Humans have long been fascinated by pine trees and their roles in the natural world around us. They are mysterious, beautiful and ancient trees that can live for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.
There are approximately 125 different pine species that have been identified, some of the longest-lived trees and organisms in the world.
In fact, some trees of the Bristlecone Pine species (Pinus longaeva) have been carbon dated to 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
Native humans have long used pine needles and various compounds from certain pines for at least hundreds of years. (3) Consuming certain pine needles impacts the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological systems of us humans.
Interestingly, it was the bark and needles of pine trees that the Iroquois gave to the seriously ill crew of Jacques Cartier in 1536 that helped provide the vitamin C the crew needed at the time to treat his scurvy. (4)
More recently, pine needles and pine needle tea have received enormous attention from scientists, doctors, and people working in the fields of health and wellness, due to the many different compounds found naturally in some 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 have begun to re-discuss in 2021 is naturally occurring shikimic acid found in certain pine species, such as 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 of the antiviral drug Oseltamivir, also known commercially as Tamiflu. (6) While pine needles should not be confused with Tamiflu, shikimic acid as a natural compound is known to induce several different physiological effects in the body.
Shikimic acid is also known in biology as the Shikimate pathway and was first discovered 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 protozoa, 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, especially with 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 bowel and digestive system function, as well as the myelin sheath. (9) The myelin sheath is the fatty substance that surrounds the neurons and acts as an “insulator” for all the electrical communications that are established between these neurons.
Shikimic acid is also known for its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, among other important properties. (ten)
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 is one of the most widely used pesticides in the world and numerous studies and lawsuits have detailed its controversial use in recent years, with the World Health Organization classifying it as a probable Class 2A human carcinogen. (11)
The pesticide creates a few different harmful and noticeable effects, such as inhibition of crucial cytochrome p450 enzymes as well as suppression of p53 gene function. This particular gene is loosely known by scientists as the “keeper of the genome”. (12)
When it comes 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 construction of amino acids needed for protein production is blocked and the plant dies.
Although we humans do not directly contain the shikimate pathway, it is known how and why glyphosate still affects us.
In 2021, the first-ever bioinformatics method was used to “evaluate the potential sensitivity of organisms to glyphosate based on the type of EPSPS enzyme”.
The new methodology they used also made it possible to classify the sequences of approximately 90% of eukaryotes and more than 80% of prokaryotes.
Scientists weren’t surprised to find that an astonishing 54% of species in the core human gut microbiome are sensitive to glyphosate, and it was also stated that this was a conservative figure presented. (13)
Given that glyphosate harms so much of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, it’s no surprise that health issues like cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, and digestive dysfunction have increased over time. years alongside the widespread use of glyphosate. (14)
Pine needles and pesticide-free agriculture
Shikimic acid and the shikimic acid pathway are important because of their necessity in creating an immense amount of life on this planet and how they affect the human microbiome and overall health.
The use of synthetic pesticides has had a huge impact on us humans in many ways, as well as on pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Our food, water, lawns and meadows have also been affected by glyphosate – and raising awareness of the problems with synthetic pesticides is the first step in helping to reduce their use on this planet.
Choosing foods that are organically grown or sustainably harvested from the wild, when possible, is one way to reduce consumption of pesticide-sprayed synthetic foods and help support a healthy microbiome.
Another way to support microbiome, gut, immune and respiratory functioning is by consuming pine needles and the active constituents found there.
The centuries-old use by Indigenous peoples of white pine needles and pine needles of various other species has recently been brought back into the limelight due to the health-promoting compounds these needles naturally contain, as well as their relevance to global health, agriculture, and food.