Mycobacterium vaccae Benefits

Written by: Pard Bharaj



Time to read 11 min

Image of Pard, the Author

Author: Pard Bharaj

I am a dedicated researcher with nearly a decade of experience in investigating health best practices. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 


Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil-dwelling bacterium, is becoming quite interesting to researchers and health enthusiasts alike due to its potential health benefits. Studies have shown that it could potentially enhance stress resilience, improve immune function and cognitive abilities and offer anti-inflammatory properties. Personally, as someone with an allotment, I've always felt a certain magic when I’m gardening and especially digging around in the soil. It has a pretty cool way of helping to achieve a more balanced and positive mental state.

In this blog, I will research the health benefits of Mycobacterium vaccae, as well as how to access these benefits naturally To provide a comprehensive view, I will review major studies and news articles from respected institutions (please see references and further reading at the bottom of the article), and incorporate expert opinions.

By the way, the videos and images in this blog are from the allotment.

Interesting Facts about Mycobacterium Vaccae:

  • Discovery:¬†Mycobacterium vaccae was first isolated in 1971 from cow dung in Austria, which is reflected in its name; 'vaccae' is Latin for 'cow'. The bacterium is naturally found in soil, particularly soil enriched with organic matter.

  • Potential Therapeutic Uses:¬†Beyond its psychological impacts, ongoing research is exploring the therapeutic potential of Mycobacterium vaccae in treating diseases such as psoriasis, lung cancer, and tuberculosis.

  • Recreational Implications:¬†The bacterium‚Äôs association with 'happy' feelings has led to its mention in popular culture and suggestions that activities like gardening, which involve contact with soil, may be beneficial for mental health due to exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae.

  • Health Benefits: Mycobacterium vaccae is known for its immune system modulation, potentially reducing symptoms of asthma and allergies, its ability to increase serotonin production for improved mood and reduced anxiety, and enhancing cognitive functions - which we will review in this article today:

What is Mycobacterium Vaccae?

Mycobacterium vaccae is a friendly bacteria naturally found in soil. Belonging to the genus Mycobacterium, this bacterium is part of a diverse group that inhabits a variety of environments. Mycobacterium vaccae thrives in soil, especially in decomposing organic matter such as forests, gardens, and organic farming lands. It plays an important role in the soil ecosystem, enhancing nutrient availability by converting organic compounds into forms more easily utilised by plants. This helps maintain soil fertility and contributes to the ecological balance.

The presence of Mycobacterium vaccae in soil is widespread, and human exposure typically occurs through activities that involve direct contact with the earth. This can include gardening, farming, and even recreational activities outdoors that disturb the soil.

Health Benefits of Mycobacterium Vaccae:

Exposure to mycobacterium vaccae has been linked to various physical and psychological health benefits, making Mycobacterium vaccae a subject of interest for further scientific research. Here is what the research is showing, please note most of the evidence up to now has been animal based.

1. Enhanced Stress Resilience:

Benefit: Studies on animals have shown that Mycobacterium vaccae can help them better cope with stress, making them more resilient in stressful situations.

How: Mycobacterium vaccae works by influencing the immune system and the brain. When introduced into the body, it boosts the production of anti-inflammatory substances like IL-10, which helps to reduce overall inflammation. It also activates serotonin-producing neurons in the brain, increasing the levels of serotonin, a chemical that improves mood and reduces anxiety.

This combination of reducing inflammation and increasing serotonin helps the body and brain handle stress more effectively. However, it is important to note that while these findings are promising, more human studies are needed to fully understand and confirm the benefits of Mycobacterium vaccae in enhancing stress resilience.

2. Immune System Modulation:

Benefit: Regular exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae can strengthen the immune system, enhancing its ability to fight off pathogens and diseases.

How: Mycobacterium vaccae influences the immune system by promoting the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, while reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines. This helps balance the immune response, preventing excessive inflammation.

The bacterium interacts directly with immune cells, such as macrophages, to shift them towards an anti-inflammatory state. This modulation reduces the impact of chronic inflammation, supporting overall immune health. While these effects have been observed in human cell studies, more research in humans is necessary to fully validate these benefits. 

3. Improved Mood and Psychological Well-being:

Benefit: Studies indicate that Mycobacterium vaccae may have antidepressant properties. Exposure to this bacterium can increase the release of serotonin in the brain, which is known to enhance mood and reduce anxiety.

How? Studies show that Mycobacterium vaccae promotes the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter crucial for mood regulation. Serotonin enhances neural activity and neural communication in the brain regions that regulate mood, such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. 

