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Elaine Stavert

Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist, NT.Dip, Dip.N.Adv, AMNNA, RAAHT, MFNTP

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Gut Feelings Blog

By Elaine Stavert, Aug 8 2018 11:57AM

Are we losing our connection to nature? As humans we have an evolutionary heritage of being a part of nature - a profound requirement for time spent amongst greenery.

The Nature of Plastic
The Nature of Plastic

A University of Illinois study found that interaction with nature reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children. Other research by the University of Derby, which observed people being in nature, feeding birds, planting flowers for bees etc. showed that there was a scientifically significant increase in people’s health, happiness and connection to nature which was sustained for months after the challenge had been completed.

As a nature lover myself, something that puzzles me are the growing number of gardens being switched from real grass to artificial grass, and I wonder if many people consider the health aspect to themselves, their pets and wildlife?

Our ancestors evolved together with their microbial communities, commensal (beneficial) microbes that live in and on us, by coming into close contact with the environment around them. Over 95% of human evolution has taken place in the context of a hunter gatherer lifestyle, in outdoor environments with repeated exposure to soil, water, vegetation, animals and animal products. Simply being outside can increase the diversity of your microbiome - the bacteria living on and in our bodies, that are essential for our health and immunity.

How do you feel when you walk through a wood, a meadow, a rose garden, or simply have your lunch in the local park instead of your desk? Close your eyes and remember the feeling of your bare feet sinking into fresh, cool, spongy grass.

A current hot topic is the amount of plastic that we use, and many also believe that storing and heating food in plastic containers may contribute to health issues. Artificial grass is mainly made from plastics -polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon.

During this prolonged heatwave in the UK, I have been hearing of artificial grass being too hot for animals to lie on, or for people to walk on. Although many artificial grass is sold as “non-toxic”, I wonder if they been tested in prolonged periods of 33 degree heat, which is what we have been experiencing this Summer. Google “health issues of heated plastic” for the numerous articles on the toxins and chemicals that can leach out of plastic when heated.

A former National Health Service chief begged the Government in March to ban the construction of artificial pitches in the UK following the tragic death of his son whose cancer he fears was caused by playing on them, with similar pleas from people in the US. US National Library of Medicine says this in their long article aobut artificial pitches "Now, debates about health focus on possible exposure and uptake of chemicals within pitch and base materials. Research has looked at potential risks to users from hazardous substances such as metals, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including benzo (a) (e) pyrenes and phthalates: some are carcinogens and others may be endocrine disruptors and have developmental reproductive effects". "Unravelling exposures and uptake over decades may prove complex." How are these "plastic" pitches reacting to the hot weather I wonder?

Artificial Football Pitch
Artificial Football Pitch

Many of us know the benefits of being in nature and how plants and greenery help our mood and uplift our spirits, so why remove what very little precious greenery we have of our own in our back gardens?

Scientists are discovering that our gardens, which have their own unique microbes, may help with our own gut microbiomes. One trial was with a harmless soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, which was injected into lung cancer patients. While it didn’t cure them, it “significantly improved patient quality of life“. They were happier, had more vitality and improved cognitive functioning. There is more bacteria in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet. Many of the microbes in the soil are beneficial to our health and make up our gut microbiome (flora). I remember getting covered in mud playing hockey at school, it was part of the fun, but just think how many beneficial microbes I may have picked up.

My dogs love to eat the long grass along the edges of my lawn as part of their daily diet. Flocks of chaffinches gorge on the dandelion seeds at certain times of the year, the woodpecker picks bugs from of the lawn for her young, and the bumble bees make little holes in the ground to live in.

At first glance one may think that installing artificial grass is an easy alternative to maintaining a living lawn, but gardening keeps us fit, improves our mood, and brings us closer to nature. Research suggests that children and adults are growing further and further away from nature and living greenery - a nature deficit some are calling it - which may contribute to less than optimum health.

I invite you to bring a little nature into your garden and to plant wild flowers and herbs instead of planting more plastic

Reconnecting with Nature
Reconnecting with Nature

Good article to read if you want to know more specific information .


Long, but interesting, article on PubMed by The Endocrine Society