How the principles of environmental health fit into holistic patient care

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The principles of environmental health make the connection between the environment and disease – for example, it is estimated that 85,000 environmental chemicals have the potential to act as an allergen or irritant

Healthcare, in general, offers patients a number of health and wellness options. Some have a propensity to turn more to Western medicine, also known as traditional medicine, choosing to improve their mental and physical health with the help of drugs, surgeries and other medical interventions. Others prefer less traditional solutions, opting for preventive treatments and treatments that are not part of traditional medicine. They are looking for more natural ways to promote their health, instead using options like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and dietary supplements. Another less well-known form of medicine to consider is environmental medicine or the principles of environmental health, and it may be of interest to chiropractic professionals.

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 effects experienced by an individual upon exposure to an environmental stimulant.” These stimulants can exist in any environment – at home, at work, or at school, as well as in social environments – that negatively impact a person’s health by negatively affecting their organ systems.

Although the term environmental medicine is new, the concept is not. Many have long recognized that a person’s health is directly affected by the food they eat, the drinks they drink, the air they breathe, and everything in the world around them.

Research confirms this link between environmental health principles and disease. For example, a 2012 review published in the Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine indicates that approximately 85,000 environmental chemicals have the potential to act as an allergen or irritant, resulting in contact dermatitis. Other studies have linked environmental risk factors such as exposure to pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s disease.

This form of medicine takes that notion a step further, aiming to both educate and expose the true impact our environments can have on our overall health. This information can then be used to make better decisions about the world around us in order to achieve a higher level of well-being through the principles of environmental health.

Theories of “total load” and environmental medicine

The AAEM goes on to say that environmental medicine works according to three basic theories. The first is what he calls the concept of “total load”. The basis of this concept is that most illnesses are not caused by just one thing. Instead, they are a combination of many factors that together open the door to disease.

Another theory behind environmental medicine is that not everyone has the same susceptibility to disease. People are genetically different, sometimes predisposing certain individuals to specific physical conditions. Each person’s lifestyle and environment is also different, making some people more susceptible than others to offending officers.

Environmental medicine further believes in adaptation, or the body’s ability to change and adapt based on what it experiences on a regular basis. However, some people suffer from maladaptation. For these people, the body does not adapt as effectively as it could because of a failure in this process.

The relationship between environmental medicine and chiropractic

Although chiropractic professionals primarily focus on the health of the body’s internal musculoskeletal system, many prescribe a holistic approach to health that encompasses external factors as well. This is demonstrated by 47% of practitioners stating that one of the modalities they provide is nutritional assistance, 8.9% also providing patients with access to homeopathic alternatives.

By taking into account the external environment of patients and the principles of environmental health, healthcare providers can have a clearer path when trying to identify the root causes of what afflicts them. This makes it necessary to take a closer look at not only what is going on with the patient internally, but also the external environmental factors that could create an unintended or never before contemplated negative effect.

Integrate an environmental approach

Practitioners interested in learning more about how the patient environment can contribute to their overall health might start by including questions on the intake questionnaire that focus on their home, work, school and social environment. Ask them what they eat and drink regularly, if they take supplements, what types of cleaners they use, and if they are exposed to chemicals at work. This can provide insight into external factors that can impact their body’s ability to function at higher levels.

Another option is to help patients make healthier decisions by educating them about the role the environment plays in overall health and well-being. Increase their awareness of how the world around them can increase or decrease their risk of disease. Give them the tools to promote their health through reduced exposure to environmental stimulants that until then they may not even have realized existed.


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