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Answering Your Top Questions About Environmental Medicine

Last Updated on February 13, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Environmental medicine is a specific area of holistic medicine that addresses environmental impacts on a person’s health, and seeks to discover underlying causes for symptoms.

What are its primary benefits, and what can patients expect from their treatment?

Environmental medicine benefits from ever-evolving research, analysis, and treatment, suited to a wide variety of patients and diagnoses.1

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As holistic specialists and physicians, at Alternative to Meds Center we have always applied the principles of environmental medicine to our patients. For nearly 20 years now, our services have produced amazing results which are well-documented here. The removal of toxic accumulations benefits virtually all of our clientele, since as a society we are drowning in a neurotoxic soup. In this and other holistic ways we can avoid the pitfalls of overmedication and get our clients squarely back on the path to natural mental health.
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What Is Environmental Medicine?

The field of environmental medicine is closely tied to the principles of environmental science, as is holistic medicine.

At Alternative to Meds Center, we use environmental medicine to treat mental health symptoms that may be associated with toxic exposure, including chemicals in food, water, air, medications, recreational drugs, or any other source. We test for these and remove them from the body, for relief of mental health symptoms that they were causing or contributing to.2

Patient/Environmental Nexus

In the past, toxins were considered only pertinent to industry-related or accidental high-level exposures. Today, research has revealed that most chronic illnesses are driven by toxins that are much more common in every day life and at much lower levels than previously considered.3 If a physician practices environmental medicine, they opt to hone in on the nexus between their patient and the natural environment that the person has come into contact with.

Attuned to Water, Air, Soil, Food

Using environmental science, practitioners of environmental medicine are attuned to the four primary environmental media—water, air, soil, and food.4-7 The practitioner can closely examine how each of these elements may have influenced or contributed to their patients’ ailments. This assessment will give clear focus to treatments that may be useful.

Links to Preventive/Occupational Medicine

As you might expect, the field of environmental medicine shares much of its philosophy with preventive medicine, as well as community and occupational medicine.

Like most other fields of medicine, environmental medicine has continued to evolve over the years, even seeing a significant shift in its focus. For instance, in the past, environmental medicine tended to emphasize the study and control of infectious disease outbreaks, or disasters, etc. More recently, environmental medicine has begun to also focus on man-made hazardous chemicals that commonly find their way into our daily lives.

Focus on Chemical/Physical Hazards

Environmental medicine, under the umbrella of holistic medicine, focuses on the numerous physical and chemical hazards found in the environment, both natural and man-made. Based on the research of environmental medicine, these hazards have been found to play an overwhelming role in the creation and spread of diseases such as infections, cancers, and other impacts on organ function. However, the same mechanics can be applied in the field of mental health

It is now well-established that toxic exposure or accumulations over time are often overlooked in assessing and treating mental health symptoms 8

As well as catastrophic or accidental exposures, physicians involved in environmental medicine are interested in examining the variables inside or outside of the individual’s control that are a regular component of their day-to-day environment. For example, these variables could be found in the patient’s home, workplace, or community. As toxins tend to be stored long-term in the body’s fat tissues, assessment of these factors may stretch over a person’s lifetime to get an accurate picture.15

What Does an Environmental Physician Do?

An environmental physician is an MD who also is required to develop a deep understanding of chemistry, environmental science, and other related fields. They must also have strong familiarity with environmental pathology.

Further, environmental physicians may acquire a wide variety of potential specialties, including mental health, pediatrics, immunology, chronic pain, or pain reduction.

An environmental physician may first focus on the patient’s environmental media, meaning the foods they eat, water they drink, cook with, swim or bathe in, the air they breathe, and even characteristics of the soil they live on, or near.9

The hazards that an environmental physician might look at come in various forms and from a variety of sources. Common chemicals that are known to affect mental health include heavy metals, benzene, chlorine, and pesticides used around the home, or in agriculture.10,16

An environmental physician must also understand how their patient may have been exposed to toxins. Practitioners can also determine whether the dermal route of exposure appears to play a role. These determinants can impact the treatment an individual receives — as an example, if they are currently ingesting the hazard via their diet, dietary changes can reduce their exposure. In many instances, this is an adjustment that can be made with the help of a dietician under the supervision of a trained environmental physician.

Other variables that an environmental physician will take into account are the magnitude, duration, and frequency of exposure to the hazardous material. Testing can determine the physical impact of such exposures.

