4 Phytoncides Benefits: How Trees Improve Our Health
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Why does it feel so good to be outside? After some time in the sun or being around greenery, moods can change, and bodies feel more relaxed. There are countless scientific explanations for why nature nourishes the human body, and one of them is phytoncides. Phytoncides have benefits that supplement any healthful diet and fitness regimen to support a balanced lifestyle. Examine the benefits of these mysterious compounds to enhance the significance of outdoor experiences.
What Are Phytoncides, and What Plants Produce Them?
Phytoncides are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and VOCs come from countless origins with varying degrees of effects on humans. VOCs from toxic paint, for example, create poor indoor air quality over time. On the other end of the spectrum, plants produce phytoncides that have myriad benefits for human health. Plant phytoncides are antimicrobial to eliminate harmful microbes and help to fight against insects and predators.
Humans absorb phytoncides by inhalation. However, the forest must have a specific temperature to be ideal for producing meaningful levels of phytoncides, usually on the warmer side. Though all forests could make us feel more positive after a nature walk, not every location is optimal for phytoncide absorption.
All plants produce phytoncides because that’s built into their metabolic functions, manifesting as natural oils. Some of the plants that make the most phytoncides include:
- Trees: Like pine, fir, cedar, and oak.
- Produce: Like onion and garlic.
- Spices: Like coriander, rosemary, cinnamon, and sage.
Phytoncides’ benefits feel more potent because of the other natural processes that make existing in nature so favorable for the human experience. With extra oxygen and fewer stressful stimuli on top of the phytoncides, it’s easy to conceptualize how there’s another facet of plants that continually benefits humans.
1. Lowers Cortisol
Several stress hormones impact our bodies, like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are powerful enough, as they’re the magic behind the fight-or-flight response. However, sometimes when the brain makes these hormones, it causes adverse health side effects like increased blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. Stress side effects trickle into countless parts of the body, damaging everything in small ways that add up over time.
Studies show that everyone experiences reduced cortisol levels after less than 30 minutes, regardless of whether a participant is walking or sitting in the woods. When cortisol levels are down, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t have to work as hard — meaning the body can go into a more restful parasympathetic state, focused on recovery and relaxation.
2. Regulates Mood
Lowering stress hormones will inevitably assist in mental health management. Phytoncides could help with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disruptions. However, phytoncides regulate mood in different ways, too. There are a few types of phytoncides, and one of them is the antidepressant β-pinene. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties besides its ability to stave off depressant effects.
These qualities provide mental clarity and reduce anger because the body is better suited to handle stressors. Improved focus allows individuals to perform following their priorities instead of what is trying to distract the mind. Studies show that even just looking at trees provides these effects, but the phytoncides amplify it significantly.
3. Strengthens Immunity
One of the most well-studied benefits of phytoncides is their ability to increase natural killer (NK) cell activity. Despite the threatening name, pumping up these white blood cell numbers is vital for bolstering our body’s defenses against disease and illness. Plus, phytoncides are inherently antifungal and antibacterial, nourishing our body with as many boons as possible.
The increased NK count positively correlates with how long people absorb phytoncides. The longer they reside in the forest, the longer the high white blood cell count lasts in the body. Discoveries like this are critical, as they could expedite patients recovering from specific ailments.
Current studies aim to prove phytoncides’ ability to fight onset cancer symptoms, though these claims are still in early research stages, too early to validate.
4. Improves Sleep
Another phytoncide is α-pinene. Like others, it has antioxidant properties and sedative and analgesic qualities that improve sleep. The other phytoncide benefits compound here — reduced stress hormones, well-managed mental health, and heightened immunity can make falling into a dream less of a hassle. The mind is less likely to wander into anxious realms, and phytoncides could reduce feelings of pain.
How Do You Get Phytoncide’s Benefits?
Knowing where phytoncides originate, it’s simple to make assertions — spend more time in nature. It sounds simple, but it’s the best way to increase a person’s daily dose of phytoncides. Health practitioners and nature enthusiasts have created movements and systems to promote more natural interactivity worldwide.
The first of these is Japanese forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku. In a mission to reduce the stress of laborers, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries created shinrin-yoku that quickly became prescribed by doctors in the nation — and worldwide — for its apparent benefits.
Modern technology is also getting inspired by the benefits of nature. Though augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can’t release phytoncides, companies are trying to increase human involvement with nature in any way they can, especially with the revolutionary research of concepts like phytoncides.
These technologies could star as catalysts for more voluntary natural exploration, improving health through phytoncide absorption. Even though getting out in nature is the best way to benefit from phytoncides, companies are also trying to inspire people from the source and instilling what should be a natural desire to be outdoors.
The Evidence Behind Feeling Good in Nature
Even during the quarantining phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were scrambling to find some greenery to put in their otherwise sterile at-home workspaces. Science explains why humans craved these plants and helped carry some people through the roughest points of a stressed world.
Phytoncides are a natural byproduct humans don’t take advantage of enough — if humans spend more time outside, it could help increase lifespans and make every day more pleasurable and worthwhile.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.