No matter where you live today, no matter what your politics are, there is really no denying there’s a nasty virus at loose upon the world, and we are all at risk and vulnerable to some extent and in some degree.
People everywhere around us, the health professionals, the politicians, our friends and family, neighbours and workmates are all fixated on the virus and the havoc it wreaks, whilst often ignoring or even deriding the importance of self care and proactive protective measures. This is a familiar argument in health care history, going back to Pasteur and Bechamp, the germ theory and the terrain theory.
As a healthcare professional myself, I have been asked repeatedly by many people – my patients, visitors to my gardens, friends, family and others that I meet, about my opinion on this virus and this new experimental vaccine. I am unable to give a truly educated answer, if only because it is still so new around us and the implications, meanings and best practices are still being evaluated. However, one thing I do know is that the very act of living in this state of stress is actively weakening our immune systems and eroding our well being.
How exciting, therefore, to read this Italian study: Less COVID-19 deaths in southern and insular Italy, which suggests one reason for better outcomes from Covid infection in different, but comparable regions of the country is due to more forest cover and greater exposure to the airborne terpenes, the so-called phytoncides, that the trees release. Not just any trees either. Evergreens are substantially more effective than deciduous trees due to their high terpene yield, compounds with known immunomodulatory and antiviral effects.
The authors set out to explore why and how the percentage of deaths per population was lower in the southern Mediterranean regions such as Sardinia, Calabria and Basilica (0.06–0.10%) versus northern regions such as Lombardy (0.33%) and Emilia Romagna (0.29%). After controlling statistically for many factors, they conclude that areas with lower forest coverage had worst deaths rates than areas with large areas of intact forest. They suggest that organic, volatile terpenes from non-deciduous trees could bind and interfere with the complex formed by the receptor binding domain of the coronavirus spike protein with the human cell receptor.
They suggest further beneficial factors as being sea proximity, mild climate and a Mediterranean diet. And they conclude by stating that “Potential implications include ‘forest bathing’ as a therapeutic practice, designing nasal sprays containing plant volatile organic compounds, and preserving and increasing forest coverage”.
These findings are in keeping with previous research in Shinrin Yoku (Japanese Forest bathing Therapy) that demonstrates benefits in helping stress and immune support, but, if true in the case of Covid, these are quite significant findings. Imagine how great it is that something as simple as a walk in the woods can do so much good. When forest walks are part of the prescription for wellness, the whole world benefits.
Less COVID-19 deaths in southern and insular Italy explained by forest bathing, Mediterranean environment, and antiviral plant volatile organic compounds, Environ Chem Lett (09/01/2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10311-021-01309-5