Why Is Environmental Medicine Important?

First, the core reason that environmental medicine is so critical is simple: Everyone is exposed to the environment and its elements throughout their day-to-day life, meaning that it can be difficult to avoid or reduce their exposure to hazardous materials.

Hazardous environmental factors are also becoming increasingly common and even more challenging to stay away from — especially without the level of understanding that a knowledgeable environmental physician has.

It is possible for a patient to come into contact with health hazards at several points in their daily life—for instance, unavoidable variables can include outdoor air quality, surface and groundwater, dangerous gases, indoor & outdoor air pollution, inadequate sanitation, or heating/cooking methods used in the home.

Additionally, it’s important to note that the exposure someone receives to hazards in their environment can help determine the length and quality of that individual’s life. If a person is already dealing with poor health, then the addition of poor environmental quality can substantially impact their overall health and well-being.

Through placing stress on environmental medicine, and minimizing risks associated with toxins in the environment, physicians can begin to reduce the suffering of those whose health statuses are currently at risk, mitigating the symptoms and complications they face.

What Is the Difference Between Traditional Medicine and Environmental Medicine?

What Are Examples of Environmental Illness?Physicians trained in general medicine may be more focused on their training in anatomy, cellular function and dysfunction, and medications to alleviate symptoms.

Environmental physicians also focus on examining the hazards found in the environment and then determining how these issues negatively affect the public’s health at large, or an individual patient’s health.

To treat a disease using environmental medicine, the actual cause of the disease is what physicians focus on. Matters of environmental health will still emphasize treating the symptomatic effects of a disease, but with a greater understanding of the need to assess toxic elements that may have contributed to the patient’s condition.

Environmental medicine also strives to help patients avoid hazards in their environment that could be damaging their mental health, as well as other vital preventive measures—this includes the promotion of a healthier lifestyle overall. So, environmental medicine treatment enables more weight to be placed on the causal mechanisms that lead to these symptoms and diseases, rather than attempting to simply mask symptoms.

What Drives Environmental Health Research?

The field of environmental health is broad, and the applications are practically endless.

At their core, environmental medicine centers around improving the health of our environment which can improve the overall health of the public. Globally, about 23% of all deaths and disabilities are linked to environmental risks, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Public Health.10

Critical areas that continue to drive research on environmental health include
  • Use of pesticides in agriculture
  • Chemicals in food processing
  • Effects of EMF radiation as in cellphones & towers, WiFi microwaves, body scanners, etc.
  • Natural disasters
  • Air pollution, both indoors and outside
  • Poor water quality
  • Industrial chemical run-off affecting groundwater
  • Disposing of pharmaceutical medications into the public water supply

What Are Examples of Environmental Exposure Diseases?

If someone is exposed to hazardous substances or toxins in their environment, they may become sick or disabled, having developed an environmental disease.

Here are some examples of widely recognized environmental diseases:
  • Asbestos exposure (work environment, or via the insulation found in older homes and buildings).11
  • The development of lung cancer is the result of chemicals found in cigarettes.12
  • Cancer, allergies, or other health problems caused by unsafe drinking water, i.e., chlorinated water, arsenic in well-water 13
  • Breathing problems resulting from inadequate venting of indoor gas or propane ranges.14
  • Substance-induced psychosis 17
  • Toxic environmental exposure leading to Parkinson’s Disease 18

Environmental Health Treatments at Alternative to Meds Center

At Alternative to Meds Center, we’re staunch believers in the importance of environmental medicine, which entails finding and treating underlying causes for symptoms. Our clients are provided a wide pallet of drug-free treatments to address mental health issues. We can guide you on a journey to better health and wellness, whether you are suffering from toxic accumulations which have compromised neurotransmitter health, unresolving mental health symptoms, overmedication, addiction, misdiagnoses, or other problems. If you’re interested in our Sedona, AZ, services, you can get in touch with Alternative to Meds through our contact form.


