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Environmental Medicine Services to Address Exposure to Toxins

Medically Reviewed Fact Checked
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD
Human health is not a single aspect of our existence but is instead a complex system of many components. It’s important to think about health as a holistic or whole-person concept. That means careful attention to health and wellness involves not only monitoring and responding to physical health concerns but also those related to mental health.

To do so, it’s vital to consider the impacts of the environment around you as you work to stabilize, improve, or heal your body and mind. In fact, while there are many factors influencing your health, environmental factors are often overlooked. However, these environmental influences contribute to physical and mental health disorders, including addiction issues, more frequently than most people realize.

Environmental medicine is a holistic approach to health and the world around us, as well as how we interact with the world we live in. This enables the team at Alternative to Meds Center to provide a broader range of treatment options than is typically found in other rehabilitation programs. Learn more about how our environmental medicine services in Sedona could help you.

What Is Environmental Medicine?

Environmental medicine operates under the understanding that environmental factors affect overall health. It recognizes that, as people interact with the environment, health is influenced deeply by the world. It takes a more comprehensive approach to mental and physical health by assessing environmental factors and how they impact both.

Environmental medicine was developed to examine concerns like air quality, pollutants like heavy metals and pesticides in the water supply and air, pesticides and other toxins in food and medications, and much more. These factors, which are heavily influenced by where you live, work, and engage in recreation, can contribute not only to physical health issues but also to mental health concerns and substance use disorders.

Why Is Environmental Medicine Important?

Many patients come to the Alternative to Meds Center with symptoms that traditional healthcare providers, other substance use disorder rehabilitation services, and certainly pharmaceutical medication have not been able to address. Far too often, we find that environmental impacts are either at the root of the issue or contributing to mental health symptoms. Environmental disasters often mean disaster for the body and mind.

Environmental Medicine Addresses Exposure to Toxins

Environmental medicine studies the following exposures:
  • Exposure to radon gas in the home
  • Mercury poisoning, often due to diet, dentistry, or medications
  • Lead exposure and poisoning from environmental exposure, including paint, gas, and more
  • UV radiation caused by the breakdown of the ozone layer
  • Chemical contaminants, including dioxins
  • Radiation exposure
  • Food and water contamination from pesticides and other neurotoxins

The brain is a biochemical organ that is physically protected by layers of extremely tough structures. The interior nervous tissue is far more delicate and is extremely vulnerable to environmental factors that can bypass these barriers, such as toxic chemicals that can pass through the blood-brain barrier. The brain is sensitive to the vast array of chemicals and toxins you encounter every day, including incidental contact with toxins in the air, water, and food supply, as well as toxins ingested as part of a medication regimen.

Toxins can and will hinder the brain’s ability to operate normally by interfering with the normal biochemical signaling it must undertake every day. Neurotoxin exposures can send brain signaling into overdrive, or hinder its functioning in other ways. This dysfunction is what can begin sending an individual into anxiety, depression, and many other mental health symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as mental disorders.4-6

Environmental Medicine at Alternative to Meds Center

For many years, the focus of physical and mental health providers, as well as addiction treatment centers, has been on treating the patient’s symptoms and not the patient as a whole. The trouble with this approach is that environmental factors that may be behind the patient’s condition are often missed. This can cause issues with physical, mental, and behavioral health.

For example, if a patient presents with trouble breathing and it’s discovered that they have asthma, environmental medicine ensures the provider will consider where the patient lives to determine if air pollution may be contributing to their symptoms. Similarly, research shows a wide variety of toxins can drive hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety.1 Our environmental medicine services in AZ not only consider environmental factors that may otherwise be overlooked but also strive to address them and improve physical and mental health. Holistic cleansing measures are in place at Alternative to Meds Center to purge accumulated neurotoxins from the body for relief.

