When we think of symptoms or ailments, they are often a signal to us that there’s something off with our health. Yet, many of us, as well as doctors, often don’t think so much outside the traditional box when it comes to what may be influencing or causing these health issues. I have even experienced this personally in my life.
Some people may even experience ongoing frustrations with concerns failing to be resolved either holistically or medically, with various failed interventions, or have experienced a circular door of specialists without complete resolution. At what point do we stop and ask ourselves if we are covering all the bases so there’s even an opportunity to heal from whatever we are enduring?
I’m a big believer in the idea that what happens to our body doesn’t just happen; rather, it has been created, whether from decisions we’ve made in our own lives or factors sometimes not so necessarily in our control or considered. I also think we cannot fully heal in the same environment that was or is making us sick to begin with. If we get a limb fracture or get a cut on our finger, it’s often very obvious what may have provoked such injuries, and then we can implement strategies to help prevent us from experiencing those incidents again. Maybe someone fell off a ladder that wasn’t secure, or maybe someone was cutting vegetables and accidentally cut themselves. Accidents happen, and they aren’t always preventable, but we can certainly make our best effort to prevent them. These injuries perhaps are more common than we think, but I also think that more and more strikes on our health are happening without many even realizing it.
When we think of health, many common factors of what we can do to optimize it come to mind, like a healthy diet, maintaining an adequate weight, exercise, not smoking, avoiding alcohol, essential sleep, minimizing stress, etc. However, what if you were doing all the right things, but yet somehow have an array of unexplained symptoms affecting your health? Maybe you have a laundry list of ongoing unexplained symptoms or have been diagnosed with an array of illnesses, but you just can’t comprehend how in the world you’re sick and what has happened. Your entire family might be sick too, including your pets. Though, you feel it’s not just in your head either, as your intuitions are eating at you that there has to be more to this, but maybe, just maybe, it’s from your own environment.
I learned a lot about the dangers of our own environment when it made me sick several years ago. I had been diagnosed with a rare, yet emerging disease known as granulomatous mastitis (GM). Ultimately, we discovered an often environmentally associated bacterium from contaminated public water was most likely responsible for causing the disease. While it wasn’t Legionella bacterium or E. coli, as two more recognized examples, there’s much to be mindful of when it comes to public water systems. There’s a multitude of ways the water we are using every day can become a potential threat to our health.
I wasn’t completely in the dark about how our own environment has risks prior to getting sick, having acquired ample knowledge working with two nationally recognized home inspection franchise brands in my umbrella of professional experience. Though, I never expected to have to comprehend how contact with contaminated public water could cause what happened to me. It may seem few and far between that something like that was even possible, but the environment causing illnesses happens more than many of us realize. When it comes to the environment causing health issues, pollution may be a first thought over something like what I endured. However, factors contributing to poor health from the environment go much further than outdoor pollution. The news headlines have repeatedly shared incidences occurring in our environment that make many sick, or unfortunately even result in death, like brain-eating amoebas. There are also diseases we can acquire that aren’t so much associated with water, like fungal infections, such as Valley Fever or Histoplasmosis. Even enjoying the outdoors for an event or hike can expose us to vector-borne illnesses, sometimes not so easily considered by the medical community.
Many of us enjoy activities involving water frequently with no consideration of what could happen, like hot tubs, pools, oceans, rivers, lakes, or participating in mud races without thinking twice about it. In my previous life, I’ve swum with dolphins without thinking twice about the potentially contaminated water I’d be sharing with them in their captivity. However, it’s been proven that dangers exist from the leisure activities associated with all of them. I’ve certainly become more of a spectator since recovering from my own year-and-a-half illness, but to me, an ounce of prevention far exceeds any short-lived enjoyment.