1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Curriculum Development in Environmental Medicine; Pope AM, Rall DP, editors. Environmental Medicine: Integrating a Missing Element into Medical Education. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1995. 1, Introduction. Available from: [cited 2024 Feb 13]

2. Pizzorno J. How to Practice Environmental Medicine. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2017 Oct;16(5):8-15. PMID: 30936798; PMCID: PMC6438097. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

3. Cave M, Appana S, Patel M, Falkner KC, McClain CJ, Brock G. Polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, and mercury are associated with liver disease in American adults: NHANES 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Dec;118(12):1735-42. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002720. PMID: 21126940; PMCID: PMC3002193. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

4. Manisalidis I, Stavropoulou E, Stavropoulos A, Bezirtzoglou E. Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review. Front Public Health. 2020 Feb 20;8:14. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00014. PMID: 32154200; PMCID: PMC7044178. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

5. Mostafalou S, Abdollahi M. Pesticides and human chronic diseases: evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013 Apr 15;268(2):157-77. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2013.01.025. Epub 2013 Feb 9. PMID: 23402800. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

6. Paz-Ferreiro J, Gascó G, Méndez A, Reichman SM. Soil Pollution and Remediation. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Aug 5;15(8):1657. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15081657. PMID: 30081583; PMCID: PMC6121253. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

7. Levallois P, Villanueva CM. Drinking Water Quality and Human Health: An Editorial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Feb 21;16(4):631. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16040631. PMID: 30795523; PMCID: PMC6406761. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

8. Genuis SJ. Toxic causes of mental illness are overlooked. Neurotoxicology. 2008 Nov;29(6):1147-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2008.06.005. Epub 2008 Jun 24. PMID: 18621076.

9. Thomas GA, Symonds P. Radiation Exposure and Health Effects – is it Time to Reassess the Real Consequences? Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2016 Apr;28(4):231-6. doi: 10.1016/j.clon.2016.01.007. Epub 2016 Feb 12. PMID: 26880062; PMCID: PMC5637100. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

10. Prüss-Ustün A, Wolf J, Corvalán C, Neville T, Bos R, Neira M. Diseases due to unhealthy environments: an updated estimate of the global burden of disease attributable to environmental determinants of health. J Public Health (Oxf). 2017 Sep 1;39(3):464-475. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdw085. PMID: 27621336; PMCID: PMC5939845. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

11. Musk AW, de Klerk N, Reid A, Hui J, Franklin P, Brims F. Asbestos-related diseases. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2020 Jun 1;24(6):562-567. doi: 10.5588/ijtld.19.0645. PMID: 32553000. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

12. Cancer Research UK Never too late to quit: Protective cells could cut risk of lung cancer for ex-smokers published in Science Daily january 29, 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 13]

13. Wu MM, Kuo TL, Hwang YH, Chen CJ. Dose-response relation between arsenic concentration in well water and mortality from cancers and vascular diseases. Am J Epidemiol. 1989 Dec;130(6):1123-32. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a115439. PMID: 2589305. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

14. Yannai S. Kashtan, Metta Nicholson, Colin Finnegan, Zutao Ouyang, Eric D. Lebel, Drew R. Michanowicz, Seth B.C. Shonkoff, and Robert B. Jackson Gas and Propane Combustion from Stoves Emits Benzens and Increases Indoor Pollution published in Environmental Science & Technology 2023 57 (26), 9653-9663 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c09289 [cited 2024 Feb 13]

15. Jackson E, Shoemaker R, Larian N, Cassis L. Adipose Tissue as a Site of Toxin Accumulation. Compr Physiol. 2017 Sep 12;7(4):1085-1135. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c160038. Erratum in: Compr Physiol. 2018 Jun 18;8(3):1251. PMID: 28915320; PMCID: PMC6101675. [cited 2024 Feb 13]

16. Khan N, Kennedy A, Cotton J, Brumby S. A Pest to Mental Health? Exploring the Link between Exposure to Agrichemicals in Farmers and Mental Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Apr 12;16(8):1327. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16081327. PMID: 31013861; PMCID: PMC6517992.[cited 2024 Feb 13]

17. Fiorentini A, Cantù F, Crisanti C, Cereda G, Oldani L, Brambilla P. Substance-Induced Psychoses: An Updated Literature Review. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Dec 23;12:694863. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.694863. PMID: 35002789; PMCID: PMC8732862.

18. Nandipati S, Litvan I. Environmental Exposures and Parkinson’s Disease. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Sep 3;13(9):881. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090881. PMID: 27598189; PMCID: PMC5036714.

Originally Published November 15, 2021 by Lyle Murphy

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Answering Your Top Questions About Environmental Medicine
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