A:Yes, the environment is an important contributor to health and disease. Today more than ever, scientists recognize this fact. Globally 23 percent of all deaths could be prevented through healthier environments. Growing evidence indicates that early life exposure to environmental chemicals might increase noncommunicable disease (NCD) risk throughout life. In fact, in 2016 ambient and household air pollution caused, respectively, 2.8 and 3.7 million deaths from NCDs. By reducing air pollution, exposures to ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, and exposures to household and industrial chemicals we can prevent some diseases.
But “the environment” goes way beyond the purely physical one. Our physical, social, psychological, occupational, and religio-spiritual situations affect our internal biochemical environment and, therefore, our risk of, or resistance to, disease. Suitable environments are essential for human life and for the well-being of the planet. Pollution of the air and water; the destruction of natural habitats; the negligence, inattention, and abuse of flora and fauna; the destructive and greed-driven effects of industrialization; ecological disregard; societal decay; and the squandering of our planetary resources threaten life as we know it.
In 2005 Christopher Wild, in a call for more and improved scientific research regarding the impact of environment on health, coined the term
exposome to signify the sum of all of a person’s exposures from conception until death. By age 65, each of us has more than 1 million chemical exposures, every one with its own impact, together having a cumulative effect and also interplaying with our genes.
Simply stated: our health is mediated through our internal biochemistry. Food, drugs, actions, stress, beliefs, moods, attitudes, emotions, and the chemicals and radiation that surround us positively or negatively alter our internal chemistry. A sustaining and supportive exposome, in all its dimensions (see table), promotes health; anything less undermines our well-being.
We are tasked to be stewards of the earth’s resources, the creatures on our planet, our homes, and our immediate socio-cultural condition as advocates for free, just, and moral societies: after all, we are our brothers’ keepers. We have God-given responsibilities to take care of His earthly creation. God designed our planet to have complete chemical, ecological, social, and spiritual harmony. Disruption of any one of these factors could lead to the eventual deterioration of all. Yet, we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness reigns! (2 Pet. 3:13).
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Dimensions of the EXPOSOME
|chemical and biological influences surrounding and interacting with us: air, climate,|
sun, soil, water, flora, and fauna
|social||familial and societal interactions: pets; varying quality and quantity; direct or virtual|
|psychological||intellectual and emotional catalysts: from caring and nurture to anger, neglect, and abuse|
|spiritual||spiritual and religious beliefs, stimuli, and responses|