Nature-Based Solutions to Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases
Throughout my life, there has always been a lake, a forest, or mountains in reach. I can’t remember a time when nature was not a significant part of my identity and I never want to lose that! I became an Angel so that I could expand my environmental knowledge alongside other youth. Arctic Angels gives us a platform through which we can bring youth voices together on climate change, address the importance of conserving the Arctic and our Global Commons, and actively participate in the preservation of our future.
During 2019-2020, I have had the honor of being a Fulbright Fellow in Helsinki, Finland. Finland is one of eight Arctic States! Currently, I have been engaging in research at the University of Helsinki analyzing nature-based solutions to global challenges, particularly public and environmental health. I study the use of soil and plant microbes in alleviating symptoms of allergies and autoimmune diseases that are thought to be caused by environmental factors.
Lexi receiving her Fulbright Fellowship from the Fulbright Finland CEO, Terhi Mölsä, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland.
The United Nations predicts 6.7 billion people will live in cities by 2050 – that is nearly two-thirds of the global population! The migration of people from rural areas into the cities inevitably takes away significant contact with the natural environment. The built environment also has negative impacts on land-use change and biodiversity loss. Nature is shown to have a multitude of benefits for us, from psychological to physical well-being, to social welfare and most recently, immune system benefits.
The National Institute of Health estimates that one in five people suffer from immune-related diseases like allergies, eczema, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and more. It is thought that biodiversity loss causes less exposure to natural environmental microbes, which increases the presence of immune-related diseases. In short, exposing oneself to environmental microbes, like soil and plant microbes, can build immunity to sicknesses.
Nuuksio National Park, Finland - taken by Lexi.
Without needing prescriptions or ingestible medications, I am investigating products that expose people to environmental microbes that our rural ancestors were exposed to. These products can range from cosmetics to textiles to cleaning supplies. This idea can be thought of as a form of exposure therapy, just like allergy injections received by a medical professional. As there are both beneficial and harmful microbes, the more beneficial microbes you have on your skin the less room there are for microbes that can make you sick. Essentially, my research idea eliminates the need for doctors’ prescriptions and decreases the cost associated with diseases, whilst alleviating unpleasant symptoms.
Reindeer lichen in Finland - taken by Lexi. Due to warming temperatures, taller vegetation is out-competing this important lichen. As well, the increased rain, rather than snow, freezes on the ground and forms ice over the lichen, preventing reindeer from eating it.
As climate change is steadily increasing, we will continue to see how interconnected everything is. Biodiversity loss not only impacts the jungles and oceans, but it also influences your living environment and health.
By Lexi Haskins, Arctic Angel & Fulbright Fellow