Environmentally Acquired Illness (EAI) is a subset of illnesses known to be caused, aggravated, or perpetuated by environmental exposures. What is an “environmental exposure”? Environmental exposures can be natural or manmade, including, but not limited to mold (and the mycotoxins it produces), Lyme (and other co-infections), toxins (including pesticides & chemicals in our drinking water and personal care products), air pollution, heavy metals (like mercury & lead), and even man-made EMFs (electromagnetic fields). These exposures, especially when added on top of one another, fill our “buckets”. At a certain point, these infections, toxins, and irritants start to overtax our detoxification systems and cause systemic inflammation. And this inflammation can lead to many different Environmentally Acquired Illnesses (EAIs).
Some common examples of environmentally acquired illnesses include:
- Allergies and Asthma
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Autoimmune Disease
- Diabetes (Type 2)
- Electromagnetic/EMF Hypersensitivity
- Heavy Metal Toxicity
- Lyme Disease (& Co-Infections like Bartonella, Babesia, & more)
- Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
- Mold/Biotoxin Illness & Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
How Do You Treat Environmentally Acquired Illness?
Environmental exposures are serious and can quickly lead to environmentally acquired complex, chronic illnesses. The good news is, we can reduce our exposures and we can treat EAIs. We can get better. In order to recover our health, we have to work with our body, not against it. Identifying and understanding the root causes of our illness. Looking upstream to find, remove, or reduce triggers. And working with the systems of our body. Using symptoms as messages and clues, not problems to silence with a pill.
1. Identify Root Causes
An important part of the functional medicine approach is to identify root causes (yes, that’s plural – there’s usually more than one!). Identifying root causes often starts with asking “why?”. The 5 Whys approach and the Root Cause Analysis method were made popular through Toyota’s rise to success in the auto industry (affiliate link). And similar tools and techniques can help you uncover and address the root causes of dis-ease in your body.
While this individualized root cause approach hasn’t been accepted or adopted everywhere, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic saw the potential for better care and lower costs and created their Center for Functional Medicine in 2014. And in 2019, they published a study that found functional medicine based care led to improved quality of life measures.
2. Look Upstream
Asking “why”, to identify root causes, will naturally start to lead you “upstream”. In his 2014 TED Talk, Dr. Rishi Manchanda shares his experience working with homeless veterans and working class families and why he believes we need a fundamentally different approach to healthcare.
We simply need a healthcare system that moves beyond just looking at the symptoms that bring people into clinics, but instead actually is able to look and improve health where it begins.
And where health begins is not in the four walls of a doctor’s office, but where we live and where we work, where we eat, sleep, learn and play, where we spend the majority of our lives.Dr. Rishi Manchanda, via his 2014 TED talk “What Makes Us Get Sick? Look Upstream”
Zip Code vs Genetic Code
In his talk, Dr. Manchanda highlights that for health, a person’s zip code matters more than their genetic code:
“If we were to use science as our guide, we would find an upstream approach is absolutely necessary. Scientists now know that the living and working conditions that we all are a part of have more than twice the impact on our health than does our genetic code. And living and working conditions, the structures of our environments, the ways in which our social fabric is woven together and the impact those have on our behaviors, all together those have more than five times the impact on our health than does all the pills and procedures administered by doctors and hospitals combined. All together, living and working conditions account for 60% of preventable death.“
The Role of Coaching
As a Functional Medicine Health Coach, my role is to support people with the environmental conditions, social factors, and behaviors that have such a huge impact on their overall health. Making changes to our environment, the foods we eat, the relationship we have with technology, and the ways we manage stress can be intimidating, overwhelming, and sometimes lonely. I’ve been there. But, once you see that what you do outside the doctor’s office can make a difference, it’s incredibly empowering. These social and environmental factors (that your doctor may never have inquired about) are all things that we, as individuals, can control or influence. And by making some simple (but not easy) changes, we can see incredibly powerful effects on our health and well-being.
How To Identify Root Causes & Go Upstream
Watch: What Makes Us Get Sick? Look Upstream
To learn more about the power of the upstream approach in medicine, and how it could change healthcare, watch Dr. Manchanda’s full TED talk.
3. Take a Systems-Based Approach
In my prior career as a User Experience Specialist, my approach to research and design was greatly influenced by Kim Vicente’s book, The Human Factor (affiliate link). I always knew context mattered in design, but for me, that book broadened the context and cemented the importance of the systems thinking approach. When I discovered functional medicine, it was the familiar systems thinking mindset that resonated deeply and helped me recover my health.
