nature is medicine: the science

I’m a big proponent of nature as a prescription — for mood, for stress, for immune resilience. It’s one of the core principles of both my practice and my profession.

(Here’s the the podcast I did about Vitamin N with my colleague Dr. Kierstin DeWitt of ND Inspo.)

Below is a big list of resources supporting this prescription, which I will continue to update.

Start here:

Nature is medicine

Greenspace

Gardening as connection

Looking at Nature counts

More ideas about getting your nature fix during quarantine

Great books

Physician resources

5 ways nature heals — and how to dose up during lockdown

The big epiphany that led me into herbalism and naturopathic medicine was that medicine is all around us, not just in the doctor’s office. Medicine is in our kitchens, our gardens, our grocery stores and our natural surroundings. These are some key concepts I share with patients about Vitamin N (for Nature) and how it supports resilient health.

1. Nature lowers stress.
Many of us are familiar with this experience: Nature lets us relax, shifting our attention outward. This effect alone may be responsible for many of Nature’s other well-documented health benefits. [PMID: 27110803]

2. Nature boosts mood.
Getting out in the green reduces risk of depression and experience of anxiety. And sunshine alone improves mood, boosting our bodies’ natural serotonin and endorphins. [PMID: 25631858; PMID:26569271; PMID: 27942349]

3. Nature speeds healing.
Hospital studies show that folks recovering in a room with flowers or a view of trees get better faster. Bonus: Nature sights and sound help reduce acute and chronic pain. [PMID: 19715461; PMID:12628899; PMID:20799901]

4. Nature balances your immune system.
Stress compromises your immunity, so anything that calms you down can help. But Nature has been shown to have direct impacts on immunity and immune resilience — getting your body to respond robustly in a crisis and calm down when the crisis is over. [PMID:21329564; PMID:18394317; PMID:20487629]

5. Nature reduces many health risks.
Nature clears your mind, improves your attention and reduces overall mortality, diabetes, visual impairment, hypertension, obesity, congestive heart failure  — and even sugar cravings. (Is it cheating to put all of those into one point? Here’s a great review article.)

How to dose up during lockdown:

If you can see it, you can feel it. While getting out into nature is always awesome, research shows that just looking at images or watching videos of nature can have significant health effects. Closing your eyes while listening to nature sounds can do this, as well. [PMID:26694426; PMID: 28763021]

Gaze out a window. If you can see the sky at all, you can give yourself a Nature experience.

If you can’t look wide, look deep. No view? No worries. Pick any natural thing you have around and lose yourself in the details. This can be a flower, a pine cone, a pretty rock, a feather, etc.

Hug a tree. Even in the city. Oxytocin, our hormone of connection and safety and love, rises when we hug a person or pet our pets. I haven’t found research showing that hugging trees does the same thing, but my clinical experience suggests that it’s a pretty good option.

Play with plants. Whether it’s sprouting beans on your kitchen counter, growing herbs in a sunny window, tending an indestructible shade-tolerant house plant, or getting out into a garden, playing with plants gives us analog experience, and offers connection in ways that zoom calls can’t.

Salúd!

— Dr. Orna

P.S. Here’s one more for you: If you need support, get support. My practice is now 100-percent telemedicine for the duration. Visit my clinic website or call 503-335-9479 for details.