We live in a world seemingly obsessed with either industrialization or with greenification. While our cities are expanding, we hear the battle cries for keeping our planet green on the news and social media. While many strive for climate change, in functional medicine we are urging our patients to move towards nature and away from the sterile cities of concrete, pavement, steel, and glass. This study explains another mechanism by which we all can benefit from living near and spending time in green spaces.
Prior research has revealed living near green spaces like parks or fields correlates with posiive health outcomes and encourage physical activity. Others linked the positive effects with reducing obesity and improving mental health. These correlations are convincing enough to encourage our patients to spend time in nature, but researchers like to understand the mechanisms so we can move from correlation to causation.
Three theories for green effects included: 1) The greenness could counterbalance other harmful environmental exposures like noise pollution or air pollution, 2) The greenness could change beahvior and lead to higher levels of physical activity, 3) The green areas could increase social interactions and lower stress. Beyond the research supporting these theories, less had been done to look at potential direct benefits of green area proximity.
One potential mechanism was whether or not living near green spaces could lower oxidative stress in patients. Oxidative stress includes a variety of chemical changes to biologic molecules of our body in which excess or reactive oxygen damages proteins, fats, or DNA to the point of hindering their function. We produce some of our own oxidative stress by just burning the calories of our food in mitochondria. We also get more oxidative stress from some toxins in our environment and from others stressors in our lives. If our repair mechanisms do not outpace the ongoing damage from oxidative stress, dysfunction accumulates in many disease forms.
Researchers in Italy took 323 children from a town in Italy and compared levels of an oxidative stress marker in their blood to their proximity to green areas in the town. Knowing that other factors like physical activity level could confound the results, they surveyed not only proximity to green areas but physical activity level also.
Their findings demonstrated that children who lived closer to green areas in the town had lower levels of oxidative stress chemicals in their urine. When they factored out the levels of physical activity, they show that these changes could not be directly linked to physical activity, but instead fluctuated with the proximity to green spaces.
With a study like this in our back pockets and the extremely low side effect risk profile of spending time in nature, we should prescribe more green time and less screen time for our children. Helping children live healthier more abundant lives is more about life choices than prescriptions.
Giulia Squillacioti, Anne-Elie Carsin, Valeria Bellisario, Roberto Bono, Judith Garcia-Aymerich. Multisite greenness exposure and oxidative stress in children. The potential mediating role of physical activity. Environmental Research, 2022; 209: 112857 DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.112857
Thanks to Science Daily:
Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). “Study finds lower oxidative stress in children who live and study near green spaces: The association between green space and oxidative stress was not found to be related to the frequency of children’s physical activity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220301131126.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.