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It’s Not Easy Being Green, But Seeing It Could Help Your Brain
Kermit the frog is famous for saying, “it’s not easy being green.” Poor Kermit, he always felt such distress. However, new research could help Kermit to feel less downtrodden and may even help to improve his body image! It appears his home and his hue may benefit human brains!
A new study in Nature sought to determine how “seeing green” effects the brain by comparing how differing geographical characteristics impact its’ functioning. The study included 341 elderly participants of the Berlin Aging Study II. The researchers used a combination of three measurements of brain functioning and assessed the integrity of three brain regions: the amygdala, pACC, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). These results were analyzed and assessed in relationship to “measurements of enrichment in urban” life and “the effects of forest, urban green, water and wasteland around the home address.”
Even with the study’s limitations of estimating geographical distribution and timing factors (brain studies were done years after land data assessment), the authors concluded that brains exposed to forests were associated with better integrity of their amygdala.
Science Daily reported on the study’s finding as follows:
Indeed, the researchers found a relationship between place of residence and brain health: those city dwellers living close to a forest were more likely to show indications of a physiologically healthy amygdala structure and were therefore presumably better able to cope with stress. This effect remained stable when differences in educational qualifications and income levels were controlled for. However, it was not possible to find an association between the examined brain regions and urban green, water, or wasteland… Further longitudinal studies are necessary to accumulate evidence.
Hmmm… did Jim Henson purposely pick a green fog for learning better on Sesame Street?
Why the Brain Prefers the Calm of Green Over the Excitement of City Life
It’s been known by scientists that more enriched environments can create new neural connections and enhance brain function, aka neuroplasticity. This could lead many to assume that the novelty of urban living could be a cognitively stimulating experience, but this high-paced life seems to come with a tradeoff. Urban environments also tend to be more stressful and noisy, and both are detriments to optimal cognitive health.
Studies have demonstrated that stress alters the functioning of the hippocampus, a component of the brain believed to be involved in memory, emotion, and learning. Stress has also been shown to interfere with different levels of brain processing.
On the other hand, it has been revealed that green spaces provide health and mood benefits. Many innately sense this and ancient practices took advantage of this connection. This traditional wisdom received scientific validation from several studies that demonstrated how the practice of “forest bathing” can lower cortisol, “the stress hormone,” and enhance immune function.
Essential Oils on the Brain
The neuroanatomy of smell is connected to the amygdala. To put it in geek terms, olfaction possesses reciprocal axonal connections with the primary emotion areas, which include the amygdala, hippocampus, and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).
When I went to my functional medicine conference on neuroplasticity, I was elated to discover the potential of essential oils for optimizing the brain. In fact, several of the experts have already been using them for inducing rehabilitation of the brain in certain conditions.
Beyond aroma, essential oils are secondary metabolites that effect mood, cognitive functioning, and have stress-relieving effects. Essential oils specifically have been shown to impact hormonal and biochemical pathways involved in cognition and alter brain waves as measured by EEG patterns. Lavender oil is a “universal oil” that got its nickname for influencing many of these factors synergistically.
Diffusing for Amygdala Integrity- Tricking the Brain to “Sniff Green”
However, why not take some time to diffuse some fall favorites to protect our brain and enhance its processing during the spirit of the season. We will also be receiving all the other wellness benefits of essential oils!
We have been blessed with tools to support our physical and emotional health during a time when both may be tested to the limits. Maybe with a little diffusing of Black Spruce essential oil or Christmas Scents,™ we can nurture a space for a healthier, happier, and calmer holiday.
Last, but not least, don’t forget your feline friend’s stocking. Cat’s love oils too…and treats.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)