Forests and Human Health September-15-2011


Prof. Hannu Raitio
Director General of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, Metla
Coordinator of the IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations)
Task Force on 'Forests for Human Health - ForHealth'

'Forests provide untapped resources for human health'. This was the title of the press release by IUFRO´s Forests and Human Health (ForHealth) task force on World Health Day in April 2011. It aims to support the dialogue especially between forest and health professionals and to enhance the transfer of knowledge about health benefits and risks. Recently the project was prolonged until the year 2014. This Newsletter is one of the outcomes of the ForHealth Task Force. Other outcomes are, e.g. policy briefs and seminars.

Research shows that there is huge economic and health potential in forest biodiversity. On the other hand, loss of species and a decrease in biodiversity imply a potential loss of health-related ecosystem services and genetic resources. Luckily the conservation of the earth's biological diversity, of which a large part is found in forests, is increasingly recognized as an important goal.

This newsletter is focused on the benefits of forests, especially on pharmaceuticals and nutriceuticals. They are only one example of the many and rich connections between nature and human health, but as such an extremely captivating issue with huge potential for development. Currently less than one per cent of all known plants are thoroughly analyzed for pharmaceuticals. Medical treasures are waiting not only in the tropical forests that are rich in species. In Metla a study recently began on the microflora of the root system of the Scots pine, one of the dominant tree species in Finland. The study has already shown promising results; compounds produced by the microscopic fungi that are living symbiotically with the tree may offer therapeutic use in treatment of age-related eye disease.

It has to be admitted, however, that the Nordic countries are far from being pioneers in research into forests and human health. In Asian countries for example, traditional medicines and alternative treatments were developed for a long time before we started. There is an article in this newsletter about the biggest herb medicine company in Japan.

2011 is the United Nation's International Year of Forests. Through this newsletter we aim to use this opportunity to raise awareness of the potential of forests to promote human health.

Professor Hannu Raitio,
Director General of Metla

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