by Karen G. Meshkov
Wendy Warner, MD, is the founder and director of Medicine In Balance, a collaborative, holistic medical practice in suburban Philadelphia. She is a past president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, a former member of the board of directors of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, and a national lecturer in integrative holistic medicine. Board certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as holistic medicine, she has expanded her practice to include men and teens. She has been an invited guest on The Doctor Oz Show and is also the coauthor of Boosting Your Immunity for Dummies.
Warner focused her early study of holistic medicine on botanicals, learning from nationally known herbalists such as David Winston and early physician pioneers including Dr. Andrew Weil. While searching for a more complete way of managing chronic conditions, seeking remedies for menopause and improved healing for her patients and herself, Warner was drawn to integrative medicine and nutrition and began incorporating yoga and meditation into her own daily life. Her strong interest in energy medicine then led her to become a master reiki practitioner and a student of shamanic healing practices.
What are the most important things for us to know about environmental health right now?
U.S. chemical production increased 15-fold between 1945 and 2007. What’s worse, manufactured chemicals are not required to have safety data prior to exposure to the market. Of the 6,700 chemicals manufactured or imported into the U.S., only 200 of them have been tested for health effects. And what testing has been done has been done individually, not addressing the impact exposures to many chemicals at once, which is what we all have, being out and about in the world. So what we now know is that these chemicals are hormone disruptors, meaning that they interfere with the body’s endocrine system, either causing the body to not create hormones correctly or some even change how your body disposes of them. And we know that this produces deleterious developmental, reproductive, neurological and immunological effects.
What are the implications for women in particular?
This means higher incidences of breast cancer, cervical cancer and infertility issues.
Do we know for certain which chemicals cause these issues?
We do. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an excellent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in the area of toxic chemicals and is dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. The organization is known for its popular “Dirty Dozen” list of produce it publishes to let shoppers know which fruits and veggies are most likely to be treated with pesticides. EWG recently listed the top 12 endocrine-altering products. On that list are well known carcinogens like mercury, arsenic, lead, pesticides and BPAs from epoxy plastic, and lesser known ones such as atrazine (a pesticide) and perchlorate, a water contaminant, as well as phthalates, which are plasticizers used in plastic wrap and pill coatings. Others to be aware of are fire retardants frequently applied to furniture, and glycol ethers in paints and cosmetics.
Can you speak to the increased attention paid to women’s cosmetics and personal care products?
It’s been shown that the typical woman has exposed herself to around 30 different chemicals, between her shampoo, conditioner, lotion, makeup and deodorant, before she walks out the door to go to work. Even feminine care products aren’t safe. For example, maxi pads used to be thick, like a brick, however, in order to make them thin as they have now, they had to change the fabric and use a lot of unhealthy chemicals. Since the vaginal walls are so highly absorbent, there is a risk that these chemicals in the pads can get absorbed and cause harm. There is a website, called EWG’s Skin Deep (ewg.org/skindeep), where women can look up the items in their makeup bags and medicine cabinets to check for toxic ingredients.
What else should we be thinking about in terms of where we might be exposing ourselves and our families to toxins?
If you live in an urban environment, exhaust is problematic. And then there’s food; many of us are good about eating organic, but most of the chemicals that are put in pesticides are hormone disruptors. Also, even when we do the right thing and buy organic, many of us go home and store those fruits and veggies in plastic bags, where we are exposed to BPAs and BPBs. Something else to think about is medicines. The coating that’s on our medicine has phthalates in it, and those are also hormone disruptors. That is part of why I appreciate being an herbalist; when we use herbs, we don’t have to worry about this particular issue.
This is a lot to take in. Where do we start?
Don’t despair. I like to say that, look, none of us are getting out of here clean—it’s just a reality of living in an industrialized society. So it’s not about being so freaked out that we get overwhelmed. It’s about asking, “What can we do?” We can use a water filter; we can store our food in glass; we can consciously buy produce that is certified Non-GMO and organic, or buy directly from local farmers so we can ask how they grow their crops. We can also check out our makeup and skin care products on Skin Deep and be aware of how much time our kids are spending in chlorinated pools and chemically treated lawns. We can all make these kinds of simple choices.
Wendy Warner, MD, ABIHM, is board certified in gynecology and holistic medicine. Her practice, Medicine in Balance, is located in Langhorne. For more information, call 215-741-1600.
Karen G. Meshkov is publisher and director of advertising partnerships for Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.