Forests and Human Health September-15-2011

Research activities


The forest as a rich reservoirE for GREEN chemistry

The total land area of Finland is 70% covered by forest. The timber and pulp industries are traditional and important for the country. Recently, more and more research activities have been focused on developing new chemical production based on wood and other biomass-based natural materials.

Today, demand is increasing for more natural materials and chemicals in place of synthetic ones. To develop new chemical and pharmaceutical products based on wood and other biomass-based natural materials containing renewable raw materials has became a big task for many Finnish research organizations and enterprises.

A study led by Professor emeritus Bjarne Holmbom (the Laboratory of Wood and Paper Chemistry, Åbo Academy) in the early 2000s analyzed the knot heartwood of the main wood species in Finland as well as a number of foreign species. The first knot derivative product brought onto the market in 2006, HMR lignan isolated from spruce knot heartwood, was marketed as a nutritional supplement such as Smart HMRlignan™, LifeExtension natural female support. Novel products containing spruce knot extract were also developed, such as LUMENE 3-action Day/Night creams by LUMENE and a shampoo against dandruff by Granula.

Spruce contains large amounts of the compound HMR (hydroxymatairesinol), a lignan that has very recently also been shown to exist in edible plants. Medical research at the University of Turku, carried out under the direction of Professor Risto Santti and Professor Sari Mäkelä, has revealed that HMR slows down the development of hormonal cancers under test conditions, may have cancer-inhibiting properties and prevents cardiovascular diseases. The substance may also have positive effects on cardiovascular diseases and other oestrogen-dependent health problems such as menopause-related conditions and osteoporosis (Saarinen et al., Nutrients, 2010, 2: 99-115).

Research into components derived from wood and their properties as a part of the wood material has opened a great avenue for mankind to get more and more benefits from the forest. This green chemistry is an innovation from modern technology, but is strongly influenced by folk knowledge. Repolar Ltd, managed by Prof. Pentti Sipponen, has developed two commercial products since 2008. Spruce resin contains natural compounds, which markedly improve the healing of wounds, renewal and re-epithelization of the skin, the control of infections, and the healing of fungal infections in the skin and nails (Sipponen et al., Ultrastruct Pathol. 2009, 33:128-35).

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Comments: Lu-Min Vaario,