Besides microorganisms, there are other ways the water we brush our teeth with, drink, and bathe in every day can make us sick. Have you heard of PFOS, PFOA, or PFAS? These are forever chemicals, also known as carcinogens, which PFAS in particular can be found in the water we are using. According to a recent article published by EWG (Environmental Working Group) on their website dated August 21, 2023, they shared that 3,186 sites in 50 states have PFAS. Forever chemicals also aren’t the only contaminants of concern either. Lead is another concern, like 6 to 10 million service lines can be found across the country (usafacts.org). We’ve heard and seen more about PFAS than ever before, but with these statistics and a rise in cancer, we shouldn’t ignore the possibility of the effects these forever chemicals can cause. Let’s reference the movie Dark Waters, where PFOA in particular sickened an entire community. Until this was discovered after an intense legal investigation, so many people were falling ill and even being diagnosed with cancer or dying from it. Sure, big corporations referenced like Dupont from that movie, or PG&E from the movie “Erin Brockovich,” have both caused innocent people to become sick from chemically contaminated water, but there are other incidents that can cause chemical contaminants in the water, like toxic train derailments, such as in East Palestine, OH.
Even our own homes can make us sick. Surprisingly, outdoor air quality can be healthier than indoor air quality. Many of us think of our home as our safe sanctuary; however, there are a multitude of ways our own homes can influence symptoms or disease. A multitude of opportunities for falling ill from our own home can be caused by factors like radon, mold (mycotoxins from exposure), biotoxins, asbestos, lead paint, off-gassing (VOCs), or carbon monoxide as some examples. Incidents can happen or impact health, originally stemming from the actual construction where home builders have been found negligent on certain issues, accidents that occur within the home after occupying, or even what Mother Nature brings to the table, allowing for more opportunities for our so-called sanctuary to be an endangerment.
All of this discussed can cause a multitude of unwanted symptoms. I’m not implying that every time you visit your doctor, you should think or blame the environment, but certainly keep the thought in your back pocket if you can relate to anything discussed in the article. I also don’t want anyone to feel hopeless in their quest to live a healthy life. I discussed in my book, Diagnosis Detective: Curing Granulomatous Mastitis, how to seek and conquer help on GM in particular, but there are courses of action we can take to help ourselves and our families feel better protected when it comes to our environment.
Test your own water. Safe Home Test Kits can detect over 150 contaminants in your water. Invest in water filtration; a suggestion is a Berkey, as their filters can reduce volatile organic compounds, as well as a multitude of other contaminants, including but not limited to pharmaceuticals, radiological substances, and pesticides. They also sell separate shower filters and portable water bottles; when you travel, take that with you. Lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. are and always will be a source for contracting illnesses ranging from pathogenic parasites and bacteria to an array of runoff contaminants from pesticides, chemicals, and of course, unexpected disasters. Though, you can check for water testing reports in many local areas where you live prior to engaging in certain activities, especially as you travel. You could buy an aeroponic garden, like the “no-soil-required” vertical Tower Garden, for those who might be concerned about contaminated soil and the food supply.
For those concerned about indoor air quality, there are a multitude of reputable air purifiers. There are also ways that people can upgrade their HVAC systems; otherwise, change those filters and have your HVAC system serviced regularly. Some home inspectors are also certified to do air testing for biotoxins and mold.
When it comes to what you can do for your health, you might consider a daily detox regimen, things like sauna use, sweating, exercise, lemon water, dry brushing, eating organic whenever possible, and really paying attention to the ingredients in items we purchase to help reduce our exposure to certain chemicals. Did you know that there are actually genes that can make it more challenging for certain people when it comes to environmental concerns and our body’s own ability to detox from them? Have you ever heard of MTHFR, FUT2 non-secreting, and HLA genes? Consider asking your doctor to test you. There are also functional medicine tests that can detect just about all contaminants like mycotoxins and different chemicals that we are exposed to. Find a reputable functional medicine practitioner to help you if your trusted medical expert offers no avail.
It’s not always easy to speak up for yourself or to be your best advocate. It’s also not always easy to find out if your environment is making you sick, but don’t let the thought pass you by if you’re sick and can’t figure out why. There are things you can do. Life is the most precious gift, and it’s up to us to protect the life we have left and the lives of our loved ones’ futures. No one will save you but yourself.
Tami Burdick is a patient advocate and author of Diagnosis Detective: Curing Granulomatous Mastitis.