Turfgrass: Smell the difference it makes

July 12, 2009  - By

By: Jim Novak, Turfgrass Producers International

Those of us involved in any aspect of the Green Industry more than likely can rattle off a reasonable list of environmental and health benefits that natural turfgrass offers. But it’s just as likely that there’s one positive attribute most of us haven’t yet sniffed out; that’s the health benefit associated with the scent of freshly cut grass.

Dr. Nickolas Lavidis along with Ph.D. students Elizabeth Butt and Ei Leen Leong of the University of Queensland’s school of biomedical sciences in Brisbane, Australia set out to study the long-term effect of intermittent chronic stress in rats and mice and recently discovered something of interest.

What they discovered was that the nerve cells in a part of the brain involved in memory were smaller when their subjects (rats and mice) were placed in chronic stressful situations. But more importantly, they found that certain scents, off-set the consequences of stress on the nerve cells and in turn prevented the memory loss that was associated with chronic stress.

In simplistic terms, the researchers found that nerves communicate through electrical signals. In chronically stressed animals, fewer impulses were measured, telling researchers that stress reduced the ability of nerves to communicate in the hippocampus (nerve cells in a part of the brain involved in memory). Less communication between the nerves in this area leads to memory loss. They also discovered something else of interest; the smelling of freshly cut grass prevented this loss.

“If the same animals with chronic stress are exposed to the smell of the chemicals within cut grass, the damage that occurs to the hippocampus is prevented,” Dr Lavidis said. “The structures of the nerve cells that communicate memory look exactly the same as an animal that hasn’t been stressed. In effect, it prevents the damage, loss of function and loss of memory.”

The researchers are unsure precisely how smelling certain odors achieves this result. One possibility is that fewer neurons are activating the sympathetic nervous system.

The researchers identified 18 chemicals found in freshly cut grass. They narrowed down the ones that might influence stress by observing which chemicals most effectively dampened the electrical signals being sent to the sympathetic nervous system in animals. The final product is a cool and fresh fragrance.

While no official human trials were conducted, Dr Lavidis had over 60 of his students voluntarily smell the fragrance. “They all reported to me the pleasantness of the smell and the positive effect it has had on them under different situations, including exam periods,” Dr Lavidis said.

The team is researching possible medical benefits of other natural smells, such as lavender and bay leaves.

If one were to put considerable weight in these research findings it might be worthwhile to mow that natural turfgrass playing field just minutes before a crucial game. Who knows, it might minimize the stress experienced by the players and fans of the losing team.

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Turfgrass Producers International – TPI

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