Written by The Guardian, Wed 14 Oct 2020
Autoimmune diseases are rising fast but first experimental study shows nature could help
Damian Carrington Environment editor
Children whose outdoor play areas were transformed from gravel yards to mini-forests showed improved immune systems within a month, research has shown.
The scientists believe this is because the children had developed significantly more diverse microbes on their skin and in their guts than the children whose playgrounds were not upgraded.
Across the western world, rates of autoimmune diseases, where the body mistakenly attacks itself, are rising. The diseases include asthma, eczema, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. A leading possible explanation for this trend, called the hygiene hypothesis, is that children are being exposed to far fewer microbes than in the past. This means their immune systems are less challenged and more prone to making mistakes.
Previous studies have shown statistical associations between exposure to microbial diversity and the development of a well-functioning immune system. But this is the first study to deliberately change the children’s environment and therefore indicate a causal link.
The researchers said their experiment shows it may be possible to improve the development of the immune system with relatively simple changes to the living environments of urban children.
The study involved 75 children in two cities in Finland, a relatively small number for a trial. “But when we saw the results, we were very surprised because they were so strong,” said Aki Sinkkonen, at Natural Resources Institute Finland, who led the work. “Our study can pave the way for new preventive practices to cut the global epidemic of immune-mediated diseases.”
Sinkkonen said there are similar experimental studies currently taking place elsewhere but their results have not yet been published. His team has now started research to see if giving babies a boost in microbe diversity then goes on to reduce levels of autoimmune disease.
“It is wonderful forward-looking work.” said Prof Graham Rook, at University College London. “Many of the disorders that are increasing in western urbanised populations are due to failure of the mechanisms that supervise the immune system. This study shows that exposing children to a biodiverse natural environment boosts several biomarkers of the essential control mechanisms. These Finnish research groups have been leading the way in applying this understanding in a practical way.”
The research is published in the journal Science Advances and was conducted by a large team including experts in medicine, ecology and urban planning. The children were between three and five years old and spread between 10 similar daycare centres.
In four centres, turf from natural forest floors, complete with dwarf shrubs, blueberries, crowberry, and mosses, were installed in previously bare play areas. The children spent an average of 90 minutes a day outside and were encouraged to play with the plants and soil. “It was easy because [the green area] was the most exciting place in the yard,” said Sinkkonen. The cost for each green yard was around €5,000, less than the annual maintenance budgets for the yards.
Tests after 28 days showed the diversity of microbes on the children’s skin was a third higher than for those still playing in gravel yards and was significantly increased in the gut. Blood samples showed beneficial changes to a range of proteins and cells related to the immune system, including anti-inflammatory cytokine and regulatory T cells.
The researchers gave all the children the same meals each day and excluded the small number who had been given probiotic supplements by their parents. The scientists could not control the home environment but said the fact that a significant effect was seen despite variable home conditions shows the effect of the forest intervention was strong.
Living with a dog cuts child's risk of asthma by 15%, study showsThe researchers are also investigating whether sand pits can be inoculated with diverse microbes to boost the immune system of children in places where forest soil and plants are not available.
Prof Glenn Gibson, at the University of Reading, in the UK, and a board member of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, said: “This is an interesting study and potentially important but I do not agree that diversity is the key marker for gut health. High functionality can occur with low diversity. For instance, look at a virus that sweeps the world. Having said that, the researchers have assessed certain health biomarkers and not relied solely upon diversity as an indicator, so it is good study.”
A report in 2019 by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health concluded that grubbing around outside is important for building a robust immune system, but that cleanliness is still vital when people are preparing and eating food.
How Denmark develops their children to nurture trust, learning, team works and how to deal with risk.
If a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved
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. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.
We have always known this intuitively. But in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas.
The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
How do we shake off the effects of our mechanized, systemised fast-past world? How do we strip away the burdens of daily life to re-discover our true selves? The Unplugged weekend offers the chance to relax in the peaceful surroundings of the historic Dartington estate and immerse yourself in calm of the natural world.
This is an even in Devon that Sarah is probably going to. I put it up here in-case someone might like to go along.
East Devon Forest Garden
Collumpton, EX15 2EN
Open days - Forest garden 'Tour and tea' -
1pm to 4pm (Either May 13th / July 1st or 25 August)Join Sagara’s Forest Garden Tour (approx. 2 hours) including refreshements and the option to swim in the natural swimming pond! suggested donation £7 pay on the day.
and stay around for the evening /or come along to:
Forest Garden Meal 'Hearts by the Hearth' 6pm till 9pm (Either May 13th / July 1st or 25th August)Enjoy an evening of foraged Forest Garden delights and entertainment. Share with us your favorite poem/ song/ story/ talents alongside other entertainment.
