What's so good about mud anyway? Why are kids driven to jump in with all the vim & vigour they can declaring 'It's a Peppa Pig Paradise!' Why does mud cause so much joy? Once again it turns out that the kids are on to something and maybe we should all leap into the mud with them a bit more often.
Mud contains a harmless bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae. When it gets into our bodies it acts as an anti-depressant in a similar way to Prozac. Any keen gardener will tell you how working with the soil makes them feel good and we only need to look at a child in a muddy puddle to see it for ourselves. It enters our bodies through inhalation, on our skin or through cuts or scrapes we may have.
Mary O'Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, published a paper in 2004. When patients with advanced lung cancer were injected with this bacteria she found an unexpected result. It significantly improved that patient's quality of life as well as improving cognitive function.
In 2007, Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist from the University of Bristol, injected mycobacterium vaccae into mice before putting them through several stress tests. These mice showed increased cognitive ability, lower stress and better concentration than the mice in the control group. The study showed that the mycobacterium vaccae regulates a group of neurones in the brain that stimulates serotonin production. This plays an important role in our coping responses to stress. When this same group of neurones is not regulated it can lead to stress related disorders including major depression.
Researchers have already shown that children who are exposed to mud throughout their childhood have a more robust immune system with lower levels of asthma and allergies.
Mud makes us happy - it's official. Next time you see a child about to launch themselves into a muddy puddle get in the queue to join them. You will all feel so good afterwards that you won't care about a bit of extra washing.