Managing our environment to protect our health

exposome thrive magazine

Ancient and modern scientists have long taken an interest in curing human illness. From Hippocrates, in ancient Greece, establishing medical treatments based on rationality, through to today’s scientists trialling 3D printed vaccines, we have made leaps and bounds in our understanding of illnesses and how to treat them it.

And since the first half of the 20th centuary, the study of how the environment affects our health has also made huge advances. Key to this, has been the development of ‘the exposome’.

What is The Exposome?
The exposome is the measure of all the exposures an individual receives in a lifetime and how these exposures relate to their health. What determines our exposome is heavily influenced by where we live, our lifestyle, place of work and what we consume. Even our levels of stress can have an impact on our exposome.

What’s more, we’ve discovered that exposure to the environment begins before birth and continues right the way through our lives. And, as each and every one of us has a unique biological composition, equal levels of exposure to a negative source can have differing impacts on different people.

Everyone can reduce the negative impacts of their environment by understanding what negative exposures we each face.

This is partly due to the fact that negative exposures can influence our own internal make up – our microbiome – which in turn can affect our genes and how they express themselves in our body. The implications of this are considerable, with studies estimating that just 10 per cent of diseases can be fully attributed to genetics while the remaining 90 per cent are influenced, if not caused, by environmental sources.

Adapting the environment or adapting to the environment?
While most of us cannot track and map the myriad of exposures we face every day, we can limit our exposure to negative sources. While more obvious changes such as quitting smoking will reduce negative exposures, subtle changes, such as eating less processed food, will also help to improve our exposome. Yet these changes are easier for some and harder for others, with those working in environments with higher levels of pollution, tube drivers for example, facing a tougher challenge.

However, everyone can reduce the negative impacts of their environment by understanding what negative exposures we each face. Once we have a clearer picture, we can eliminate any unnecessary factors or reduce our exposure to immovable exposures. Much like a risk-assessment, we should seek to avoid, reduce and manage the risks we face based on the probability of a negative outcome.

To illustrate this, the types environmental exposures can be broken down in various categories.

The first category, environmental chemicals, can be assessed by questioning whether some household products, such as air freshers, cleaning products and washing powders, can be eliminated or replaced with non-chemical based substitutes. Equally, can the environment be adapted to minimise the impact of these, such as opening a window to reduce exposure?

When analysing each category, focus should be placed on the observed effects to both prioritise categories and to evaluate how to respond to each exposure type. For example, if when consuming gluten you regularly become bloated and tired, it could be an indication to begin by altering your diet.

A focus on nutrition
In addition to these categories, it is possible to mitigate the effects of negative exposures through adopting generic approaches. A balanced diet, for example, which contains a variety of fresh foods (both macro and micronutrients) will have a positive effect on everyone, no matter what environment they live and work in. Moreover, a diet rich in antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C and E) and essential fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats high in EPA and DHA) but low in sugar and processed foods should also be embraced.

Hydration is key – drinking plenty of water or healthy infusions is vital to improving your nutrition.

An effective way to improve your nutritional intake is to keep a food diary of all the natural foods consumed over a weekly period. By keeping track of what you are eating, increasing your food diversity becomes more manageable which improves your ability of reaching optimum nutrition.

As a target, aim for 30 portions of natural foods per week, as recommended by Miguel Toribio-Mateus, Chair of the British Association Nutritional Therapists.
For more depth of information and bespoke programmes, visit a qualified and regulated Nutritional Therapist.

As featured inside Thrive Magazine Spring 2020 issue. Thanks to Sophie Murray from ‘Gracewell Healthcare’ for writing this article, Sophie is a registered Nutritionist.  Find out more from Sophie at: pSunriseSRUk