Pine Needles: Ancient Importance for Human Health

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Humans have long held a fascination with pine trees and their roles in the natural world around us. They are mysterious, beautiful, and ancient trees that can live to be hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years old.

There are around 125 different pine species that have been identified—some among the longest-living trees and organisms in the world.

In fact, some trees from the Bristlecone Pine species (Pinus longaeva) have been carbon-dated to be around 5,000 years old. (1)

While the human genome has over three billion base pairs, the Loblolly pine species has been shown to have 22 billion base pairs—more than seven times the amount of genetic material in us humans. (2)

History of Pine Needle Benefits and Compounds

Indigenous humans have long used pine needles and various compounds from certain pine trees for at least hundreds of years. (3) The consumption of certain pine needles impacts the immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular and neurological systems of us humans.

Interestingly, it was the bark and needles from pines that the Iroquois gave to Jacques Cartier’s critically ill crew back in 1536, which helped to provide the vitamin C the crew needed at that time to treat their scurvy. (4)

In more recent times, pine needles and tea from pine needles have garnered a tremendous amount of attention from scientists, doctors, and those within the health and wellness fields, due to the many different compounds found naturally within certain species. (5)

Pine needles, especially those from eastern white pines (Pinus strobus), are known to provide many different compounds and nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamin C, essential oils, amino acids, and flavonoids.

One of the most fascinating compounds that scientists began rediscussing in 2021 is the naturally-occurring shikimic acid found within some pine species—like the eastern white pines.

Pine Needles and Shikimic Acid

Some might be familiar with the term shikimic acid due to the fact that it is the main constituent within the antiviral drug Oseltamivir, also known commercially as Tamiflu. (6) While pine needles shouldn’t be confused with Tamiflu, shikimic acid as a naturally-occurring compound is known to induce several different physiological effects within the body.

Shikimic acid also is known in biology as the Shikimate Pathway and was discovered first by Dutch chemist Johan Fredrik Eykman in 1885.

The Shikimate Pathway is crucial for life and is a seven-step pathway used by bacteria, fungi, archaea, algae, some protozoans, and plants for the biosynthesis of vitamins, folates, and the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. (7)

These amino acids help produce neurotransmitters and compounds like serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, dopamine, CoQ10, and thyroid hormone—specifically through the help of beneficial gut bacteria.

Shikimic acid has been shown to support healthy platelet function and support healthy cardiovascular function in humans. (8)

It has also been shown to help support the function of the gut and digestive system, as well as the myelin sheath. (9) The myelin sheath is the fatty substance that surrounds neurons and acts as “insulation” for all of the electrical communication that takes place between these neurons.

Shikimic acid is also known to exert anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties, amongst other important properties. (10)

Shikimic Acid, Pesticides, and Digestive Functioning

As detailed earlier, shikimic acid is the end result of the seven-step metabolic process known as the shikimate pathway. This pathway is known to be negatively impacted by different pesticides, including the well-known glyphosate.

Glyphosate has been one of the most heavily used pesticides in the world and many studies and lawsuits have detailed the controversial use of it over recent years, with the World Health Organization classifying it as a class 2A probable human carcinogen. (11)

The pesticide creates a few different harmful and noteworthy effects, such as inhibiting the crucial cytochrome p450 enzymes as well as suppressing the function of the p53 gene. This particular gene is known loosely by scientists as the “Guardian of the Genome.” (12)

With respect to the shikimate pathway, glyphosate targets this seven-step process by inhibiting a key enzyme known as EPSPS (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase). When EPSPS is inhibited, the building of the amino acids necessary for the production of proteins is blocked and the plant dies.

Although we humans do not contain the shikimate pathway directly, it is known how and why glyphosate still affects us.

In 2021, the first-ever bioinformatics method was used to “assess the potential sensitivity of organisms to glyphosate-based on the type of EPSPS enzyme.”

The novel methodology they used was also able to classify sequences from about 90 percent of eukaryotes and greater than 80 percent of prokaryotes.

The scientists were not surprised to find that an astonishing 54 percent of the species in the core human gut microbiome are sensitive to glyphosate, with it also being stated that it was a conservative number presented. (13)

Since glyphosate harms much of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, it is no surprise that health conditions like cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, and digestive dysfunction have risen over the years alongside the widespread use of glyphosate. (14)

Pine Needles and Pesticide-Free Farming

Shikimic acid and the shikimic acid pathway are important because of their necessity in the creation of an immense amount of life on this planet and how it affects the human microbiome and overall health.

The use of synthetic pesticides has dramatically impacted us humans in several ways, as well as pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Our food, water, lawns, and grasslands have also been affected by glyphosate—and awareness of the synthetic pesticide issues is the first step in helping to reduce the usage of them on this planet.

Choosing organically grown or sustainably wild-harvested foods, when possible, is one way to reduce consumption of synthetic pesticide-sprayed foods and help support the health of the microbiome.

Another way to support the microbiome, gut, immune, and respiratory functioning is the consumption of pine needles and the active constituents found within.

Indigenous peoples’ centuries-old usage of eastern white pine needles and pine needles from various other species has recently been brought back into the spotlight because of the health-supporting compounds these needles naturally contain, as well as their relevance to global health, farming, and food.



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