Nature Heals

Forest bathing - on the natural healing potential of "therapeutic landscapes"

Improved immune system incl. natural killer cell activity, stress reduction, prevention of stress-related diseases

by copyright © 2017 Healing Cancer Naturally

It's been a truism for "health nuts" that it's good for us to be close to nature - seeking contact with clear unpolluted water bodies, meadows, the earth, trees and certain animals. And Healing Cancer Naturally of course is all about reconnecting people with nature, striving to bring home the truly awe-inspiring power of natural healing.[1]

Some scientists have also been aware of this need to connect with the natural world - biologist Edward O. Wilson for instance devoted a book to our "innate affinity for nature" (The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1995).

New vistas regarding the healing potential of something we all tend to take for granted - trees - have been opened as early as 1984 by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D. who published a study in "Science" showing that hospital patients gazing at leafy trees rather than a brick wall were likely to heal faster, need less pain medication and suffer less postsurgical complications.

Additional studies showed that even photographs of green landscapes, streams or flowers had a positive effect, and physiological parameters such as muscle tension, EKG and EEG and blood pressure indicated a relaxation response (pain, anger, anxiety and stress lessening) setting in within minutes.

Modern times of course are marked by a growing estrangement from nature in all of its forms and the adoption of lifestyles increasingly divorced from the original bases of life in which our ancestors were still embedded "around the clock".

We mostly replaced them with manmade artificial - and frequently toxic - materials and environments (and even remedies). As if this weren't enough, it's not uncommon for modern men to even look down on "primitive" nature as not being sophisticated, thinking we "know better".

Now Japanese medical researchers have come to the rescue, illuminating another important aspect of the truly awesome healing power of nature[1] by showing the direct medical value of walking (or simply being) in a forest.

Since first suggested as a public health measure by the Forest Agency of Japan, forest bathing has become a popular leisure activity among the Japanese.

In fact, the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo has a branch devoted to "Forest Medicine" and Japanese statistics show that people living close to the forest suffer fewer cancer deaths.[2]

Germany with its strong naturopathic tradition has followed suit - (as of 2017) its federal state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has designated nine of its forests as official healing forests (Heilwälder - indications e.g. are lung diseases where patients learn to properly breathe in harmony with movements).

Scientific studies

To summarize some of the most important findings of the ongoing studies into the healing potential of forest bathing (according to Prof. Quin Li [], author of several of the studies listed below, and others), we find the following benefits:

  1. increased natural killer cell activity, strengthening the immune system and impeding inflammation, which lasts for more than 30 days after the trip, suggesting that a forest bathing trip once a month would enable individuals to maintain a higher level of NK activity;
  2. increased production of the three most important anti-cancer proteins when walking in the forest;
  3. lowered cortisol and adrenaline levels (one day spent in the forest reduced them by 50 percent).

A recommendation can be formulated as follows: spend at least two hours twice to thrice per month in the forest, strolling for some 2.5 km (about 1.5 miles), taking frequent breaks, drinking tea or water, being mindful and attentive to your surroundings.

While so far most results point to forest bathing helping to prevent illnesses, particularly those related to stress (and there are authors proposing that most diseases have a decisive stress component[3]), the above strongly suggests a therapeutic effect on established disease as well.

Here are some studies in more detail.

  • Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.

    This study was done on twelve male city dwellers who went on a three-day/two-night trip to different Japanese forests where they walked for a total of six hours spaced out over two days. Findings included inter alia a roughly 50 percent increase in natural killer cell activity following the trip which lasted seven plus days. (published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 2007)
  • Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction.

    Some 500 individuals were tested for the effect of forest environments on their emotions. It was found that the higher an individual's stress level and the more chronic their stress, the greater the beneficial effect. (Public Health, 2007)
  • A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.

    A similar study as above done with female volunteers. Additional urine samples taken showed decreased concentrations of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. The researchers speculate that this decrease as well as phytoncides (antimicrobial volatile organic compounds) such as α-pinene and β-pinene found in in the resins of many conifers incl. pines and "exhaled" into the forest air might contribute to the increase in natural killer cell activity.
    This study appeared in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents in 2008.
  • Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.

    Here the researchers took their investigation one step further providing evidence that it's NOT simply the [medically effective "wonder drug"] exercise[4] but indeed the forest environment to which the positive effect upon natural killer cell activity and the decrease in stress hormone levels in urine can be attributed. Phytoncides such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene as before were found to be present in forest air but nearly absent in city air. (International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 2008)
  • Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.

    Here researcher Prof. Qing Li turned to the test tube to investigate the effects of phytoncides (as breathed in during a forest bathing trip) on human natural killer cell activity and other parameters related to human immune function. Among other things he found dose-dependent benefits. He also provides a detailed review of his previous published research (cited above) on the effect of forest bathing trips on stress hormones, NK activity in female subjects, and on human immune function. (published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 2010)
  • Terpenes from Forests and Human Health.

    A detailed review discussing the potential of various terpenes as found in forests to combat tumors and inflammatory processes or to protect neurons. Interestingly, the toxicity of terpenes mainly affects cancer cells while leaving healthy ones unharmed. (Toxicology Research, 2017)
    The complete study can be read at

How to supercharge your forest bathing experience

Earth yourself wherever the ground is safe to do so and the weather permits. Earthing is one of Healing Cancer Naturally's Greatest Hits. Get away from manmade EMFs as far as you can.[5]

What you can do if you don't have a forest (or at least park) nearby

As mentioned above, even viewing pictures of a nature scene is likely to have a positive, therapeutic effect. In addition to hanging up pictures of nature scenes you like at your place of work and sleep (and choosing a picture of lush green trees as your "wallpaper" [desktop picture on your PC]), you may wish to add pure essential oils of pine and other forest trees to your air (which can be bought online and in specialty stores).

Make sure to only use pure unadulterated high-quality essences to not accidentally "poison" your air (and thus yourself) with chemical toxins. While these measures are unlikely to give you the full benefit of a forest experience (for one thing, they do not free you from the ubiquitous EMF pollution as forests far from the city will), they should definitely provide some benefit. Also, generally, you may wish to favour the colour green in your surroundings.

Book on the healing power of forests

The Biophilia Effect: The Healing Bond Between Humans and Nature

by Clemens G. Arvay

This book (English version to appear in March 2018) by an Austrian biologist is already a bestseller in Germany. The author is currently undertaking clinical studies exploring whether cancer patients will also benefit.

You can support this site's work at no additional cost to you by doing any Amazon shopping through its links, see Support this site.


1 See the Treatment section.

2 , apparently quoting from studies cited in the book "The Biophilia Effect"

3 Compare the Emotions section.

4 See On cancer prevention and exercise: Scientific research studies into protective effects of physical activity & training on cancer incidence, risk & mortality after diagnosis.

5 See e.g. Studies on electromagnetic fields and radiation (EMFs/EMRs) & cancer risk and all articles linked under that page's "Related content".

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