Basic Health Habit No.13: Nature



Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.  

The human body is an ecosystem of complementary, co-dependent, and cooperative systems, functioning together to maintain health and designed to heal itself. As long as we are made of flesh and blood, we are bound by natural laws. A healthy environment is essential for human physiological health; it is a symbiotic relationship.

There is a parallel story about our health and the environment, here in Canada. The same ideas and beliefs inform our environmental and personal healthcare choices, and the results reflect each other.

According to the World Health Organization's 2011 Report on Disease in Canada, Canadians are leading the worldwide epidemic of chronic disease, and in 2013, 29.3 billion dollars was spent on prescription drugs; 36% of Canadians take two or more prescription drugs, among the highest of the 11 other OECD countries surveyed.

A 2010 study: The Maple Leaf in The OECD, conducted by Simon Fraser University, rated the environmental record of the 25 developed countries belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), using 28 environmental indicators. Canada ranks 24th out of 25 developed countries for environmental health and sustainability. 

We need to shift our relationship with our natural environment from parasitic to mutualistic; honouring the obligate symbiotic relationship that actually exists.

Health is the missing consideration. If health has an equal place alongside critical care and cure, profit and progress; better choices are made, and the benefits are more comprehensive and sustainable. 

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HEALTH COACH proposes that a healthy environment and healthy citizens are the most profitable choice individually, and collectively. Fortunately, there are a lot of studies and research exploring and providing evidence of the physiological health benefits of nature.

We need a healthy environment to be healthy and disease-free. 






Are We Really Allergic To Nature?

Why do we get allergies? 
Currently, the leading theory suggests that allergies are a misfiring of a defence against parasitic worms. Before modern public health and food safety systems, our ancestors faced a lifelong struggle against these worms, as well as ticks and other parasitic animals. According to the worm theory, the proteins of parasitic worms are similar in shape to other molecules we regularly encounter in our lives. If we encounter those molecules, we mount a pointless defence, which leads to the auto-immune theory of harmful immune system reaction.

The Hygiene Hypothesis is also still popular culturally, and clinically, here in Canada. It will take some time for doctors and patients to shift their thinking to include the understanding that allergies are a protective behaviour of the immune system against invading pathogens, rather than the auto-immune theory of destructive attack against self that ignores the critical issue of our unhealthy internal and external environments. 


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Immune System Dysfunction or Natural Defense?
Allergies are not simply a biological blunder, theorizes Ruslan Medzhitov. Instead, they’re an essential defence against noxious chemicals - a defence that has served our ancestors for tens of millions of years and continues to do so today. 

Allergens often cause physical damage. They rip open cells, irritate membranes, slice proteins into tatters. Maybe, Medzhitov thought, allergens do so much damage that we need a defence against them. “If you think of all the major symptoms of allergic reactions - runny noses, tears, sneezing, coughing, itching, vomiting and diarrhea - all of these things have one thing in common,” said Medzhitov. “They all have to do with expulsion.” Suddenly the misery of allergies take on a new look. Allergies aren’t the body going haywire; they are the body’s strategy for getting rid of the allergens.

Stephen Galli, chair of the Pathology Department at Stanford University School of Medicine, had spent years studying mast cells, the enigmatic immune cells that can kill people during allergic reactions. He suspected mast cells may actually help the body. In 2006, for example, Galli and colleagues found that mast cells destroy a toxin found in viper venom. That discovery led Galli to wonder, like Medzhitov, whether allergies might be protective. Medzhitov predicts that these experiments will show that allergen detection is like a home-alarm system. The damage caused by an allergen rouses the immune system, which gathers up molecules in the vicinity and makes antibodies in response. 

Internal and External Environmental Health
Allergists and immunologists immediately and often exclusively connect pollen with the release of allergens and the development of allergic diseases. This is most unfortunate because, first of all, pollen grains primarily bear a natural mission. This natural mission is the unitary adaptive function to reach a receptive stigma and to deliver two haploid nuclei to the recipient ovary in order to transmit genetic information from the male parent to the offspring.  
Under natural exposure conditions, the bioavailability of allergen depends on protein liberation from internal binding sites within the allergen carrier. Little is known about the physiological function of the allergenic proteins within the pollen grain even though some have been identified as defence proteins. Thus, the release of these proteins - harmful for humans - depends, in part, on stress situations for the plant.  
Climate changes over the last few decades have resulted not only in significant alterations in the growing season, but also in the pollen seasons. Several studies have reported a premature start of the pollen season.  
There is a link between the increased prevalence of allergic airway diseases and an increase in air pollution. Higher ambient levels of CO2 may also affect pollen production. Experimental research has shown that a doubling in CO2 levels significantly stimulated and increased ragweed pollen production. Pollen grains absorb heavy metals: lead and cadmium, nitric oxide and sulphur dioxide. Pollen induced asthma is caused by allergen-containing aerosols that bind with physical particulate matter in the environment of various submicronic sizes that are small enough to be respirable.
Throughout evolution, the protective benefits of allergies outstripped their drawbacks. That balance shifted with the rise of modern Western life as we created and were exposed to more synthetic chemicals, each of which could potentially cause damage and trigger an allergic reaction.

Add to this, the neglect and abuse of physiological health that results in physical deterioration, malfunction, a cascade effect of health complications, and finally, to disease. We are now more than three generations (the industrial revolution began between 1760-1840, and the first GMO crop was planted in 1927) into this neglectful and damaging behaviour affecting our physiological and environmental health.

