Forests and Human Health January-09-2012

Selected Publications


Gallis C, Di Stefano M, Moutsatsou P, Sarjala T, Virtanen V, Holmbom B, Buhagiar JA, and Katalanos A (2011) Forest products with health-promoting and medicinal properties. In: K. Nilsson et al. (eds.) Forests, Trees and Human Health, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. pp. 41-76.

This chapter of the book brings together experts working in different European countries on the health-promoting and medicinal products of forests. They look at the health-promoting effects of forest products from both a historical and a scientific perspective. Tree-derived bioactive compounds are produced in Europe in large amounts and marketed world-wide as ingredients in dietary supplements and health foods. Three products are discussed in more detail: xylitol, sitosterol and sitostanol.

Førland DT, Johnson E, Tryggestad AMA, Lyberg T and Hetland G (2010) An extract based on the medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Muril stimulates monocyte-derived dendritic cells to produce cytokine and chemokine in vitro. Cytokine 49: 245-250.

The edible mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill (AbM) has been used in traditional medicine against a range of diseases and possesses immunomodulating properties, probably due to its high content of β-glucans. In this article, researchers from Norway studied the ability of this mushroom to stimulate the production of cytokine and other signal substance production by using peripheral blood mononuclear cells. They found that when the mushroom extract was induced, it increased production of proinflammatory, chemotactic and Th1-type cytokines.

Rokaya MB, Münzbergova Z and Timsina B (2010) Ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants from the Humla district of western Nepal. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 130:485-504.

In Nepal there are 103 ethnic indigenous groups speaking more than 63 varieties of languages and dialects. Even today, due to the inaccessibility of modern facilities, about 70-80% of the population of the country (of 23.1 million) depend upon a wide range of medicinal plants for their primary healthcare. It is thus very important to document their uses.

In this report, the authors documented 161 plant species belonging to 61 families and 106 genera used to treat 73 human and 7 veterinary ailments. The information was collected through semi-structured interviews and key information discussions.

The study pointed out that it is necessary to perform phytochemical or pharmacological studies to explore the potential of plants used for medicinal purposes because the traditional medicine lacks phytotherapeutic evidence.

The unsustainable harvesting of such medicinal plants that are obtained from the wild may cause a serious decline in plant populations. It is recommended that cultivation techniques be developed, especially for the most important plant species that are used widely and traded outside the region. As the knowledge of the uses of the medicinal plants reported here belongs to the indigenous people of the area, the benefits obtained from this knowledge should be shared equally.

Osbourn AE, and Lanzotti V (2009) Plant-derived Natural Products: Synthesis, Function, and Application. Springer Science+Business Media, pp. 597.

Plants produce an enormous variety of natural products with highly diverse structures. Many of them fulfill important functions in the interaction between plants and their biotic and abiotic environment. They can act, for example, as defense compounds against herbivores and pathogens, as flower pigments that attract pollination, or as hormones or signal molecules. This book provides an informative and accessible overview of the different facets of the field. It ranges from an introduction to the different classes of natural products through developments in natural product chemistry and biology to ecological interactions and the significance of plant-derived natural products for humans. In the final section of the book, a series of chapters on new trends covers metabolic engineering, genome-wide approaches, the metabolic consequences of genetic modification, developments in traditional medicines and nutraceuticals, natural products as leads for drug discovery and novel non-food crops.

Puupponen-Pimiä R, Nohynek L, Alakomi H-L, ans Oksman-Caldentey K-M (2005) Bioactive berry compounds – novel tools against human pathogens. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 67: 8-18.

About 50 different berries grow in the northern region, and about half of them are edible. Berries are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and especially wild berries are rich in various phenolic compounds and organic acids. This review from Finland focuses on the antibacterial properties of phenolic compounds and organic acids present in berries and their effects on human microflora.

Several studies show that berry compounds inhibit the growth of human pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Helicobacter and E. coli O157:H7. The utilization of the antimicrobial activity of berry phenolic compounds as natural antimicrobial agents may offer many new applications for the food industry and medicine. Functional foods targeted to gut well-being and balanced gut microflora form a very important group of novel products.

Natural food preservatives targeted to foods which are easily contaminated by bacteria, such as Salmonella and Staphylococcus, are highly desired. A concrete example in the food industry is the utilization of berry phenolics, dried berry powder or concentrated berry juice in chicken, meat and seafood marinades and dressings or in food packages. Capsules containing berry powder or berry concentrate that balance gut microflora or even prevent diarrhoea are examples in the health care field. In medicine, anti-adhesion therapy by the berry compounds to prevent, relieve and even cure microbial diseases seems to be a very promising approach. Developing an alternative regimen using berry compounds for the prevention and control of infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics will also be a very important issue in the future. Recent findings reinforce the suggestion that berry-derived antimicrobials might act on a broad spectrum of bacteria and could be an effective addition to traditional antimicrobial compounds and treatments. However, further studies concerning safety, toxicology, combined use with traditional medicines and legislation are needed.

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