More trees, better health

Dr. Victor Ti / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Trees are cool to look at. They soothe and relax us. It is said that the predominantly green colour of trees relaxes our mind and eyes when we gaze at them. Photo: Creativte Commons

Can you imagine living on a vast land without trees? It would be like living in the desert where the experience is horrendous. Often it is so hot in the day and freezing cold at night. The rocks are laid bare on the arid ground of sand while the air is dry and dusty. The blinding glare of the sun with its high concentration of ultraviolet rays force our forehead to frown and our eyelids to squeeze tight and narrow, often resulting in some form of tension headache.

Trees are wonderful and they are our saviour. They provide us comfort and make us happier. They boost our immune system, make us healthier and help us live longer. If we have more trees around us, we can be assured that we are going to live happier, healthier and longer.

Trees are our green lungs. They consume lots of carbon dioxide that we produce and in return replenish tons of free oxygen into our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the ‘bad guy’ responsible for increasing the earth surface temperature. It is the main gas of global warming that our world is racing to contain, and to mitigate the disastrous effect of rising sea levels that will inundate low-level islands. Global warming also causes unfavourable climatic episodes and has a profound effect on human health. Ambient temperature that is too hot is unfavourable to good health. It may cause heat stroke, weaken our immune system and predispose us to infections.

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The paucity of trees is one of the main reasons why Phnom Penh is so hot and dusty. There are just too few trees here. Perhaps somebody should initiate a tree planting campaign and programme for the benefit of all. Planting trees to clean the air is a wonderful idea. It is estimated that a tree can consume 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year as it turns them into part of itself while releasing enough oxygen to supply a person’s need for two years. Tree planting can certainly contribute towards better health, and a good environment and climate.

The millions of leaves that form green canopies shade the earth’s surface from the hot sun. Evaporation of water from the pores of leaves removes latent heat and keeps them forever cool. The cool leaves, in turn, lower the ambient temperature of its surroundings. It has been estimated that a single large tree is capable of producing a cooling effect that is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

The high concentration of dust is a bio-burden that decreases our immune system, thus exposing us to higher risk of infection. Decreasing immune capacity exposes us to bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The high concentration of dust can precipitate asthmatic attacks that is sometimes fatal. It also causes nose, eye and skin allergic reactions. Trees help to remove dust from the air and it has been estimated that the dust level in the air can be as much as 75 percent lower on the sheltered side of the tree compared to the windward side.

Trees are cool to look at. They soothe and relax us. It is said that the predominantly green colour of trees relaxes our mind and eyes when we gaze at them, thus reducing tension, stress and strain that build up gradually in our body and mind over the day. They connect us to Mother Earth like a ship anchoring itself against the turbulence of the rough seas. The collective effects of trees such as heat and noise reduction, cleaner air, better breathing, and sounder sleep contribute towards a healthier psychological wellbeing.

Recently one of my patients challenged me to treat his anxiety and insomnia without medications. I accepted his challenge, took him to my orchard to assist me in my farm-work under the thick canopies of durian, rambutan and other fruit trees. The result was astounding. His anxiety literally dissipated away under the cool canopies. After that trip, he reported to me that he felt sleepy much earlier and had uninterrupted sound sleep throughout the night, continuously for the next one week. Is this result coincidental?

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My answer is NO! Scientists have recently unraveled the secret behind the happy mood prevailing among gardeners and farmers working on their properties. The secret actually lies on the ground surface where a particular strain of bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae thrives naturally under the moist and cool soil and releases gases of happy chemical called serotonin. Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety and other affective disorders. The bacteria definitely thrive better in cool moist soil under thick layers of decaying leaves below multilayers of thick canopies in fruit orchards.

This could be one of the main reasons why the practices of forest bathing and tree hugging in Japan are getting increasingly popular.

The eccentric practices of ‘Forest bathing’ (Shinrin Yoku) and tree hugging are increasingly popular in Japan because of their scientifically proven health benefits. The essential wood oils emitted in the air called phytoncides increase the number of killer cells that fight diseases such as cancer. Hugging releases happy hormones like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine that are responsible for the feeling of calmness and emotional bonding.

Tree loss hurts health and this has been confirmed in an observational study of a natural experiment published in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. A tree-killing beetle known as the Emerald Ash Borer was first discovered in the US in 2002. By 2012, it had wiped out all 22 species of ash trees totalling 100 million trees in North America. The health data resulting from the tree loss in 15 states was collected and analysed. The study revealed that the widespread death of ash trees from the Emerald Ash Borer led to an increase in deaths related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness. The results confirmed there was an additional 15,000 more cardiovascular disease deaths and 6,000 more respiratory deaths over a 17-year period in the beetle infested areas in comparison with the uninfested area.

Trees are important. They are widely available, inexpensive, and offer many benefits such as better environment that affects us in the most personal way, through our own health. Thus, trees may be a cost effective way of improving a city’s public health infrastructure.

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My next column will be on ‘Dance therapy’.

Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skills in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977

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