Suggested donation £15 pay on the day
We just got awarded £800 from the Aylesbury Vale Community Chest! Ingrid spotted an article in the local paper awhile ago, saying that AVDC will be discontinuing funding, and that this was the last chance to submit applications. Anyway, Ingrid filled out the forms, and called up a few times to get it right. And she spent quite some time to get everythign right.
And now, a few weeks later, we were informed that we have been awarded £800! We plan to spend this on funding a training course for one of our volunteers, buying plants, and paying for plants in 2017.
This is money that is initially paid in by us, so we are reusing our tax.
We also asked Waitrose to use the community fund they have at the tilles, with the green tokens. Well, they have just given us £219!
So we are really able to do a little more now, as this will pay for our insurance for 2017 - always a problem of where to get the money from.
Forest and Folk is Open! Come party with us!
We really hope to see you this Friday 26th August for our opening party! Drop in any time from 6pm for a glass of punch and a tour of the new medicine garden, browse the studio shop and see our workshop. We're located at the fabulous Milton Keynes Arts Centre in Great Linford, just off the V8 (see here for directions).
We'll be launching our Autumn membership shares during the evening too.
Each season we will have a number of membership shares available - this Autumn there will be just 20 exclusive shares up for grabs. Shares will cost £60 and you’ll be able to collect your products at our Winter celebration in December, just in time for Christmas. Share members will also receive 5% off at the till on all shop products!
We will have an example share available to see in the shop on the night, but here's what you are likely to get in the December share:
Fire Cider - a naturally antibiotic brew, drink neat or use in salads and soups
Winter warming tea - a general tonic tea, reminiscent of summer with a hint of spice
Great Green Healers balm - containing comfrey from the garden here
Elderberry cough syrup - containing rose and hyssop from the garden here
Meadowsweet muscle and joint rub - our popular remedy for aches and pains
Your support, in buying a share upfront, will help keep us open, enable us to develop the medicine garden, buy quality ingredients and give us time to nurture, gather, and prepare healing medicine for you.
In the future, the majority of the plants we use will be grown in the garden. Where we can’t grow something or it doesn’t make sense to, we always use sustainable wild gathering practices. We go to great lengths to use organic, fair trade, packaging free, and small scale produced ingredients in Forest and Folk products. We want to help create sustainable supply chains and give you a really special product!
Don't worry if you'd like to sign up for a share but can't make the opening, we will be open from 1st September, Monday to Saturday so please pop in and we'll be happy to sign you up. We will also make shares available to sign up for through our online shop from Saturday 27th August, these will cost £65 to cover merchant fees. Signs ups will end on 1st October.
Thank you in advance for supporting us! If you have any questions about membership shares, or anything else - please email us. We look forward to welcoming you to the Forest and Folk community!
LAST EVER WESTONBIRT ARBORETUM TREEFEST 2016 !!! 27/28/29th august
Just to let you know this year will be the last ever TreeFest to take place.
Posted on January 19, 2016 by Dartington
The Dartington Hall Trust has co-signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss MP, requesting a review of the government’s position on the use of agroforestry methods in England.
The Trust is just one of a large number of organisations including the Royal Forestry Society, The Woodland Trust and The Permaculture Association who believe the benefits of agroforestry practices merit greater consideration by policy-makers.
In the letter, the co-signatories state that “…if adopted (agroforestry) could make a positive contribution to climate change mitigation, flood prevention and agricultural productivity… We believe that the environmental benefits, not least in relation to the prevention of flooding and water management generally, and the potential uptake of agroforestry have been underestimated”.
Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust on the Dartington estate
Agroforestry is the practice of integrating the cultivation of trees, crops and livestock on the same agricultural area for greater productivity and biodiversity.
Dartington is in the process of exploring the possibilities of the practice, and 50 acres of agroforestry will be planted on the estate later this year at Old Parsonage Farm. The initiative is part of the estate’s Land Use Review in action, and aims to explore and promote the possibilities of this little-understood form of agriculture.
The Dartington estate is also home to the Agroforestry Research Trust, cultivators of a self-sustaining ‘forest garden’ containing a very diverse number of species and thus very resilient to pests, diseases and the vagaries of the climate.
This lack of understanding is addressed in the letter as an issue: “…the premature rejection of agroforestry options by your predecessor was at least in part, based on lack of familiarity … with the subject itself… We would like to invite you to visit a farm in East Anglia where commercial agroforestry is practiced, so as to view for yourself the merits of such systems and meet with stakeholders and farmers involved and interested in adopting agroforestry.”
|Buckingham Edible Woodland|