Based on the idea that terpenes and environments rich in aromatic secondary metabolites benefit humans, it is logical to conclude that these compounds have been adapted into human evolutionary development as a part of human health. Thus, these compounds are likely directly related to keeping the body well-adjusted to its environment.
The secondary metabolites produced by plants are products of their evolutionary process, and humans evolving alongside these compounds grew accustomed to the effects of these compounds on the human body.
Additionally, when looking at many of the prominent health issues affecting modern society, it is reasonable to conclude that a deficiency in terpenes can contribute to greater tendency for homeostatic disruptions, which consequently result in many modern health issues.
Though the extent is still unknown, it is reasonable to assume that humans lack a component for successfully adapting to elements of life in cities. After all, the sudden absence of a cornerstone of mental and physical health can be expected to have side effects, some of which are outlined below.
Increased Risk for Mental Health Issues
Stress causes the body to enter a mode characterized by physiological changes and cortisol release. This was effective for the occasional fight or flight response when humans were threatened by predators and assailants. However, this response is misappropriated in modern society where it can occur at any point during a stressful day and can become chronic.
Reduced Immune System Function
When stress levels are high, the immune systems can’t function optimally, leaving the body vulnerable to infections and diseases. The terpenes and VOCs in forest air and aromatherapy treatments have properties that fight disease and infections. In fact, terpenes are one of the most abundant sources of antioxidants.
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By the same logic, air that is lacking in these organic compounds will not provide these benefits to the immune system.
Increased Potential for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The specific causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) remain a mystery, yet the symptoms are well-documented. SAD is characterized by depressive-like symptoms that recur each year during fall and winter. Additionally, the body’s balance of melatonin and serotonin, two important neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleeping patterns, are disrupted.
One widely-accepted hypothesis for explaining SAD is that the greater distance from the sun and reduced hours of sunlight affects the body’s circadian rhythm, making individuals moody and sleepy.
However, there is an additional explanation for SAD. During the winter, the sun provides less energy for plants and trees, which remain dormant until spring. During this time, the parts of the world that are in winter, and especially places further North, endure a widespread “terpene deficiency” until spring.