This increased serotonin activity helps to elevate mood, reduce feelings of depression, and lower anxiety levels. The modulation of immune responses by the bacterium also plays a role in mitigating the neuroinflammatory processes often associated with mood disorders.

4. Cognitive Benefits:

Benefit: Preliminary studies have suggested that exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae might improve cognitive functions.

Mechanism: In experiments with mice, exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae enhanced their ability to navigate mazes, indicating improved learning and cognitive abilities. This bacterium is believed to influence the brain through the gut-brain axis, where it interacts with the microbiota and immune system to promote neurochemical changes. As well as making you feel good, the increased production of serotonin is also associated with improved learning and better memory. By enhancing serotonin levels, Mycobacterium vaccae may help to improve cognitive function and overall brain health.

While these findings are promising, they are based on animal studies. More human research is needed to confirm the cognitive benefits of Mycobacterium vaccae.

How to Get Mycobacterium vaccae?

Mycobacterium vaccae is a soil-dwelling bacterium. Here are some ways to naturally come into contact with it:

  1. Gardening: Handling soil while gardening, farming, or engaging in outdoor recreational activities can lead to skin contact with and potential inhalation of Mycobacterium vaccae. These activities disturb the soil and can release the bacteria into the air, where they can be inhaled or come into contact with the skin.

  2. Outdoor Activities: Spending time in natural environments, such as hiking, camping, or simply walking in parks, can increase your exposure to soil bacteria, including Mycobacterium vaccae.

Currently, Mycobacterium vaccae is not widely available as a commercial supplement.

Precautions and Considerations:

  • Allergy Considerations:¬†Some individuals may have allergies to environmental compounds, including pollen or specific microbes. If you experience allergic reactions when in nature, take appropriate precautions.
  • Balanced Exposure: While exposure to natural environments is beneficial, ensure it is balanced and safe. Avoid areas that might be contaminated with pollutants or harmful substances.
  • Mental Health Considerations: If you are using exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae as part of a mental health treatment plan, continue to follow other prescribed treatments and consult with mental health professionals regularly.

Conclusion: Benefits of Mycobacterium Vaccae

Mycobacterium vaccae shows significant promise for enhancing stress resilience, modulating the immune system, improving cognitive functions, and providing anti-inflammatory effects - please see summaries of studies and articles in ‚Äúreferences and further reading‚ÄĚ below. Although most findings are based on animal studie, the potential health benefits look pretty significant. Future research should focus on human clinical trials to confirm the effects observed in animal studies.

It could be that the mood-related benefits I experience are due to Mycobacterium vaccae, exercise or simply being outdoors in the natural light, or a combination of all!

Engaging in gardening and outdoor activities offers an excellent way to be exposed to this beneficial, friendly microbe. 

References and Further Reading:

1. Study linking beneficial bacteria to mental health makes top 10 list for brain research

Summary: The article from the University of Colorado Boulder highlights an animal study that found Mycobacterium vaccae, a beneficial soil bacterium, might have long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and could potentially improve mental health by triggering the release of serotonin. This research, led by integrative physiology professor Christopher Lowry, was recognized as one of the top ten advancements and breakthroughs of 2016 by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. The study showed that injections of killed Mycobacterium vaccae before a stressful event could prevent a heightened inflammatory response in the brain, which is associated with stress-related psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The serotonin release triggered by the bacterium plays a role in enhancing mood and reducing anxiety, suggesting that environmental exposure to beneficial bacteria like Mycobacterium vaccae could be a novel approach to mental health treatment. Further research is planned to investigate the exact mechanisms and therapeutic potential of this effect.

2. Mycobacterium vaccae NCTC 11659, a Soil-Derived Bacterium with Stress Resilience Properties, Modulates the Proinflammatory Effects of LPS in Macrophages

Summary: The study demonstrated that treatment with Mycobacterium vaccae NCTC 11659 modulates human monocyte-derived macrophages towards an anti-inflammatory state, reducing expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhancing anti-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting potential therapeutic uses in preventing stress-induced inflammation and neuroinflammation related to psychiatric disorders.

3.¬†Effects of Immunization With the Soil-Derived Bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae on Stress Coping Behaviors and Cognitive Performance in a ‚ÄúTwo Hit‚ÄĚ Stressor Model

Summary: Immunisation with Mycobacterium vaccae NCTC 11659 enhanced stress resilience, induced a more proactive behavioural response to stress, and stabilised gut microbiome diversity in mice subjected to chronic disruption of rhythms and social defeat stress, suggesting potential benefits for mental health and cognitive performance.