Exposure to toxins and pollutants at work and during the normal activities of daily life can be among the most dangerous. Because these exposures are so unobtrusive and occur so regularly, it’s easy to assume the resulting symptoms, including anxiety, exhaustion, hyperactivity, lowered cognition, and depression, are just a normal part of life. Many people are then prescribed pharmaceuticals to deal with the symptoms rather than addressing their source.

Treating and eliminating environmental toxin exposure is crucial to restoring neurochemical function and can be instrumental when addressing issues at the root of substance use disorder. Over time, the body and brain store fat-soluble toxins, which can debilitate processes like cognition, balance, impulse control, and even metabolism, which can lead to chronic fatigue, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and more.2,7 At Alternative to Meds Center, we use testing to fully understand the multitude of ways the environment can cause disorders of the body and mind, so we can treat patients by removing harmful environmental influences.

Do Air Pollutants Influence Mental Health?

Air pollutants are of particular concern here at Alternative to Meds Center. Toxins in the air can affect how mental illnesses manifest, as well as their severity. A recent study revealed a 33% increase in psychotic events and a 39% increase in the occurrence of mental health disorders in urban areas with a high concentration of air pollutants.

This study suggests that incidences of anxiety and depression, already common in the US and a major underlying factor for conditions like substance use disorder, can increase because of air pollutants and toxins within the environment. Worse, if these issues are preexisting, they may worsen with the introduction of environmental toxins in the air. Attention to air pollution, both as a preventative step and during environmental medical treatment, can change the lives of those affected.3

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Substance Use Disorder, Co-Occurring Disorders, and Environmental Medicine

Substance use disorder rarely presents alone. Often, there are other mental health conditions that can cause or worsen SUD and impede or otherwise affect the process of healing. These co-occurring disorders, including most mental health disorders, can also be influenced by the environmental factors mentioned above.

Environmental medical services at Alternative to Meds Center are designed to focus on the complex neurochemical interplay between environmental factors, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders. While treating only substance use disorders and neglecting mental health and environmental factors can easily lead to relapse, addressing neurotoxicity essentially enables us to treat both underlying causes. Using environmental medicine to tackle these coexisting conditions can impact the success of a patient’s treatment.

Lab Testing for Environmental Factors

The problem with traditional approaches to substance use disorder treatment is that they focus on the symptoms rather than the contributing factors to this disease. At Alternative to Meds, we’ve found that many of the patients we treat are affected by heavy metals from environmental exposure. We explore the interactions between patient health and the environment to discover the external influences that could be contributing to physical and mental health conditions as well as impeding recovery from substance use disorder. To do so, we run comprehensive lab testing to assess the burden placed upon our patients by environmental factors.

After determining toxin load and the effects it is having on a patient, we’ll work to detoxify the body and brain of heavy metals, neurotoxins, and additional pollutants. In this way, we can help patients stabilize neurochemistry, improve mental health, and make real progress toward recovery from substance use disorder. Our goal is to eliminate unnecessary chemical influences and address each and every component of the patient’s mental, physical, and behavioral wellness.

Lab Testing for Environmental Factors

Environmental Medicine in Sedona, AZ

At Alternative to Meds Center, environmental medicine is the foundation of a comprehensive, exhaustive, holistic approach to recovery. To do so, we take every part of a person’s life into account when treating not only mental and physical health issues but also substance use disorders. This frequently involves addressing multiple environmental factors, addictive substances, and the pharmaceutical medications used to treat them, eliminating toxins that are an underlying cause of these conditions. Neurotoxin removal is a specialty at Alternative to Meds Center.

If you suspect that toxins have influenced your ability to lead a healthy life and are contributing to your mental health and addiction issues, it’s important to reach out as soon as possible. Our friendly staff is here to help you learn more about these issues as well as the services we offer. When you’re ready, contact us to get your questions answered and discover the next steps to a healthy life.

Environmental Medicine FAQs

Which Drug Is Responsible for the Most Severe Withdrawal Symptoms?

