The principles of environmental health link between environment and disease — for example an estimated 85,000 environmental chemicals have the potential of acting as an allergen or irritant
Health care, in general, offers patients a number of health and wellness options. Some have a propensity to lean more toward Western medicine, also known as traditional medicine, choosing to boost their mental and physical health with the assistance of drugs, surgeries, and other medical interventions. Others prefer less traditional solutions, opting for preventatives and treatments that fall outside of mainstream medicine. They seek out more natural ways to promote their health, utilizing options such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and dietary supplements instead. Another form of medicine to consider, and one that is lesser-known, is environmental medicine or the principles of environmental health, and it may be of interest to those in the chiropractic profession.
What is environmental medicine and the principles of environmental health?
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) explains that this form of medicine “involves the adverse reactions experienced by an individual on exposure to an environmental excitant.” These excitants can exist in any environment–at home, work, or school, as well as within social environments — negatively impacting a person’s health by adversely affecting their organ systems.
Though the term environmental medicine may be new, the concept is not. Many have long acknowledged that a person’s health is directly affected by the foods they eat, the beverages they drink, the air they breathe, and everything else that exists in the world around them.
Research confirms this principles of environmental health link between environment and disease. For example, a 2012 review published in the Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine indicates that an estimated 85,000 environmental chemicals have the potential of acting as an allergen or irritant, leading to contact dermatitis. Other studies have connected environmental risk factors such as exposure to pesticides with the development of Parkinson’s disease.
This form of medicine takes this notion one step further, aiming to both educate and expose the true impact our environments can have on our total health. This information can then be used to make better decisions about the world around us to achieve a higher level of wellness via the principles of environmental health
‘Total load’ and environmental medicine theories
The AAEM goes on to say that environmental medicine operates under three basic theories. The first is what it refers to as a “total load” concept. The foundation of this concept is that most diseases aren’t caused by just one thing. Instead, they are a combination of many factors that, together, open the door for disease to step in.
Another underlying theory of environmental medicine is that not everyone has the same susceptibility to illness or disease. People are different genetically, sometimes predisposing certain individuals to specific physical conditions. Each person’s lifestyle and environment are also different, causing some to be more susceptible to offending agents than others.
Environmental medicine further believes in adaptation, or the body’s ability to change and adapt based on what it experiences regularly. Though, some people experience maladaptation. For these individuals, the body doesn’t adapt as efficiently as it could due to a breakdown in this process.
Environmental medicine’s relation to chiropractic
Although chiropractic professionals are primarily focused on the health of the body’s internal musculoskeletal system, many prescribe to a holistic health approach that encompasses external factors as well. This is evidenced by 47% of practitioners reporting that one of the modalities they provide is nutritional assistance, with 8.9% also offering patients access to homeopathic alternatives.
By considering patients’ external surroundings and the principles of environmental health, health care providers may have a clearer path when trying to identify the root causes of what it is that ails them. It forces a closer look at not only what is going on with the patient internally but also the external environmental factors that might be creating an unintended or never-before-considered negative effect.
Incorporating an environmental approach
Practitioners interested in learning more about how patients’ environments may be contributing to their overall health could begin by including questions on the intake questionnaire that ask about their home, work, school and social environments. Ask about what they regularly eat and drink, whether they take any supplements, the types of cleaners they use, and whether they’re exposed to chemicals at work. This can provide some insight into what external factors may be impacting their body’s ability to function at higher levels.
Another option is to help patients make more healthful decisions by educating them about the role that environment plays in overall health and wellness. Increase their awareness of how the world around them can raise or lower their disease risk. Give them the tools needed to promote their health via reduced exposure to environmental excitants that, until then, they may not have even realized exist.