We may all remember 2020 as the year of the “unprecedented.” The word has been used to describe everything from the pandemic, the resulting health care crisis, the economic impact, unemployment rates, kids schooling from home, universities pivoting to online classes and teleconferencing as the new norm. As I write this, the view out my window is hazy gray under an orange sun at 1:15 in the afternoon. Wildfires are burning swaths across California, Washington and Oregon. Oregon’s wildfires have been described as “once-in-a generation events,” while displacing more than half a million people. California has seen five of the largest 20 fires ever recorded in state history this season. Unprecedented.
There are always so many uncontrollable factors in life. However, this year seems even more so. As in sailing, we chart our course and set our sails, but the wind and the waves are beyond our control. Similarly, a large part of our environment is largely beyond our control. At best, we prepare, we respond and we are resilient in our path forward as the situation evolves around us.
The field of environmental medicine is predicated on the fact that there are known negative influences on our health but that we can be proactive in mitigating those factors. Decreasing daily exposures to low-level toxicants should be something all of us take interest in both personally and professionally. There are environmental factors that we can exercise some control, including reducing exposure to persistent organic pollutants, organophosphates, pesticides, heavy metals and xenobiotics in food, as well as pollutants in water, chemicals, carbon dioxide and mold in our homes, and parabens and phthalates in our personal care products. We are surrounded by myriad of opportunities to lower our toxic exposures by the choices we make.
Our best efforts to date to quantify the effect lifestyle and environment have on cancer causes suggest that the vast majority—as much as 70 to 90 percent—of our lifetime cancer risk is due to lifestyle and environment.1
Naturopathic medicine is predicated on establishing the foundations for health that reduce our risk factors for the onslaught of environmental toxins that come our way. Eating healthy whole foods, breathing clean air, drinking clean water, engaging in regular vigorous movement and enjoying supportive relationships are all considered fundamental for good health. We believe health to be our natural state. Our vital energy is one that, given the necessary conditions, will bring about healing. It is those conditions, such as our environment and lifestyle, that we can focus our attention. Controlling the negative influences whenever possible stacks the odds in our favor.
At the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM), we seek to Educate, Empower and Transform. Educate the public about their options regarding health, empower them to change their lifestyle and environment, and transform the health of our people and planet.
Two upcoming series that we are producing are on Nature and Health and Environmental Medicine. Nature and Health will feature a series of podcasts, exercises and ideas to help bring about the physiological, stress-reducing and mood-enhancing benefits of experiencing nature. We will describe the practice of forest bathing and offer a chapter from Dr. Cyndi Gilbert’s new book: Forest Bathing: Discovering health and happiness through the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku.2
In addition, a series on Environmental Medicine will be co-hosted by Dr. Christian Gonzales, a naturopathic doctor in Los Angeles, CA, who specializes in this area. Dr. Gonzales holds a fellowship in oncology and works with cancer patients. He recognizes the persistent question most cancer survivors ask once through with treatment: now what? His specialty helps people make low-toxin living an accessible lifestyle choice. We have also been working on a five-part webinar series that brings practical daily solutions about how to recognize and implement strategies for living a cleaner life at home (see more at www.gotostage.com/channel/0b8b5fa86b574131b7e93d783db4f55d).
Minimizing the negative influences in our lives may make us more resilient in contending with situations over which we have no choice, like smoke from out-of-control wildfires, or biological epidemics. And while there are no guarantees, the saying goes, luck favors the prepared. These are unprecedented times. It is up to each one of us to take charge of our health and our families’ health. Learn as much as you can, implement that knowledge and spread the word to others. We hope you will engage in our educational materials, will share them with your patients and spread the word to your colleagues about the resources we are producing. Go to the Naturopathic Health hub on BetterNutrition.com to access our materials or to our website at www.naturemed.org.
Natural practitioners are the ones whose time has come—let’s be ready to step in and help guide the evolution of health care delivery in America. Now that really would be unprecedented.
Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine. In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.