LivePure Journal
Medical Doctor

When Health is Impaired by Environment

By Dr. Lawrence Cheng, MD, CCFP(EM), MPH (from Autumn issue of LivePure Journal) 

man holds world with tree

Our collective health, as individuals and as communities, is inextricable from the health of our planet as a whole. And maybe now more than ever before, we can see the negative effects of environment on the state of human health and well-being.

And during a global pandemic, the negative effects may be more urgent. With an unhealthy environment assaulting our immune systems (like the extreme poor air quality recently experienced in BC), our bodies struggle to perform in healthy, optimal ways (think about coughing or wheezing from wildfire smoke).

Here’s the thing: there is no separation between us and our environment. There is no separation between the quality of the air we breathe and the oxygen that flows through our lungs—and into every cell of our bodies.  

And there is no separation between the health of the water supply in our rivers and oceans, and the health of the blood and fluid that runs through our arteries and veins.  

There is no separation between the food we eat and the health of the soil, plants, and animals that we share this planet with. But there is a sacred balance, as David Suzuki might say. 

And because of that balance, we can no longer have conversations about human health as a separate consideration from the health of the planet.

Toxins abound 

We live in an increasingly toxic environment. Chemicals are everywhere: in our homes, our workplaces, in the products we put on our bodies, and in the many food-like substances that we unwisely choose to ingest. 

It’s estimated that more than 80,000 new chemicals have been introduced into the environment since World War II. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that links the exposure and accumulation of chemical toxins with human disease. 

Many now-common conditions have been associated with toxicity: obesity, diabetes, thyroid disorders, asthma, chronic fatigue, autoimmune conditions, and cancer—to name a few. 

In fact, allergies, autoimmune conditions, and cancer continue to become more prevalent despite improvements in living conditions and medical advances. Our genome (our DNA) has not had time to adapt to the new chemical loads and as a result, damage occurs and disease manifests.

Low-dose is not the same as no-harm 

Low-dose exposure to chemicals is not necessarily safe exposure. We really don’t know the long-term effects of most of the chemicals or drugs that we’ve produced. No evidence for harmful effects is not the same as “evidence of no harm.”   

For me, the only rational approach to continued use of chemicals is to follow the precautionary principle, which states that we have the duty to prevent harm when it is within our power (and our institutions’) to do so—even when all of the evidence is not yet in. Avoiding exposure and consumption of potentially toxic chemicals is simply a wise approach to living well.

Detoxifying the body 

We are learning that our ability to detoxify (break down chemicals, render them harmless, and eliminate them safely from the body), can be quite variable for each of us, this is due to individual genetic and biochemical uniqueness.  

What might be a ‘safe’ exposure for 90% of the population, could cause significant disease in an individual who has impaired ability to detoxify the chemical compounds. 

So, in most cases, appreciating individual susceptibility and reducing exposure is the best advice to be given. 

As well, the ability to detoxify substances to which a person has been exposed, is critical to overall health and prevention of disease. 

How well our body detoxifies itself can be modified by our lifestyle.

The elements of a detoxification lifestyle 

Avoid exposure to all known sources of toxicity as much as possible.

Optimize nutrition by consuming a diet high in phytochemicals, beneficial compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Onions and garlic, cruciferous vegetables, citrus, green tea, and others, act in a complex and beneficial manners to improve our detoxification systems. 

Regular moderate exercise on most days of the week also helps increase antioxidant enzymes in the body, improves lymph drainage, and increases elimination through sweating.

Restorative sleep, rest, relaxation, and rejuvenating play are notably essential to detoxification. 

Finally, true detoxification includes eliminating toxic influences of all kinds that do not serve—not just the chemical ones. This includes toxic self-limiting beliefs about ourselves, maladaptive patterns of behaviour, toxic relationships, drug and alcohol use, and other negative influences.

As humans, we have an incredible ability to withstand stresses from all kinds of toxins, from environmental to emotional. Even during a global pandemic and the countless toxin and chemical concerns, this is the inherent wisdom and intelligence of the body manifest. 

But we must also provide our bodies with the best chance to withstand the physical and emotional toxins by living a lifestyle that helps our body, mind and spirit be strong. We should all strive to avoid using or consuming chemicals found in our environment and in our food. How we live each and every day makes all the difference, to our own health and to our sacred
connection to Earth. 

Dr. Lawrence Cheng, MD, CCFP(EM), MPH, is clinical co-director and co-founder of Connect Health. connecthealthcare.ca