Environmental medicine explores the role of dietary and environmental allergens in health and illness. Factors such as dust, moulds, chemicals, and certain food may cause allergic reactions that can dramatically influence diseases ranging from asthma and hay fever to headaches and depression. Virtually any chronic physical or mental illness may be improved by the care of a physician competent in this field.
Environmental medicine aims to relieve disorders that its practitioners blame on pollutants and toxins in the environment. If you are allergic to particular elements in your diet-or to substances in the air-some of the techniques employed by environmental practitioners could remedy the problem. (A mainstream allergist could also help). Food allergies, hay fever, nasal congestion, sneezing, ear infections, and sinus headaches are all potential targets for environmental therapies. Many environmental therapists believe, however, that pollution's impact on health extends far beyond allergies that can be clearly linked to a particular irritant. Indeed, they insist that virtually all chronic maladies are caused-or at least aggravated-by a host of natural and artificial environmental pollutants. This proposition is considered far more dubious than the widely documented allergies we are all familiar with. In fact, there are no scientific studies that support it.
Procedure of Treatment
The physicians who target disorders of a presumably environmental nature use a wide array of treatments, ranging from diet to a combination of holistic, homeopathic and pharmaceutical therapy. You may encounter some very trendy, over-the-top treatments when you visit an environmental practitioner, but the majority fall into four categories.
Nutritional Therapies: The use of oral and intravenous vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. (For more information, see the profile on 'Orthomolecular Medicine'.)
Detoxification: The removal of metals and chemicals from the body. (For more information, see 'Detoxification Therapy')
Immunotherapy: Treatments to strengthen the immune system.
Desensitization: The process if retraining the immune system to eliminate allergies. Before you begin therapy, the doctor will put you through a battery of tests to help pinpoint the nature of the problem, and will take a very comprehensive medical history. Many physicians have developed their own treatment programmes. However, here is a brief look at some of the more popular approaches.
Diet Modification: Diet and nutrition are the stapes of many environmental medical treatments. The goal is to identify various food allergies so that the offending items can be removed from the diet. The doctor may begin by recommending elimination of certain foods on a trial basis. If symptoms subside in a food's absence, then return in its presence, it is probably the source of the problem. Alternatively, the doctor may administer a 'provocation' or neutralization' test. In this procedure, a small amount of a suspected allergen is either injected just beneath the skin or placed under the tongue. If the skin turns red and forms a raised wheal at the injection site, you have a positive response. (Don't jump to conclusions, however. False positives are very common in skin tests for food allergies, and additional tests may be needed.) The most common food allergies are to milk and milk products, wheat, yeast, corn, eggs, soybeans, tomatoes, peanuts, other nuts, citrus fruits and shellfish.
Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization(EPD): This technique calls for administration of extremely small doses of an allergen in order to cure your sensitivity to it. A natural enzyme called beta glucuronidase is included to boost desensitization. The treatments are intended to 'train' the immune system to tolerate the allergen. They are given intravenously, and are recommended only for those in good nutritional health. Treatments are typically given at two-month intervals initially; then less often as the patient begins to respond. For hay fever, one or two treatments per year are sufficient. House dust and mite allergies are typically treated with two doses given two or three months apart. For stubborn disorders, results can take as long as two years to appear. Most people must continue EPD for a lifetime, although many are able to skip treatments for as long as five or six years before resuming.
Chelation Therapy: These treatments use intravenous administration of a man-made amino acid called ethylene diaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) to flush heavy metals from the body. EDTA binds with molecules of metals such as lead, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, plutonium and manganese, and carries them out of the system through the intestinal tract, urinary tract, skin or saliva. It is standard treatment for heavy metal poisoning. Many proponents also promote it as a treatment for coronary artery disease, circulatory disorders, and stroke; but its effectiveness for anything other than poisoning has never been confirmed. For more information, see the profile on 'Chelation Therapy'.
Heat Depuration: Like chelation therapy, these treatments seek to rid the body of chemicals such as lead, copper, iron and other toxins. Patients are placed in a sauna heated to as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit's, a temperature which is thought to mobilize the chemicals from deep stores within the body. The treatments are often administered in conjunction with chelation therapy and other forms of detoxification. For example, patients may spend a full day undergoing heat treatments, exercise sessions, a massage and nutritional therapy counselling. Each treatment lasts from 15 to 40 minutes, and 3 to 4 may be given during the course of a day. Advocates say that an average of 20 eight-hour sessions are needed to completely clear the body of toxins.
Other Treatments: Some environmental practitioners offer other, more controversial types of therapy. They may prescribe DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a solvent that is sometimes used externally to relieve pain and swelling from strains, sprains and arthritis, and that is taken internally for certain bladder infections. You might also encounter DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone that some advocates say can reduce the risk of cancer, control immunity, regulare blood pressure and relieve allergies. Claims for both drugs are considered legally unproven in the mainstream medical community.
Almost any type of illness or disorder, from hay fever to heart disease, can be treated with some form of environmental medicine, according to those who practise these controversial techniques. As with most medical treatments, however, there are no guarantees, and practitioners say that, in general, their overall goal is to help individuals cope with the daily hazards of their environment and, in the process, become healthier and, in many cases, disease-free individuals. In practice, these treatments are most commonly sought out to remedy food allergies, mould and pollen allergies, chemical sensitivities, and rheumatoid arthritis. Advocates say that once these disorders are treated many other underlying diseases and illnesses, such as migraine headaches, asthma and colitis may also improve. Other conditions said to be relieved by environmental medicine include heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic paediatric disorder such as recurrent ear infections and bed wetting, premenstrual syndrome, hypoglycaemia, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and various abdominal pains.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
Some of the treatments offered by environmental practitioners can be harmful under certain medical conditions. You should, for example, avoid chelation therapy if you have kidney or liver disease. It is also wise to avoid heat treatments if you have asthma, epilepsy, heart disease, blood pressure problems or multiple sclerosis.
During allergy testing and desensitization, there is always a chance of an unpleasant reaction. Likewise, almost any intravenous infusion can occasionally cause a reaction, or at least minor discomfort and bruising at the site of the injection. Heat treatments and other detoxification leave some people weak, dizzy, nauseous or shaky (a result, say therapists, of the toxins mobilized into the bloodstream). Be particularly cautious about chelation therapy. At typical dosage levels, patients experience little more than occasional nausea, dizziness or headache immediately following treatment. However, in higher dosages, the EDTA used in the treatments has been known to cause anaemia, blood clots, bone marrow damage, insulin shock, irregular heartbeat and more.