Healthy Planet = Healthy You

“What we lose in our great human exodus from the land is a rooted sense, as deep and intangible as religious faith, of why we need to hold on to the wild and beautiful places that once surrounded us.”  Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder

Earth-DayMany of us here in the Pacific Northwest have been busy enjoying the first few weeks of Spring – planting, hiking, and watching new life spring up from our flower beds and gardens. It seems fitting that on Tuesday, April 22, we celebrated Earth Day, a holiday dedicated to environmental health awareness and the conservation of our planet.  Founded in the United States in 1970, Earth Day is now a global event, recognized in 192 countries.  As the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities, Earth Day is an opportunity to discuss the impact we are having on the environment, and in turn, how the human-driven changes in our climate and ecosystem are impacting health around the globe, especially for women.

For centuries, human beings lived close to the land, cultivating and respecting its richness. However, in the past few hundred years, our relationship to the earth has drastically, and some say irreversibly, changed.  Studies show that pesticides, hormonally active agents, radiation, PCBs, heavy metals, and other by-products of industry and commercial manufacturing have made their way into our air, waterways, and soil.  Just last February, researchers at UC San Francisco and the Centers for Disease Control found that there is a significant increase in the likelihood of bearing a child with low birth rate (associated with serious health concerns such as morbidity, mortality, and chronic health problems), for mothers exposed to high levels of air pollution. Another study, published in January, found that the 2008 ban of certain phthalates in children’s toys has led to significantly less of these materials in Americans’ bloodstreams, but significantly more of the other forms of these chemicals.  Naturopathic medicine practitioners believe that, in addition to genetic, prenatal, and social factors, the basis of a person’s health lies in her access to fresh air, healthy food, clean water, and appropriate amounts of sunshine.  Nature provides us with an abundance of these factors. What can you do to help protect our vital resources?

  1. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.  Certainly here in Portland this is not just a slogan.  Many people place used furniture and clothing out on the curb for those whom might be needing a couch, or a desk, or a sweater.  Nationwide, the small house movement is introducing innovative ways to reduce materials, costs, and space. A quick internet search can provide you with many uses for that empty glass salsa jar.
  1. Eat organic foods and use organic farming methods in your own garden. Organic foods are better for your body and the planet, and it is easier than you may think to keep your garden organic! Save food scraps and use compost instead of fertilizer. Check out your local library for books about natural farming methods, such as selecting certain plants and herbs to deter unwanted bugs.
  1. Filter your water.  Use a filter if you live in an area where chemicals and heavy metals are present in the water supply. You can see your town’s latest water report.
  1. Make your own household cleaners.  You can clean your entire house using several basic ingredients such as baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and castile soap. An easy, basic, all-purpose cleaner can be made from ½ cup of baking soda mixed with ½ cup of vinegar in ½ gallon of water.
  1. See your naturopath to test for heavy metals. Metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury may cause damage to many organs including the lungs, kidneys, liver, endocrine glands, bones, and the central nervous, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems (Jang 2011; Adal 2013).  Detoxification of these metals may be crucial to recovering health.

In addition to our basic needs such as food, water, air, and sunshine, nature provides us with breathtaking scenery, endless opportunities for adventure, and perhaps most importantly, perspective on our place in the grand scheme of things.  This year consider what you can do to help improve the environment in which you live.

For additional ways to save the environment:

Written by Kaitlyn Pote, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program. Edited by Dr. Elise Schroeder