This trimester, I have been really enjoying the environmental medicine, toxicology, and detoxification course I am in. It has been fascinating learning about the many sources of environmental toxins and toxicants, how their exposure can clinically present in patients, which labs to run for assessing exposures, how to avoid exposure, and several treatment options.
What I find particularly interesting is that—although acute, high-dose exposures can happen—we are more likely subject to chronic, low-grade exposures to environmental toxins and toxicants. Additionally, cumulative exposure to different types of toxins and toxicants has the capacity to create some complex physiological effects.
I have really enjoyed learning about how heavy metals inhibit an enzyme that normally has cardioprotective effects and normally quenches oxidized LDL cholesterol (both are favorable). I have also learned that heavy metal exposure has deleterious health impacts on several systems of the body and can contribute to hypertension, atherosclerosis, hypothyroidism, blood sugar dysregulation, immune impairment and autoimmunity, and metabolic syndrome. These are health conditions that I see a lot in the naturopathic student clinic. Of course, this does not mean that heavy metal exposure is the single causative factor in every case. However, it is definitely something to consider (especially when the patient has known chronic, low-grade exposures to such toxins).
In seventh grade, I had a really inspiring health education teacher who first exposed me to concepts of environmental toxins having the potential to negatively impact our health. My friend’s mom also introduced me to several concepts of toxins in our food. These experiences inspired me to do some of my own research into environmental health topics. Most likely, becoming more aware of topics in environmental health catalyzed my interest in nutrition and natural medicine.
In this course, it has been wonderful to revisit “old toxic friends” that I once spent hours researching. However, this time around, I feel that my understanding is more nuanced (having gone through the majority of the naturopathic program). Learning about physiological or biochemical mechanisms that are impacted by these toxins adds another layer to my understanding. The content of this course has been very thought-provoking, both personally and clinically. It has me thinking about discovering new solutions to these problems we face!
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