Health is the Only Cure
If we are to come to an understanding about allergies, and to effectively address the 21st century epidemic of allergic hypersensitivity, we will need to: take responsibility for the state of our internal and external environmental health; change our behaviour that has created and contributes to these issues; include knowledge, understanding, and support of the healthy physiological function of the human body and for earth health; put into practice the basic health habits that create and maintain health; and include health in our considerations and decisions.


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The Physiological Benefits of Nature
  • Improved health: reduced blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, stress hormone production; decreasing the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases
  • Social-emotional health: Connection to nature can improve interpersonal relationships, emotional wellbeing, sharpen the senses, and help cultivate new skills.
  • Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness: patients looking at green spaces or green, living things healed faster during their recovery time.
  • Sustained, improved immune system function: Nippon Medical School found that visits to the forest (compared with urban trips) can have a long-lasting influence on immune system markers, increasing the activity of antiviral cells and intracellular anti-cancer proteins - and these changes remained significant for a full week after the visit. 
  • Phytoncides, secreted by trees, have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days.
  • Children’s ADHD symptoms decreased after time spent outside
  • Nature changes the brain: Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show. Such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. Meaningful improvements in mental health and brain activity were observed after time spent in nature. 
  • Pain relief: Even the scent of nature is beneficial: Chemicals secreted by trees, known as phytoncides, have been linked with improved immune defense as well as a reduction in anxiety and increase in pain threshold (supported by other research). 
  • Improved sleep: As your stress hormones lower and your body feels more calm, sleep should come easier and be deeper. Nature encourages us to connect our lifestyle to our natural circadian rhythm, which is a physiologically supportive biological clock. Check this out: Waking Up To The Dark - Ancient Wisdom For A Sleepless Age
  • Improved mental health: Moving to greener urban areas is associated with sustained mental health improvements, suggesting that environmental policies to increase urban green space may have sustainable public health benefits. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks.
  • Decreased bad feelings and increased good feelings: reduces stress, anxiety, fear, anger, and depression; increasing feelings of calm, peaceful happiness, meaningfulness, and vitality. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at the trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects.
  • According to recent scientific studies, spending time in nature can help boost our energy, happiness, creativity, memory and even self-esteem.
  • Improved directed attention and concentration: by reducing mental fatigue, leading to increased ability to focus and to perform tasks. The same benefits were demonstrated for children with ADHD in research by Andrea Taylor
    • Positive behavioural change: promotes self-discipline, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-concept, self-perception, and reduces aggressive behaviours
    • Increased empathy and compassion: When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.
    • Healthier communities: residents in a public housing development who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees. In addition to this greater sense of community, they had a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.
    • Childhood exposure influences adult behaviour: One study found that the more nature-based activities people participate in during childhood, the more they desire such activities and are able to mitigate constraints to participation, and consequently, the higher the level of participation, as an adult.
    • Nature deprivation: a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. More unexpected are studies by Weinstein and others that associate screen time with loss of empathy and lack of altruism
    • And the risks are even higher than depression and isolation. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, time in front of a screen was associated with a higher risk of death, and that was independent of physical activity
    • stay tuned for more ...




    What Plants Talk About - Full Documentary






    A Practical Guide
    • Earthing CanadaEarthing, also known as grounding, is based on research that demonstrate that connecting to Earth’s electrical energy promotes physical wellbeing. The act of Earthing refers to a physical connection between the electrical frequencies of the human body with that of Earth’s (think barefoot in the grass, or at the beach). Just like the sun constantly provides us with energy and vitamins, the earth too is a source of subtle energy that contributes to optimum health. Earthing can be achieved in a number of ways: standing, sitting, lying or walking with direct skin contact with the ground is the easiest but conducting and grounding products like bed sheets provide a convenient method of connecting with Earth when it’s otherwise impractical.
    • Planet Heart: How an unhealthy environment leads to heart disease

    Plastic To Oil Fantastic



    DO YOU KNOW?

    Symbiosis:  current biology and ecology textbooks now use the Anton de Bary definition: the living together of unlike organisms, including those that can be described as: obligate, mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic; or an even broader definition where symbiosis means all species interactions; with the restrictive definition where symbiosis means mutualism only, no longer used. 

    Shinrin-Yoku Forest Medicine: This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest. Shinrin-yoku is a term that means taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

    Ecopsychology studies the relationship between human beings and the natural world through ecological and psychological principles. The field seeks to develop and understand ways of expanding the emotional connection between individuals and the natural world, thereby assisting people with developing sustainable lifestyles and remedying alienation from nature. This subfield extends beyond the traditional built environment of psychology in order to examine why people continue environmentally damaging behaviour, and to develop methods of positive motivation for adopting sustainable practices. Evidence suggests that many environmentally damaging behaviours are addictive at some level, and thus are more effectively addressed through positive emotional fulfillment rather than by inflicting shame. Other names used to refer to ecopsychology include, Gaia psychology, psychoecology, ecotherapy, environmental psychology, green psychology, global therapy, green therapy, Earth-centered therapy, re-earthing, nature-based psychotherapy, shamanic counselling, ecosophy, and sylvan therapy. The main premise of ecopsychology is that while today the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it is adapted to the natural environment in which it evolved.

    The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, BiophiliaThe term biophilia means love of life or living systems. It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Human beings have an innate instinct to connect emotionally with nature, particularly the aspects of nature that recall what evolutionary psychologists have termed the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness; the natural conditions that the human species evolved to inhabit. 

    Cognitive Computing: Digital technology has the ability to connect us to the environment in an intimate way, and to inform and predict the health of the earth; to solve the disparity between the limitations of our intelligence and our ability to create a sustainable future on the planet.





    Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.  Francis Bacon
    Autumn Mist Photo: Katya Horner


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