Environmental medicine is an approach of preventing and treating disease with environmental factors. These factors include chemical, physical, and biological influences on the place where a patient works, lives, and plays. Environmental medicine is known as a multidisciplinary field of medicine. It combines environmental science, chemistry, urban planning, ecology, and medicine.
The key idea behind environmental medicine is that long-term exposure to mildly irritating substances, such as common household fungi, or other factors, such as noise, may trigger a variety of physical, mental, and emotional disorders. These mildly irritating substances are known as stressors. Chronic exposure to stressors may result in long-lasting symptoms and even disease.
Government environmental agencies as well as medical organizations have increasingly recognized the role that a person's environment may play in the development of disease. However, many of the sub-clinical symptoms that environmental medical practitioners attribute to contaminants in the environment are not recognized by most medical practitioners. The term sub-clinical is used to describe medical signs and symptoms that may not appear significant enough to warrant medical investigation and diagnosis.
Environmental medicine is a broad field. Some issues that are prominent include: the effects of ozone depletion and the resulting increase in ultraviolet (UV) radiation on humans with regards to skin cancer; the effects of nuclear accidents or bombs and the resulting effects of radioactive material on humans; the effects of chemicals on humans, such as dioxin, especially with regards to cancer; radon gas exposure in individuals' homes; air and water pollution on the health of individuals; mercury poisoning and exposure through fish and seafood.
Effectiveness Effectiveness definitions
Environmental medicine is a whole system of medicine that has not been evaluated. Environmental medicine practitioners use a variety of treatments. See specific therapies for effectiveness information.
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
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Advocates link environmental factors, such as chemical sensitivities, developmental delays, and some forms of cancer, to exposure to contaminants. Environmental medicine proponents claim that stressors play a role in the development of diseases such as obesity and cancer. Environmental medicine may also connect exposure to contaminants and stressors to the development of the following diseases: cardiovascular system problems such as arrhythmias, vasculitis, thrombophlebitis, hypertension, angina, myocardial infarctions, and edema; skin problems such as eczema, urticaria, angioedema, scleroderma, and dermatitis herpetiformis; endocrine problems such as thyroid dysfunction, premenstrual syndrome, and fibrocystic breast disease; gastrointestinal problems such as aphthous stomatitis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, infantile enterocolitis, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, regional ileitis, ulcerative colitis, certain malabsorption syndromes, gut flora dysbiosis, and laryngeal edema; genitourinary problems including glomerulonephritis, nephrotic syndrome, chronic cystitis, recurrent vaginitis, enuresis, dysmenorrhea, infertility, and vulvodynia; hematologic problems such as certain types of anemia, and thrombocytopenia; musculoskeletal problems such as lupus erythematosus, myalgia and arthralgia, fibromyalgia, and arthritic conditions; neurological and central nervous system problems such as fatigue, certain seizure disorders, sleep disorders, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and various cognitive and memory disorders; eye and ear disorders such as conjunctivitis, eczema of the eyelids, blurring of vision, photophobia, Meniere's disease, recurrent otitis media, vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus; breathing disorders such as asthma, certain pneumonias, rhinitis, frequent colds, sinusitis, and chronic bronchitis; psychiatric/emotional problems such as attention deficit disorder, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, somatoform disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, panic disorders, irritability, anxiety, and chronic fatigue.
The model of environmental medicine is based on the theory that the human body is constantly coping with its dynamic environment by means of a number of built-in, complexly interacting, and usually reversible biologic mechanisms and systems. Many of these mechanisms involve the endocrine and immune systems. According to this model, substances in the diet or environment are potential stressors that are capable of contributing to destabilization of "homeodynamic functions"; therefore, causing disease. The term "homeodynamic functioning" is used because it reflects that the maintenance of homeostasis of health and function as an active process rather than a passive one. Treatment strategies are customized for each patient. One general treatment strategy is using immunotherapy so that theoretically the patient is able to withstand a higher stressor load. Another strategy is preventing exposure stressors by creating an environment of clean water, air, and food.
The basic theories of environmental medicine include the "total load" concept, individual susceptibility, and adaptation. The "total load" concept is that multiple and chronic environmental exposures in a susceptible individual contribute to a breakdown of that person's homeostatic mechanisms. Rarely is there only one offending agent responsible for causing a diseased condition. Individual susceptibility to environmental agents can be affected by genetic predisposition, gender, nutritional status, and emotional and physical stress.
Each person has an environmental stressor threshold, and once this level has been surpassed by the total stressor load, illness occurs. The load is determined by factors such as air quality, diet, living arrangements, and leisure activities. Categories of potential external stressors include organic inhalants such as dust, mold, pollen, and dander; manufactured and naturally occurring chemicals; chemicals in the diet; infectious organisms; and physical factors, such as radiation, heat, cold, humidity, vibrations, noise, and electromagnetic fields. Categories of potential internal stressors include psychological stresses, genetic limitations, malnutrition, dysfunctional biological mechanisms, etc.
Adaptation is defined as the ability of an organism to adjust to the gradually changing sustained circumstances of its existence. Maladaptation is a breakdown of the adaptive mechanism and the resulting of disease or illness.