Take two trees and call me in the morning…
Many of us work too much, don’t play enough, struggle with insomnia, fatigue and headaches. Many of us have IBS and other stress-related disorders, struggle with over-burdened immune systems and all of these things can lead to chronic and often severe or life threatening illnesses. We feel powerless to do much about it other than maybe buy a juicer that we never use, or vitamins that we forget to take. The Japanese have a therapy (some would say a cure) for many of these 21st century ailments. Studies have shown that it produces some startling results:
- blood pressure improvement
- reduced muscle tension
- increase in disease-fighting white blood cells
- combats insomnia and improves quality of sleep
- lower anxiety
- less pain
- less fatigue
- improved immune health
- combats depression
- fights stress and anger
- reduced likelihood of obesity & type 2 diabetes
- reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease
This miracle therapy is called Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku). It involves mindful, peaceful exposure to woodlands and forests. Now we all know that going for a walk is good for the health, good for the soul, but there’s slightly more to Shinrin-Yoku than that.
It gets pretty sciencey here so bear with me. It’s all about wood essential oils (Phytoncides). Exposure to them (via your respiratory system) reduces stress hormones (cortisol), which has a calming effect on your entire nervous system. This reduces adrenal stress, and supports your immune system. Phytoncides (such as isoprene, alpha-pinene, and beta-pinene) are antimicrobial – they fight infections. Exposure to them fights cancer and autoimmune disease.
You can read (decypher) the medical journals, but the gen is this:
“Phytoncides significantly enhance human NK activity and this effect is at least partially mediated by induction of intracellular perforin, granzyme A, and granulysin.”
To break this down – NK are a type of cytotoxic (preventing replication or growth of other cells – like cancer, granuloma, etc) lymphocyte critical to the immune system. NK recognise harmful cells like viruses and tumours WITHOUT the need for existing antibodies.
The other huge benefit of phytoncides is an increase in the hormone adiponectin. It has the same root word as adipose – the word we use for fatty tissue and it is also a super-hormone, regulating glucose levels, breaking down fatty acids. It is secreted from your fatty tissues. High levels of adiponectin fight diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, metabolic syndrome and has been shown to completely reverse insulin resistance in mice!
So is it proper science or just hairy fairy hippy stuff? I promise you, it’s real. In spite of the fact that every youtube video about it seems to be made by ‘mystical’ woodland people, every scientific and medical study conducted so far has shown reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness. This is science.
So you want some of these magical phytoncides? The trees that have the most are Pine and Oak. So a coniferous woodland, or an oak woodland, is the perfect place to go collect some! All you need is your nose! Shinrin-Yoku involves engaging with nature using all five senses, with particular emphasis on deep breathing.
How long do you have to do this for? Just 15 minutes can bring immediate benefits to blood pressure, stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety. To really ramp up those NK cells, studies show that two hours is the magic number. (In fact, two hours on two consecutive days can improve your white blood cell count by 40%!)
And the best part is that you don’t have to be ill to start! Shinrin-Yoku works preventatively! You can find your nearest woodland by using the Woodland Trust website. (Click the WT logo below).
*One last thing – If you are unable to get out to a woodland, you can get the benefit of phytoncides at home – essential oils of Pine and Cypress have been shown to release phytoncides into the air via an essential oil vapouriser, producing the same NK cell increase effects! Make sure you use 100% pure essential oils for this, and you can use an electric, tea light or radiator diffuser – it’s up to you, but the easiest way is to fill up a plug-in diffuser – I show you how in this blog post on detoxing your nose!