Forests provide several benefits to mankind. Its vital role in our eco system cannot be overlooked or overstated. They filter our water, provide timber, protect soil, regulate climate and provide a habitat for innumerable animal species and life forms amongst other things. But this time we are going to concentrate on phytoncides.

An essential oil released by trees and plants into the atmosphere called phytoncides (to protect themselves from harmful germs and insects) can also enhance human natural killer cell activity. It can boost immune functions, fight disease, reduce stress and ultimately be beneficial to human health.

In fact, several studies have shown, that exposure to phytoncides promote complete wellness that is devoid of any side effects. Forest bathing is for anyone who wants to achieve natural well-being.

The reality, however, is that city life, borne out of modernization, is fast disconnecting us from nature. Nearly 80% of the people living in the cities do not have access to trees or green spaces.

A study at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan, depicted that people living in the city can actually enjoy all the benefits of phytoncides by spending time in the forest or green spaces. Alternatively, city residents can spend time at parks where they can have access to trees and green views. The study shows, that the beneficial effects of phytoncides on humans can last for more than 30days. Hence, having a habit of once-a-month forest bathing is sufficient for anyone seeking to gain the tremendous advantages of the healing effect of phytoncides. More about the health benefits of forest bathing you can read in my other post HERE

No doubt, taking regular forest bathing trip is a cost-effective way to gain from the natural bounty of nature. Understanding how phytoncides work to benefit humans can motivate you to include at least one forest bathing trip in your monthly routine. As a forest therapy coach, I recommend regular forest bathing for you.

In order to further motivate you to take action, I have drawn the curtain aside to reveal some of the features and benefits of phytoncides and why you should adopt the habit of forest bathing.

What is phytoncide?

Phytoncides are essential aromatic volatile oils that are excrete by plants and trees. Their solutions contain monoterpenoids such as a-pinene, carene, and myrcene. They are anti-microbial substances that help trees to fight diseases and protect them from harmful organisms. In some cases, phytoncides also aid plants to attract insects that help in the pollination process.

Phytoncide substances have been found to significantly increased NK cell activity, number of NK cells, and the intracellular levels of anti-cancer proteins.

How does phytoncides work for humans?

Phytoncides work as anti-microbial in the human body. So, when we breathe in these chemicals, they help to increase the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells (NK). Studies have found that the NK cells help to kill tumors and virus-infected cells in our bodies.

Amazingly, the impact of the inhaled phytoncides lasts for more than 30 days in the human body system.

Aside the fact that a forested environment provides cooler temperature, shady areas, filtered light from the sun, and a higher concentration of oxygen, among other benefits, the air borne plant chemicals called phytoncides have great deal of potentials for human health. The following are some of the health benefits of phytoncides that studies have identified. Researches are currently on-going to discover more benefits of phytoncide chemicals to humans.

Phytoncides boost immune system

Several studies have established the fact that inhaling phytoncides help to increase the number of natural killer cells (NK) and their activities in the body. The NK cells naturally eliminate virus-infected cell in the human system. This self-cleansing process consequently helps to boost the immune system.

In this picture below, you can see the difference between three days spent in forest scenery and respectively in city. Three days nature trip with two hours of forest bathing in a day resulted in 50% increase in NK-cell activity on the second day and the rise was already significant on the first day.

When this same experiment was done in hotel environment by vaporizing phytoncides to hotel room air for 12 hours’ time, the increase in NK-cell activity was 30%. So, the real thing is more effective! (And this was also tested without phytoncides and it did not affect NK activity.)

Forest vitamins help prevent cancer

Researchers opine that living in heavily forested areas could significantly decrease risk of early mortality associated with cancer. A study in Japan found that populations that lived in areas with more trees reported lower rate of several different types of cancer. Thus, more researches in Japan and around the world are currently exploring the extent to which exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

Three days nature trip with two hours of forest bathing in a day increased anti-cancer proteins perforin by 26 percent, granzymes by 17-20 percent and granulysin by 26 percent. After 30 days, their levels were still slightly elevated.

