By Eric Fishman, MD — Breathing in the air is something that everyone does each and every minute of every day. The problem is, when people are breathing in the air they may not realize that they are not getting the best air unless they live in a bucolic location where air pollution is not as bad in cities such as Los Angeles or Mexico City. But possibly more important than the pollution in large cities is that the air can be characterized as inert, meaning its lack of what is known as secondary metabolites, commonly terpenes, which are fragrant substances found in the air in the woods.
So What Is Paleo Air?
This is a concept that is analogous to the Paleo Diet. However, we are contemplating our ancestors from a completely different perspective. We are exploring them from the point of view of our air quality relating to the lack of healthy “ingredients” in the ambient air when compared to what our ancestors breathed in.
If you think about taking a trip to the mountains, essentially everyone talks about how crisp and refreshing the air is in the mountains. You may believe it is this way because the air is clean or because you are at a higher elevation, however, imagine a time during which all of the air you breathed was like the air you get in the mountains. It is, in fact, due to all the trees that are present as the trees release secondary metabolites such as terpenes, and our bodies have evolved to breathe these compounds.
That is a concept that we have called Paleo Air. We are talking about a concept that is going to allow you to understand more about the air our ancestors used to breathe that was filled with natural substances our bodies require to maintain optimal health.
Our ancestors did not have all the extra chemicals that have been found in the air that we breathe in now. As you can tell from a chart made by BBC, Nitrogen is the main element in the air with Oxygen following. You can also see, however, that the air is made of 1% other, but non-random, materials and some of these other materials are chemical pollutants that are in the air.
Our ancestors did not have man-made chemicals in the air. So the 1% they had in their lungs is not the same 1% that we are getting now. As you can tell from the chart from the US EPA, you will find that pollution from coal power plants is substantial, particularly when it comes to carbon compounds. This has definitely contributed to the air not being anything like what our ancestors were able to breathe.
Yet again, these pollutants are what most people have focused on, and we are trying to concentrate not on the pollutants, but rather on the missing components. As a basic philosophical issue, it is always easier to see what is there than it is to detect what is missing. However, we are going to focus on what is missing!
The Forest and Forest Therapy
So, do we want to return to the air of the ancestors, and if so, how can that be done?
A lot of people tend to feel quite a bit better when they are in the woods or out in nature, following in the steps of our ancestors, who would have had plenty of unspoiled forest land to roam around in and enjoy. This led us to research health benefits of forested land, where we have firmly concluded that air that has recently been in the vicinity of plants have a larger quantity of terpenes and is closer to the air that our ancestors breathed.
Now, this may seem like it is a completely new concept, but think about this; your ancestors lived for millions of years without pollution and yet they were all exposed to these terpenes with every breath, every day.
The Paleo Diet is one that tries to provide the best possible solution to a modern diet and replace it with one that would have been easily available to our ancient cousins. So, much like the Paleo Diet, the concept of Paleo Air is based on breathing air similar to that of our ancestors.
What Are Terpenes?
Once we realized this, we decided that we had to find a solution for people to help people feel refreshed in their homes, offices or on a city street!
We are going to get a little bit technical here and we do apologize, but do not worry as we will explain it in simple terms.
The basic solution to the lack of terpenes is to have a readily available, portable source of a wide variety of terpenes, to support what could be called Terpene Replacement Therapy.
So, what is a terpene, you may ask?
Terpenes are hydrocarbons that are based on a 5 carbon isoprene unit.
You may also see the word terpenoids, which are similar to terpenes, except they will have some modest chemical modification such as an added Oxygen molecule. For our purposes, you can interchange the concept of terpenes and terpenoids.
If you are not up to date on your chemistry, a hydrocarbon is basically a molecule that contains carbon and hydrogen. You can find out more about terpenes in technical terms online.
Why are Terpenes released by Plants?
Well, now that you have the technical information on what these are, you are probably wondering what this has to do with Paleo Air, and how it is even related to our ancestral heritage. That is what we are going to cover here because it is important that you understand why you should be concerned about these, and how they are going to help you out.
