take control to some extent whatever you decide to plant, something that gives you a little exercise, keeps you calm, and enhances your immune system can be good for you, and gardening is just that. Get out and smell the roses, and the dirt, and you could release a little more serotonin, good for sleep, for concentration, for your health Henrietta! www.GoDrJo.com for comments, inquiries, smart remarks etc. Written June 12, 2012.  This column is not intended to treat diagnose or cure any disease or condition. Please seek the advice of your health care practitioner before starting or stopping any heath care program, so spit out that dirt Daisy. ;)

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August 11, 2016
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Joanne Gjelsten

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