An Immunity Connection: Essential Oils and Nature

I used to work in a kitchen during my nutrition studies. One of the chefs— let's call him Gordon—was a well-known hard-ass and not everybody liked working with him.

gordon ramsey shouting
Yes, he ^^ really said that.

The Gordon of this story wasn't as vicious, thankfully. You had to know how to work with Gordon, but not everybody did.

computer board, men vs. women

With Gordon, you had to know what buttons to press and what things to turn; when; in what order; how fast; and how delicately.

Yes, Gordon had his own instruction manual.

Interestingly, though, there was a time in the year when he was more difficult to deal with and there was a time when he was easier to deal with.

Guess what time he was easier to deal with?

1. Right before his vacation (or holiday:). This makes sense as he was anticipating a pleasurable and relaxing event which made his stress levels go down.

2. During his vacation. For some reason, things would always go very smoothly whenever he wasn't there.

3. After his vacation. For weeks or even months, Gordon would be more joyful. The risk of sustaining a brain injury, as the result of a flying pan hitting your head, was significantly lower.

Maybe you, or somebody you know, have something in common with Gordon. If not for the number of buttons to press, then perhaps for the lowered stress around vacation time.

Now, Gordon went on vacation to green environments with lots of trees.

Scientists discovered something very interesting that could explain the "Gordon effect."

There is a hormone that you and I produce called "cortisol." Cortisol is sometimes also called the "stress hormone," because it increases whenever we are under stress and decreases when our stress subsides.

People, who anticipated going to the forest, experience a drop in cortisol levels. (1).

This explains the first point.

It doesn't explain mystery point 2, but what about point 3?

When you have those same people go to the forest, whether for a walk or just sitting on a bench, for only 15 minutes or for several hours, stress levels go down. The scientists noticed that the "forest bathing" had stress-lowering effects for 2 to 4 weeks AFTERWARD!

That immediately explains why Gordon was much more easy-going after his vacations. And for longer periods of time.

On the other hand:

When the scientists compared the "forest bathers" to people visiting urban areas, these benefits were not found.

couple trying to have sex in forest
To make a fair comparison, scientists discouraged illegal calorie-burning activities.

As you may know, lower stress levels, generally, not only make you a happier person but also support your entire immune system. Nevertheless: these positive effects on your immune system are only indirect.

However, if you think that's all that forests can do, you're underestimating them.

You see, going to a forest can also increase the number of natural killer (NK) cells. (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7)

NK cells play a major role in the fight against both virus infections AND tumors.

That means:

They are a great asset in the short run against viruses and in the long run against cancer.

Now the big question is, how long do these NK cells stay elevated?

A single day in the forest (2-4 hours) increased not only the number of NK cells but also NK activity and other anti-cancer activity (production of anti-cancer proteins) for AT LEAST 7 DAYS after the trip. (5)

Nature Challenge

Make some time to go out in nature on a regular basis.

The benefits are incredible, on multiple levels; You'll feel great and your immune system will thank you.

  • Visit a place in nature at least once a month (preferably something greenish).

  • If you live in the middle of a big city, visit a park within the city. Or check whether it's feasible to travel outside the city to a nearby forest, lake, mountains, etc.

  • Plan ahead and set aside enough time. You're doing yourself a favor. AND: You deserve it!

Some scientists attributed the increased number and activity of NK cells to the essential oils released from the plants and trees.

Experiments revealed some fascinating results…

Our green friends in the forest actually excrete microscopic essential oil particles on a continuous basis. These particles play a role in their own immune system.

Maybe that’s the reason that these compounds also affect OUR immune system.

Geek alert: and they were obviously the reason for Gandalf's "white wizard" transformation after he had retreated to the forest.

The scientists decided to lock up a dozen people in a hotel room overnight for a few days, while diffusing some of these essential oils (phytoncides to be precise).

They tested the blood and urine of participants before, during, and after the experiment for the presence of these beneficial compounds and natural killer cell activity.

The results?

The natural killer cells became MORE active. (1), (2)

I wish knew that when I was stuck in a hotel room when I had to undergo a two-week quarantine in a hotel room.

Anyway, this all sounds great, but hold on…

Being in the forest didn’t just increase the NK cell activity but also increased their numbers.


decreased the stress hormone, cortisol, which can inhibit immune function.

That means the forest clearly beats essential oils. It makes sense that the forest can decrease cortisol. Think about it...

We’re not “designed” to stay within concrete walls all the time. This becomes especially evident after all the imposed lockdowns, which have a tendency to negatively affect our mental state of mind, and induce or worsen stress and depression. (3), (4), (5)

Nature, on the other hand, has shown to play an important role in coping with severe illnesses, such as cancer. (6)

But nonetheless:

Essential oils may provide great support during times when we stay at home, especially if we don’t go out much.

The earlier mentioned phytoncides are just a few of the active compounds of essential oils. They actually contain a variety of compounds that are associated with health benefits.

As a matter of fact, essential oils have been shown to be antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and to have antiviral properties against a host of viruses, INCLUDING SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Some compounds in essential oils can actually stop the virus from replicating. (7)

Furthermore, they are able to lower the number of cytokines, which are the pro-inflammatory compounds that cause the majority of complications among a small number of Covid-19 patients.

Amazing right?!

Unfortunately, there’s also a catch…

Most of the studies are of low quality and it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions.

The scientists who looked at essential oils’ potential against the SARS-CoV-2 virus did, however, conclude that essential oils may be worth combining with synthetic drugs, but this hasn’t been researched yet.

Despite all the uncertainties, though...

Essential oils generally have a positive effect on mood, increasing relaxation and lowering feelings of anxiety. Some oils, among peppermint, have even shown to increase exercise performance. (8)

For these reasons, in combination with the promising increase of natural killer cells, they are worth exploring, in my opinion.

Most oils have been tested via diffusing (also called aromatherapy), and some also topically.

coolcow diffuser for essential oils
Diffusers are commonly used in open areas.

Do realize that essential oils are very concentrated and you shouldn’t overdo them. You need to be extra careful when you have any kind of allergies. Follow the instructions provided so that you can use them safely.

That said, here are some of my favorite uses:

  • Kitchen and floor cleaner --> mix with water and some biodegradable soap.

  • Deodorant --> I use a drop of oil, I know my skin doesn’t react to, and mix it with a sprinkle of baking soda and water.

  • Diffuser --> A few drops to make the house smell fresh and breathe in some of those plant compounds.

There are a great number of amazing essential oil brands out there, but I love one brand in particular; CoolCow.

That's because I love Coolcow's attitude toward our planet and its inhabitants. They source locally, listen to their customers, and genuinely care about people and nature.

A plus is that they have various sets of water-soluble oils. They're less common but great for diffusing. On top of that, each set contains immune-boosting phytoncides.

Here's one of CoolCow's sets:

Are you using essential oils?

What's your favorite use? Share in the comments!

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