Phytoncides reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and work as antibiotics

Several studies have shown that the components in phytoncides exhibit antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, that help to reduce blood pressure. Some experts agree that these characteristics of phytoncides make it an ideal alternative to medication in drug-eluting stents (DES) for cardiovascular patients. This medicinal function was linked to the antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects of monoterpenoids. This kind of prescription does not have negative side effects common to most drugs.

In picture below, you can see how phytoncides have managed to work as a substitute for antibiotics or antifungals. It’s amazing, how phytoncide oil beats antibiotics when fighting against legionella bacteria!

Vitamin N relieves stress

When you take a forest bathing trip, you breathe in the fresh air from the forested environment. The air borne phytoncides in the oxygen rich cool environment instantly gives you a relief from stress. They also help to increase focus and improve your mood. Of course, spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, and birds helps us to relax the cognitive portion of the brain, allowing us to focus better with a renewed energy. Overall, phytoncides increase our well-being.

Adrenalin and cortisol are stress related substances in human body. Now I want to concentrate on adrenaline, because it has been reported to inhibit NK-cell activity. Study of three days nature trip with two hours of forest bathing in a day resulted in 36% drop in adrenaline levels.

It has been studied, that stress lowers our immunity and causes diseases. There hasn’t been any specific medication developed to relieve stress. Medicine only treats the symptoms of stress, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, headaches and many more. So, I would highly recommend anyone combating with stress to have regular forest bathing trips.

Phytoncides improve mood and increase focus

Forest bathing helps you to focus and remove the fatigue associated with our ever-busy daily routines. Konkuk University tested 80 students brain waves, short term memory and power of concentration while they were working on a task, that demanded full attention. Then students inhaled phytoncides and did again a task, that required high concentration. As a result, the alpha waves (helps us to calm down when necessary and relax) increased remarkably and beta waves (too much beta may lead us to experience stress or anxiety) decreased. Also, short term memory and concentration power tests showed meaningful increase.

That before mentioned study of three days hotel visit, which affected on NK-cell activity did also have effect on test subjects’ mood according to POMS. The Profile of Mood States (POMS) is a psychological rating scale used to assess distinct mood states. Phytoncide exposure decreased the scores for tension/anxiety, depression, anger/hostility, fatigue and confusion. Most dramatic was the decrease of the scores of fatique.

Forest compounds increase the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD

It has also been suggested that phytoncide can help children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to focus better. Some studies have affirmed that kids who spend time in natural forested areas often show a reduction in attention fatigue. More also, children diagnosed with ADHD have been found to show a reduction in related symptoms when exposed to phytoncide through forest bathing. This is cost-effective and free of any kind of side effects.

Countless uses of phytoncides

Nature, forests and phytoncides have always been part of our lives. And we can only imagine the magnitude of things affected by them. Research finds constantly more and more uses for phytoncides.

In addition to above mentioned facts, you can use phytoncides for example to exile house dust mites. They cause allergies, asthma and atopy. Killing house dust mites isn’t enough, because also their remains cause health problems. Phytoncides are effective repellent for them. After 24 hours 90% of house dust mites avoided fiber infected by phytoncides.

Chungbuk University’s Animal Medical Institute has tested phytoncide oil to sterilize main bacteria that causes plaque and also bird flu virus. Phytoncides are also effective in acne treatments, to exile bacteria that causes scurf and in increasing hair growth. I wonder, what else we are going to find out about the necessity of phytoncides in coming years.

Deforestation, lack of phytoncides and illnesses

Forests cover about 31 percent of the world’s land surface and here in Finland staggering 72 percent. Luckily, the net annual rate of forest loss has slowed down from 0.18 percent in the early 1990’s to 0.08 percent. With forest area diminishing by the year, inadvertently comes the growing risk of losing the priceless benefits and protection we now enjoy.

The more humans interfere or alter their environment, transmission of diseases get worse. I wonder if clear cutting and deforestation increases diseases in those areas? Some people think that SARS was caused by the destruction of the forests in the Kuangdong area of China. The air is no more living air if it lacks phytoncides. The destruction of forest means the disappearance of phytoncides.

As mutant viruses have become worldwide issue, and various syndromes caused by the chemical substances become real problems, the interests on phytoncides will certainly be increased. Or what do you think?