Research conducted so far on the benefits of forests to human health does not include accurate descriptions of forest variables. This information needs to be improved in order to provide data that supports forest management and decision-making regarding its potential use for people’s health.
How should forests be characterized in regard to human health based on existing literature? This is the question that a team of researchers from the UAB, CREAF and CTFC wanted to answer in their study. To do so, they have evaluated and reviewed numerous scientific articles which show the health benefits experienced by people who are exposed to forest ecosystems, but the results of the review show that almost 20% of these studies do not describe the forest where they were made and, furthermore, the forest variables described are very heterogeneous.
“Although there is scientific evidence linking forest and human health, most of them focus on the medical part and forget the ecological component of forest ecosystems,” affirms Albert Bach, author of the article and researcher at the Environment and Human Health Laboratory (EH2Lab), coordinated by Dr. Maneja, a CTFC researcher. Bach also claims that “as we study the health of people in an integrated manner with interrelated systems, we should also analyse forests as a complex and rich system and we should make efforts to better understand it and be aware of its potential effects on human health”.
On the other hand, the study recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was also unable to identify patterns that relate forest type to major studied health variables, such as blood pressure, pulse rate and cortisol levels.
It is essential to encourage new research
One of the forest variables identified in the review are the biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), which are naturally produced by plants as a defensive mechanism against herbivores and environmental stress. While some studies have identified these compounds as responsible for the health effects induced by forest exposure, few reveal the mechanisms and pathways through which forests interact with human health.
It is therefore imperative to continue with new research in order to develop a more integrative and comprehensive approach not only in analysing the effects of forests on human health but also in better characterizing forest ecosystems in relation to these types of studies. This will provide more accurate data and tools for forest managers and decision-makers in coordination with healthcare professionals.
Albert Bach Pagès, Josep Peñuelas, Jana Clarà, Joan Llusià, Ferran Campillo i López, Roser Maneja (2020) How Should Forests Be Characterized in Regard to Human Health? Evidence from Existing Literature. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 17, 1027
Last modified: 10 March 2020