Unsurprisingly, we’re all connected to our surroundings. The environment around us is more than just a place we live in. This connection between us and the habitat we’re in is defined as environmental health.
Environmental health (EH) is a crucial aspect of public health concerned with the impacts of environmental factors on human health and well-being. It encompasses a wide range of issues, including air and water pollution, hazardous waste, food safety, and the effects of climate change. Understanding the links between the environment and health is essential to promoting healthy living and well-being and preventing disease in the long run.
So why does it matter to us? EH is significant because think about it – the environment in which we live, work, and play can have an instrumental impact on our health. In other words, the state of the external affects the state of our internal. That means that we need to urgently address negative environmental effects including poor air quality, contaminated water, exposure to hazardous chemicals, and other environmental hazards given their ability to cause a multitude of human health problems. EH also plays a critical role in promoting health equity, since low-income and marginalized communities are the first ones to be affected by environmental hazards disproportionately.
One aspect of environmental health that has received increasing attention in recent years is the role of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in human health. EMFs are a form of non-ionizing radiation that is produced by a wide range of electrical and electronic devices, including power lines, cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and microwave ovens. While EMFs are a natural part of the environment, the increasing usage of electronic devices and wireless technologies in recent years has raised concerns about their potential health effects.
How is this connected to EH? Exposure to EMFs can have potential health effects on humans and wildlife, as well as the natural environment that we live in. Although there is a need for additional research examining the long-term effects of EMFs, there are still steps that we as individuals and policymakers can take to reduce exposure and promote environmental health. For example, using wired rather than wireless technologies whenever possible, reducing the amount of time spent using electronic devices, and advocating for more research on the health effects of EMFs. Additionally, many countries have established safety standards for EMF exposure, which are designed to limit exposure to levels that are considered safe for human health.
Within EH, there are several ways environmental stressors or toxins can affect different parts of our overall well-being:
- Endocrine System: Environmental toxins can disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system, which is responsible for producing and regulating hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can mimic, block, or interfere with the natural hormones in the body.
- Our Detoxification Processes: Environmental toxins can interfere with our body’s natural detoxification processes, which are responsible for removing harmful substances from our bodies. Detoxification is a complex process involving several vital organs. Some examples of ways that our processes could be disrupted include overloading the liver, interfering with enzyme activity, reducing antioxidant levels (affecting the body’s defense system), and disrupting gut microbiota.
- Our Brain Health: Environmental toxins can have a significant impact on our brain health. The brain is highly sensitive to toxins, and exposure to certain chemicals can lead to a range of neurological problems. They have the ability to contribute to neurotoxicity such as through damaging neurons, potentially causing the onset of developmental disorders, and impairing the blood-brain barrier.
- The Onset of Chronic Diseases: Environmental toxins can contribute to the onset of chronic diseases, which are diseases that persist over a long period of time and often have no known cure. Chronic diseases include conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. Examples of ways these stressors can create impact include inflammation, oxidative stress, disrupting hormone function, and damaging DNA.
- Our Immune System: Environmental stressors can have a significant impact on our immune system, which is responsible for defending the body against pathogens and other harmful substances. For instance, they can cause immune suppression, and chronic inflammation, alter immune capability, and disrupt gut microbiota – which is extremely damaging to our optimal functionality.
- Fetal Development: Environmental stressors can have a significant impact on fetal development, which occurs from conception through birth. During this time, the developing fetus is highly vulnerable to environmental stressors, which can disrupt normal growth and development. They can cause structural abnormalities, preterm birth, low birth weight, and epigenetic changes through their ability to disrupt DNA permanently and cognitive function from the womb.
Overall, it’s important to recognize how damaging environmental stressors can be for our health alone, but when combined with the effects of prolonged exposure to EMFs, there’s a critical need to maximize our protection from both variables.