As we stated at the beginning of this article, everyone, even in modern times, seems to feel better when they are out in the woods, and a lot of times, people chalk it up to feeling good about just being out in nature, which is a true statement. However, even people who have a lot of plants in their home and have a “positive vibe” tend to feel better about everything that is going on in their lives. Now, you cannot really say that they were in the woods because they just have plants in their home, which brings up the terpenes that the plants release.
As you now know, the terpenes are a group of organic compounds, that are released by plants, and are based on a C10H16 formula. These are often released by plants to help attract insects to them for pollination, and other reasons.
After having explored this from the standpoint of therapeutic needs for people, it was determined that these terpenes are what cause most of the beneficial effects from essential oils. This is why essential oils can get your body back in balance with our ancestors’ air.
So, how do you improve the quality of your life and of the air you are breathing with something that is already in the plants our ancestors breathed and that you can also breathe by going to the forest?
The terpenes are already in the plants so you do not have to worry about them being a new compound to which you would be exposing yourself.
You may be asking yourself, how is breathing in an essential oil going to help me out? Well, that is very easy to answer as you will find, this is going to make it easier for you to get the full effects of the oils.
An interesting study from the National Institute of Health demonstrates, quite extensively, the benefits of breathing in terpenes found in the forest.
Some may argue that modern medicine is more beneficial, however, if you have talked to anyone who has used these plant-based oils they will tell you that they have had quite a bit of relief.
What Is Terpene Deficiency?
Yes, Terpene Deficiency is a “thing” and a lot of people are deficient without even realizing it. So how would you know that you are deficient in terpenes? Keep reading, as that is what we are going to cover here.
The good news is if you live in the woods, you may not have the issue of terpene deficiency, as it is typically found in city dwellers. So, if you are living in the country or the woods already, you will be safe from this issue. We are going to cover some of the symptoms that could help guide you toward knowing if you are deficient or not.
A common problem that people will experience, and actually has been seen with the modern lifestyle, is higher blood pressure. If you think about this, when you are in the mountains you will typically find that you are going to have less stress in your life, and it is not just because you are on vacation. Rather, it is at least partially because of the increased exposure to the naturally occurring terpenes that you would likely not have thought about before.
A common issue that a lot of people are going to experience with the lack of terpenes is going to be a dramatically reduced sense of smell. This is because the nose is not really being used to smell the roses as one would say, it is instead, used to smell pollution the majority of the time. This is usually why when people get out into the smells of nature and have been in nature for a short time period, they start to talk about all the different fragrances.
While some people will really recognize this one right away, they need to realize that they could have an issue with a lack of energy. They may think this is coming from the fact they are not eating properly or not sleeping properly, however, they need to realize this is not always the case. One of the main problems that people may have is that they are going to be just a bit deficient in terpenes.
Depression and anxiety are not new problems, but they are problems that are growing quite a bit in frequency. The problem for a lot of people who live in cities is the fact that they are not getting out into the woods and enjoying the beauty of nature. While people may think it is just the natural beauty of the area that is making them feel better, they need to realize that this is not the case and in fact, a lot of people will start to feel uplifted the more time they spend out in the woods.
Just think about simple camping trips, and despite how you would stay up late at night, you would come out feeling refreshed. This is due to the fact that you were out in nature taking in the sun and the terpenes.
We touched lightly on stress before and how it relates to your blood pressure, but what you need to realize is that stress is not always job or situation-related. In fact, one way of looking at this is to analyze the fact that you are not breathing in terpenes, and thus you are terpene deficient. However, simple exposure to the missing terpenes may be sufficient to get the stress relief you need without having to deal with the drive out to the woods or overcoming the winter months problems of having no plants nearby to help you out.
With substantial experience in western medicine, including decades of operating on patients, and an interest in eastern medicine through practicing yoga and homeopathic remedies, Dr. Eric Fishman has developed Breathe Nature™ and Therapeutic Air® products, allowing millions to enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy in an easy-to-use personal diffuser. An orthopedic surgeon, holistic physician, yogi, and creator of MONQ (the healthy lifestyle brand promoting personal essential oil diffusers and other wellness products), Dr. Fishman takes a scientific approach to holistic health. His MONQ product line exemplifies this approach, using modern technology to make the ancient art of aromatherapy available to everyone.