Clinical Systems Biology
In the realm of environmentally acquired illness, Clinical Systems Biology (CSB) is a specialized form of systems thinking. For complex, chronic illnesses, CSB often yields much better results than the reductionist, siloed approach that’s more common in mainstream medicine. According to Dr. Keith Berndtson, MD in his ISEAI article EAI In Depth:
“CSB reasoning relies on a deep understanding of how the various systems of the human body work together to maintain healthy balance. Commonly seen patterns of abnormality indicate how and why key bodily systems falter and fail, resulting in multi-system illnesses that befuddle those who are trapped into naming the disease and the drug for the disease in order to keep moving and meet the day’s productivity expectations”.
He goes on to say:
“The CSB mindset draws upon methods that are more scientific, patient-centered, holistic, integrative, naturopathic, and functional when it comes to solving the chronic and complex problems of human biology gone awry.”
This perspective and the deep understanding of systems biology better enables practitioners to help their patients recover from the complex, chronic illnesses that are triggered or exacerbated by environmental exposures.
Navigating complex chronic illness is challenging. Many people suffer in silence, or get bounced from doctor to doctor for years before finding someone that can help. In its current state, our mainstream medical model is just not designed to help people identify and recover from the complex, chronic illnesses that environmental factors can trigger. But, it is possible to get better, and there are well-trained practitioners that can support you (MDs, DOs, NDs, NPs, DCs, and more)! These practitioners will look upstream, help you identify your individual root causes, and develop a treatment plan that will support your body in healing, instead of just suppressing symptoms. It may not be an easy road. It might require changes to your environment and your behaviors. But improving your quality of life can open up so many possibilities.
Finding a Practitioner
If you think that you or someone you love might be dealing with a condition that is caused or exacerbated by environmental factors (like mold, Lyme, toxins, or heavy metals), you can find trained practitioners and qualified Indoor Environmental Professionals through the Get Help page on ISEAI’s website.
And if you’d like support on your journey, reach out. Whether it’s building your care team, finding reliable resources, or staying accountable to your treatment plan, I’d love to help you reach your goals. My experience (both as a patient, and as a Functional Medicine Health Coach) has taught me that we all have the power to be better. Our families, our employers, and our world need us at our best.
If you’d like to learn more about Environmentally Acquired Illness, there are many ways to do so. Here are a few resources that cover the tools and approaches that can help you recover your health or reduce your risk for EAIs.
Articles & Books
ISEAI has some great articles on environmentally acquired illness:
And Dr. Neil Nathan’s book, Toxic: Heal Your Body from Mold Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and Chronic Environmental Illness (affiliate link) is an excellent resource for patients and practitioners to learn more about EAIs and navigating treatment options.
Another wonderful learning opportunity is ISEAI’s annual conference, which for 2020, is being held virtually. Because it will be virtual, there is a special attendance option for patients, families, and other interested members of the public. The 2020 conference – One People, One Planet, One Health – will be held October 2-4. You can view the full schedule and sign-up at ISEAI.org.
FREE, Online Summits
Mold and CIRS
Mold and mycotoxins are a common environmental exposure that can lead to adverse health impacts. From allergies through to Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), many people are made sick by water-damaged buildings.
If you’re interested in learning more about mold illness specifically, the Toxic Mold Summit is an excellent opportunity to learn from some of the best in the field. You can sign-up for FREE, 7-day access at ToxicMoldProject.com. Interviews cover the symptoms and diagnosis of mold illness, common treatments, and how to test and remediate your home.
Lyme Disease is another common environmentally acquired illness. Also known as “the Great Imitator”, it can mimic conditions like arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and more. To learn about the latest research and approaches to testing and treatment, check out Dr. Jay Davidson’s Chronic Lyme Disease Summit.
Anxiety is a common symptom that tags along with many EAIs. Trudy Scott’s 6th online Anxiety Summit takes the EAI lens, focusing on the role that toxins, medications, and infections play in our anxiety. Trudy and her speakers cover powerful detox solutions and nutritional protocols that can provide immediate support, as well as long-term improvements through the root-cause approach. Visit TheAnxietySummit6.com to sign-up for free access from November 2-8, 2020.