While some heavy metals in trace amounts are essential to human health, including copper, zinc, iron, and selenium, others like cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, and thallium can have severe mental and physical health effects. These metals have been linked to everything from cardiovascular disease and kidney issues to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s seizures, and mental health disorders. Toxic heavy metals can disrupt dopamine receptors and other neurochemical processes in the brain and have been linked to mental health disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and phobias and may worsen symptoms of PTSD, substance use disorders, and more. Symptoms can range from increased anger and anxiety to suicidality, hallucinations, psychosis, and paranoia.

Can Toxins in Your Body Cause Anxiety?

Toxins affect the brain by inhibiting the production and distribution of important neurotransmitters. When the brain is unable to release neurotransmitters to communicate with body systems to influence bodily processes, it may work harder than it needs to or cease performing essential functions. This disruption in neurochemical balance can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, and more. For example, toxins can alter serotonin production, which can directly result in anxiety and depression.8,9

What Toxins Can Affect the Brain?

Several heavy metals can directly affect the brain, including mercury, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic, thallium, and lead. Recent studies such as a 2022 MRI-based project out of the Netherlands showed an association between air pollution and negative effects on brain development in children.10 In addition to heavy metals, common chemicals like pesticides and BHA can make their way into food and water supplies. Food additives like high fructose corn syrup, artificial food coloring, aspartame, and MSG (monosodium glutamate) can lead to neurotoxicity and even brain damage in severe cases. Finally, toxins found in common household cleaners can include ammonia, trisodium phosphate, ethylene glycol, and more.


1. Reuben, A., Manczak, E. M., Cabrera, L. Y., Alegria, M., Bucher, M. L., Freeman, E. C., … & Perry, M. J. (2022). The interplay of environmental exposures and mental health: Setting an agenda. Environmental health perspectives, 130(2), 025001. [cited 2023 June 22]

2. Vidal, H., & Naville, D. (2018). Environmental Pollutants and Metabolic Disorders: The Multi-Exposure Scenario of Life. Frontiers in endocrinology, 9. [cited 2023 June 22]

3. Bakolis, I., Hammoud, R., Stewart, R. et al. (2021). Mental health consequences of urban air pollution: prospective population-based longitudinal survey. Soc psychiatry psychiatr epidemiol 56, 1587–1599 (2021). [cited 2023 June 22]

4. Thau L, Reddy V, Singh P. Anatomy, Central Nervous System. 2022 Oct 10. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 31194336.[cited 2023 June 22]

5. NIH Neurotoxity Information Letter [published online N.D.] [cited 2023 Feb 24]

6. 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. [cited 2023 June 22]

7. Reig N, van der Goot FG. About lipids and toxins. FEBS Lett. 2006 Oct 9;580(23):5572-9. doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2006.08.033. Epub 2006 Aug 28. PMID: 16962591.[cited 2023 June 22]

8. Newbury JB, Stewart R, Fisher HL, Beevers S, Dajnak D, Broadbent M, Pritchard M, Shiode N, Heslin M, Hammoud R, Hotopf M, Hatch SL, Mudway IS, Bakolis I. Association between air pollution exposure and mental health service use among individuals with first presentations of psychotic and mood disorders: retrospective cohort study. Br J Psychiatry. 2021 Dec;219(6):678-685. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2021.119. PMID: 35048872; PMCID: PMC8636613. [cited 2023 June 22]

9. Zundel CG, Ryan P, Brokamp C, Heeter A, Huang Y, Strawn JR, Marusak HA. Air pollution, depressive and anxiety disorders, and brain effects: A systematic review. Neurotoxicology. 2022 Dec;93:272-300. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2022.10.011. Epub 2022 Oct 21. PMID: 36280190; PMCID: PMC10015654. [cited 2023 June 22]

10. Guxens M, Lubczynska MJ, Perez-Crespo L, Muetzel RL, El Marroun H, Basagana X, Hoek G, Tiemeier H. Associations of Air Pollution on the Brain in Children: A Brain Imaging Study. Res Rep Health Eff Inst. 2022 Feb;(209):1-61. PMID: 36106707. [cited 2023 June 22].

Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 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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