What is Environmental Medicine?

The history

Since the end of World War ll, daily human exposures to chemicals in our air, food and water has increased dramatically. In the early 1990s, the US Institute of Medicine advised doctors to be prepared to diagnose, prevent and treat environmentally related conditions. However, almost 30 years later, most doctors still lack appropriate education and remain poorly informed about possible adverse environmental health effects. As a result, pollutant exposures are not considered in clinical practice and appropriated advice is not usually provided.

Environmental science

The USA, Canada and the European Union have been monitoring human chemical exposures for many years. We know that the average person is contaminated with industrial chemicals, pesticides, plastics, fire retardants, stain repellants etc. Even newborn babies are contaminated with up to 200 pollutants. And most of us are urban dwellers, exposed to mixtures of indoor and outdoor air pollution every single day. So, how safe are these chemicals? Basic toxicity information is available for less than 50% of them and information on developmental (unborn and newborn babies and children) toxicity is available for less than 20%. Even worse, we have no safety data when there are multiple exposures, which is the norm in the world we live in.

The medical literature

What medical science does show is that the environment is responsible for 70 to 90% of the risk for developing chronic disease or making them worse. Environmentally-linked diseases include allergies, autoimmune disorders, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, progressive neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and childhood developmental disorders, like attention deficit disorders and autism. The risks increase with increased chemical exposures and if our bodies cannot detoxify them well.

Poorly understood conditions

There are new, emerging chronic conditions such as environmental sensitivities/multiple chemical sensitivity (ES/MCS), fibromyalgia (FM) and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which also appear to be linked to the environment. As acknowledged recently by the US Institute of Medicine and the Ontario Ministry of Health Task Force on Environmental Health, doctors remain poorly informed about the biology of these conditions or how to diagnose and manage them.

There are not yet enough physicians trained to practice environmental medicine. Those that do use a multidiscipline and integrative systems approach to recognize, treat and prevent illnesses induced or impacted by exposure to chemicals encountered in air, food, and water. They also have a special expertise in making the diagnosis and advising on the management of ES/MCS, FM and ME/CFS.

John Molot MD is the author of:

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Reviewed by Publisher Weekly on: 10/06/2014