4. Healthy, stress-busting fat found hidden in dirt

Summary: CU Boulder researchers discovered an anti-inflammatory fat in Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil bacterium, which supports the "hygiene hypothesis" by potentially explaining how the bacterium mitigates stress-related disorders and moves closer to developing a microbe-based "stress vaccine." This novel lipid interacts with immune cells to reduce inflammation, offering a pathway to therapeutic applications and stress resilience enhancement.

5. Getting dirty may lift your mood

Summary: Research published by the University of Bristol and University College London reveals that treating mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium found in soil, can mimic the effects of antidepressants by altering behaviour. This effect appears linked to the activation of serotonin-producing neurons in the brain, suggesting potential benefits for mood regulation and depression treatment. The findings, inspired by similar observations in cancer patients treated with the bacterium, emphasise the importance of a healthy immune system for mental health. Future studies aim to further investigate these antidepressant properties.

6. Comparing the effects of two different strains of mycobacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae NCTC 11659 and M. vaccae ATCC 15483, on stress-resilient behaviors and lipid-immune signaling in rats

Summary: The study compares the effects of two strains of Mycobacterium vaccae (NCTC 11659 and ATCC 15483) on stress resilience in rats. Findings indicate both strains prevent stress-induced inflammation in the hippocampus and stress-related decreases in specific gene and liver expressions. The research supports the hypothesis that different strains of M. vaccae can immunise against stress-induced physiological and behavioural dysregulation, potentially offering a therapeutic avenue for stress-related disorders.

7. Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice

Summary: The study by Dorothy M. Matthews and Susan M. Jenks investigates the effects of ingesting Mycobacterium vaccae on mice, revealing that those fed with the bacterium showed reduced anxiety-related behaviours and improved learning in maze tasks. Mice treated with M. vaccae completed a complex maze faster than controls and continued to perform better for up to a week after treatment cessation, although the benefits did not persist beyond three weeks. Additionally, M. vaccae did not influence overall activity levels but increased exploratory behaviour, supporting the role of ambient microbes in modulating behaviour through immunoregulatory mechanisms.

8. A Randomized Pilot Study of SRL172 (Mycobacterium vaccae) in Patients with Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) Treated with Chemotherapy

Summary: The study by L. Assersohn and colleagues tested a treatment combining a special preparation of a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae (SRL172) with standard chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients. They divided patients into two groups: one received the bacteria with their chemotherapy, and the other received only chemotherapy. The results showed that patients who got both the bacteria and chemotherapy tended to live longer than those who only received chemotherapy, though the difference wasn't big enough to be certain it wasn't due to chance. Importantly, adding the bacteria didn't make the side effects of chemotherapy any worse. Based on these promising results, more extensive testing is planned.

9.Intragastric administration of Mycobacterium vaccae inhibits severe pulmonary allergic inflammation in a mouse model

Summary: The study found that feeding mice Mycobacterium vaccae reduced severe lung inflammation caused by allergies. A single dose increased anti-inflammatory signals and decreased inflammatory cells, showing that oral treatment was as effective as injections. This suggests a potential new treatment for allergies using Mycobacterium vaccae.

10. A randomised placebo controlled trial of delipidated, deglycolipidated Mycobacterium vaccae as immunotherapy for psoriatic arthritis

Summary: The study tested PVAC, a modified Mycobacterium vaccae, for treating psoriatic arthritis. In a 24-week trial with 36 patients, both the PVAC and placebo groups had a 50% response rate. There were no significant differences in overall disease activity, but the PVAC group experienced more pain reduction. PVAC was well-tolerated, but it was not more effective than placebo. The high placebo response emphasised the need for rigorous controls in such trials.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are other benefits of Mycobacterium vaccae?

Mycobacterium vaccae has potential benefits for allergy and asthma management, gut health, and enhancing quality of life in cancer patients:

  1. Allergy and Asthma: Exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae may help reduce the severity of allergies and asthma by modulating immune responses to be less reactive.

  2. Gut Health: There's emerging interest in the bacterium's role in improving gut health by potentially reducing gut inflammation, though more research is needed to understand these effects.

  3. Cancer Patients : A preliminary studies indicate that cancer patients might experience improved quality of life when treated with Mycobacterium vaccae, possibly due to enhanced immune function.

More studies are required to fully validate these benefits and understand how they can be applied in medical practice.

Who should consider increasing their exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae?

Increasing exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae could be beneficial for various groups of people, based on its potential health benefits:

  • Individuals Experiencing Stress: Given its potential to enhance stress resilience, individuals facing high levels of stress might benefit from activities that increase exposure to this bacterium.

  • People with Mood Disorders: As Mycobacterium vaccae has been linked to improved mood and psychological well-being through its interaction with serotonin pathways, those suffering from depression or anxiety could consider ways to increase their exposure.

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