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Great Outdoors, Great Immune Function

An important principle of naturopathic medicine is recognizing the healing power of nature. This healing power not only comes from the use of the natural world around us as medicine, but also improving the conditions or ‘terrain’ of the body to assist in self-healing. One of the earliest documents suggesting that nature has the ability to affect human health comes from Hippocrates when he wrote the treatise On Airs, Waters, and Places around 400 BCE [1]. 

plant on stack of books with white background

The science has certainly caught up since the days of Hippocrates. The literature now suggests that at least 21 different pathways have been identified in which nature is beneficial to human health [2]. This article will specifically focus on the role of nature and its positive effect on immune system regulation: 


  1. Many plants release phytoncides which are antimicrobial, organic compounds that ward off insects. Research suggests that when humans spend time outdoors and breath in phytoncides, these compounds may help to boost immune function [2].

  2. Spending time outdoors also exposes us to a variety of  beneficial microorganisms that have evolved with humans for thousands of years. Exposure to these symbiotic microorganisms has been proposed to help in the development of the immune system as well as to regulate systemic inflammation [3]. 

  3. When the weather is favorable, we are more likely to go outdoors for a walk or to tend to the garden. The physical movements involved in walking, picking up bags of mulch, digging in the yard, etc help to reduce inflammatory cytokines, which is also a benefit to the immune system [4]. There is plenty of research out there describing the health benefits of exercise, but those benefits can be greatly multiplied through physical activity in the outdoors. 


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References

  1. Hippocrates “On Airs, Waters, and Places.”, translated by Francis Adams, Location http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/airwatpl.1.1.html. Accessed Online 05/23/2024.

  2. Victorson D, Luberto C, Koffler K. Nature As Medicine: Mind, Body, and Soil. J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Aug;26(8):658-662. doi: 10.1089/acm.2020.0221. Epub 2020 Jul 21. PMID: 32716203.

  3. Twohig-Bennett C, Jones A. The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environ Res. 2018 Oct;166:628-637. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.06.030. Epub 2018 Jul 5. PMID: 29982151; PMCID: PMC6562165.

  4. Kuo M. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Front Psychol. 2015 Aug 25;6:1093. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093. PMID: 26379564; PMCID: PMC4548093.



Disclaimer:

This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.

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