“Vitamin N” - Your Microbiome Wants You to Spend Time Outdoors in Nature

DTS Chasing Sunrise Wendy Shepherd 2850

Our insides need us to get outside!

We spend a lot of time discussing the value of nutritious food and ensuring you get the vitamins and nutrients you need for your biology. This week as many of us turn our attention to the gradually warmer weather, we want to talk about Vitamin N–and why you and all of us need more in our daily lives.

Vitamin N, coined by author Richard Louv, refers to the time spent in nature, and it has been shown to have numerous benefits for our physical and mental health. Spending time in nature can be beneficial through its impact on the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and it plays a vital role in regulating many of our bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing. When we spend time in nature, we are exposed to a variety of sensory stimuli, such as the sound of birds or wind moving or the feeling of the sun on our skin, which can activate the vagus nerve.

This activation of the vagus nerve has been shown to have a range of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving mood, and enhancing the body's ability to regulate stress. Additionally, studies have shown that spending time in nature can increase heart rate variability, a measure of the vagus nerve's function.

Nature benefits for your microbiome

Another way in which spending time in nature can be beneficial for our health is through its impact on our microbiome. The Earth has its own collection of microbial communities within the soil, air, plant life, water, animals, and in the many different climates around the globe. This can be explored through the ongoing Earth Microbiome Project, as they attempt to identify microbial communities for the benefit of the planet and humankind. 

Many of these microbes found in nature can be beneficial to your human microbiome: 

  • More exposure to diverse microbial communities: Being outside in nature can expose you to a wider range of microorganisms than you would encounter indoors. This, in turn, can help increase the diversity of your own microbiome, which has been linked to improved health outcomes, reduced risk of metabolic health issues, digestive issues, and certain diseases.

  • Increased exposure to beneficial bacteria: Many of the microorganisms found in nature are beneficial to human health. For example, soil bacteria such as Mycobacterium vaccae have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, help decrease the effects of stress, and improve mood.10 

  • Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals: Getting outdoors takes you away from everyday chemicals that you are exposed to while indoors: cleaning products, pesticides, and flame retardants, as well as chemicals released into the air from building materials such as paint, adhesives, and new carpeting. These chemicals can disrupt the balance of your microbiome and have been linked to a range of health problems.

  • Increased physical activity: Spending time outside often involves physical activity, which has been linked to a healthier microbiome. Movement and exercise can help to increase the diversity of your microbiome and help reduce inflammatory response. Take yourself outdoors for a walk, jog, bikeride, hike, or even just spend some time in the natural grass picnicking, or gardening in your own backyard. 

  • Reduced stress: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress,11 which can have a positive effect on your microbiome. Stress can disrupt the balance of your microbiome and lead to higher inflammatory response and other health problems.

In summary, spending time in nature, or Vitamin N, has been shown to have numerous benefits for our physical and mental health, including its impact on the vagus nerve and our microbiome. Making time to get outside and connect with nature is an excellent way to support our overall well-being.


  1. Flies EJ, Clarke LJ, Brook BW, Jones P. (2020). Urbanization reduces the abundance and diversity of airborne microbes-but what does that mean for our health? A systematic review. Science of the Total Environment.

  2. Haahtela T. (2019). A biodiversity hypothesis. Allergy.

  3. Kondo MC, Jacoby SF, South EC. (2018). Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments. Health Place.

  4. Kox, M., et al. (2014). "Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 20.

  5. Li, Q., et al. (2007). "Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins." International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, vol. 20, no. 2 Suppl. 2.

  6. Louv, Richard.(2016). Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Algonquin Books. 

  7. Pearson DG, Craig T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Front Psychology.

  8. Rothschild, D. et al. (2018). "Environment dominates over host genetics in shaping human gut microbiota." Nature, vol. 555.

  9. Sobko, Tanja et al. (2020). “Impact of outdoor nature-related activities on gut microbiota, fecal serotonin, and perceived stress in preschool children: the Play&Grow randomized controlled trial.” Scientific Reports vol. 10

  10. Smith, D.G., et al. (2019). [Identification of Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil-derived bacterium with immune, mood and stress resilience properties]. Psychopharmacology (Berl). PubMed Central. 

  11. Morita E, Fukuda S, Nagano J, et al. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. PubMed.