The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of two-hour exposure to a forest environment on cytokine, anti-oxidant and stress levels among university students and to compare the results to those measured in urban environments. Forty-one subjects were recruited. For our crossover design, subjects were divided into two groups based on similar demographic characteristics. Group A remained in the urban environment and was asked to perform regular breathing for 2 h. Blood samples were collected and the serum levels of cytokines including interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) were examined. Subjects were moved to a small town in a rural area for an equal amount of time to exclude carryover effects, and then remained for another 2 h in a forest environment. The second set of blood samples was collected to assess the effect of exposure to the forest environment. Using the same method, Group B was first exposed to the forest environment, followed by exposure to the urban environment. Blood samples collected after the subjects were exposed to the forest environment showed significantly lower levels of IL-8 and TNF-α compared to those in samples collected after urban environment exposure (10.76 vs. 9.21, t = 4.559, p < 0.001, and 0.97 vs. 0.87, t = 4.130, p < 0.001). The GPx concentration increased significantly after exposure to the forest environment (LnGPx = 5.09 vs. LnGPx = 5.21, t = -2.039, p < 0.05).
Keywords: antioxidant; crossover design; cytokines; forest; glutathione; interleukin.