"Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process, heal our own."
- Wangari Maathai

Integrated Health

This page is about some of the ways we harm ourselves and the planet and some ideas about how to stop or limit our abuse of ourselves and the planet.  Of course, we have to move beyond this to restorative ways which enhance life but the first step is to stop the current harm we are causing, one step at a time. 

How does the use of chemicals affect us?

Chemicals not only bio-accumulate in the environment and food chains, they also get stored in the fat cells of our bodies.  All bodies (human, animal and plant) are not always able to eliminate all toxins on a daily basis (especially when the environment is particularly polluted), so the toxins are simply stored.

The levels of toxins stored in our bodies and in the environment increases over time and it is thought that these high levels of toxicity are responsible for many of the modern day degenerative diseases.  Degenerative diseases include Parkinson's Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, strokes and cancers.  Many chemicals and plastics are highly carcinogenic (cause cancer).

Links have been made between pesticide exposure and adverse health effects including cancer, birth defects, reproductive interference, neurological and developmental toxicity, immuno toxicity and disruption of the endocrine system.

Children are particularly susceptible to chemicals in the environment and under constant threat.  Children are exposed to chemicals and pesticides in parks, homes, schools, playing fields, lawns and gardens.  There is evidence that links childhood diseases as well as learning and behavioural problems to pollution. The medical profession usually prescribes drugs (more chemicals) for any problems experienced by children today, which only serves to aggravate the underlying causes (toxins).

Toxins and chemicals inhaled or consumed by pregnant mothers  (including insecticides and air fresheners) can have devastating effects on the foetus and have been linked to infantile cancers.  Epidermiological studies (this is the search for statistical associations between the occurrence of disease and the factors suspected of causing the disease) have shown certain pesticides to cause cancer.  These studies indicate an association between pesticide exposure and the development of certain cancers in children including leukemia, sarcomas, lymphomas, Wilms' tumours (malignant tumours of the kidney) and brain tumours.  Tests also show that pesticides can cause subtle impairment in behaviour when exposure occurs immediately before or after birth.  Learning ability, activity levels, memory, emotion, sight and hearing can all be affected.  A substantial body of evidence suggests that exposure to certain poisons may compromise the immune systems of infants and children and make them more susceptible to infectious diseases. 

Environmental illness is the term used to described a host of medical conditions caused by a polluted environment.  Common symptoms are: nasal congestion, chronic fatigue, headaches, hyperactivity, recurring lung infections, muscle or joint pain, twitches, blurred vision, burning skin, abdominal discomfort, fuzzy thinking and a variety of learning and behavioural problems.  Chemical sensitivities are usually unsuspected, disbelieved or misdiagnosed.  Physicians practicing environmental medicine however, estimate that anything up to 50% of the current population is affected by environmental illness. 

All chemicals cause damage at the cellular or molecular level where they act.  If large enough numbers of cells are damaged or killed, death or a serious disorder may result.  With carcinogenic compounds one exposure may be enough to trigger a change in genetic structure and set off a run-away chain reaction in the cells of the body.  With noncarcinogens, the correct safety levels are not known, e.g. exposure to lead at low levels was considered 'safe' at one time and we now know that even low levels of exposure to lead is considerably harmful. 

Many years ago, when my father and his team went underground, they would take two canaries in a cage with them.  The birds were used to warn the men of the presence of methane gas because by the time humans detect this gas it is usually too late.  Environmental illness is a warning.  We are all living in the same chemical soup; it just may take longer for some of us to succumb. 

The simple truth is that, no-one really knows which chemicals are 'safe' and no-one knows what the chemical cocktail accumulating in our environment is doing.  Man made chemicals also spontaneously 'mix' in the environment and create new chemical compounds (dioxin is a notorious example of this and is a known carcinogen). 

Start taking a stand against pollution today.   

Chemical Fertilizers

Very few people know that prior to 1950, all agriculture was organic.  Chemical fertilizers are a 'modern' trend.  Large amounts of Nitrogen, used to make bombs during the 1st and 2nd World Wars was left over at the end of the wars and sold (because they did not know what else to do with it) as the first chemical 'fertilizer'. 

Chemical or inorganic fertilizers are relatively cheap and, over the short term produce high yields.  The demand for chemical fertilizers is estimated as doubling every 10 years (as the soils worldwide become more depleted through monoculture and the constant removal or organic matter, the demand for chemical fertilizers increases).  Chemical fertilizers not only alter the chemical, physical and microbial components of the soil, it takes enormous amounts of energy to produce them.  It takes 18,000 kilocalories of energy to produce one kilogram of nitrogen.  Phosphates and potassium require 3,000 and 2,300 kilocalories per kilogram respectively.  This uses up massive amounts of oil reserves and, if projected increases in chemical fertilizer use worldwide continue, the world's potassium reserves and phosphate deposits will only last another 80 years.

Artificial fertilizers deplete and contaminate the soil.  Deficiencies in the soil or contaminated soils have a direct affect on human health.  For example, it was found that the incidence and death rates of Keshan-Beck disease (a heart condition) in China was caused by selenium and iodine deficiencies in the soil.  Once the deficiencies were corrected the cause of the disease was removed and the problem solved.  Conventional medicine would simply have prescribed drugs and chemicals and not found the cause.  There is a growing body of evidence which points to a polluted environment as the cause of many human diseases.

Not only do chemicals interfere with the balance of the ecosystems of the soil, they also leach into the water table and pollute fresh water which eventually filters down to the sea and pollutes that too.  Contaminants from chemical fertilizers are found in polluted water (which we drink) and polluted oceans (which pollutes the fish we eat).

In a healthy soil, the various living processes within the soil are self-sustaining and the microenvironment of the soil can repeatedly make available the micronutrients such as nitrogen and potassium (amongst others) to plant roots in a form that is readily taken up by them.  Introducing chemicals retards these natural life processes and instead of the plants being fed by a healthy soil, they become dependent on the external source (chemical fertilizers) and, as chemical fertilizers are not self-sustaining, it becomes necessary to feed the plants on an increasing scale until, as has already happened in various parts of the world, the soil becomes so saturated with salts that nothing is able to grow in it. 

The continuous use of chemical fertilizers is subject to the law of diminishing returns.  More and more fertilizer is required to sustain results.  This means that the soil is no longer abe to sustain its life giving processes and plant life becomes dependent on the addition of chemical fertilizers.  The soil suffers; the environment suffers and human health suffers.  To top it all, the practice of using chemical fertilizers is not sustainable.

In a natural environment, the soil is alive with organisms that trigger the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium processes through the breakdown of organic material (leaves, twigs, animal droppings etc.) in the soil.    Organic matter on the surface of the soil decomposes and is taken into the soil by earthworms and the microorganisms within the soil breakdown the organic matter through the processes of decomposition, humification and mineralization.  These self-sustaining life processes have supported plant life on this planet for millions of years. 

To sum up, chemical fertilizers use up non-renewable resources which makes them unsustainable and they deplete the soil.  The damage to the soil can take decades to repair.

Is there any point to using chemical fertilizers?  

What can we do?

1. Buy natural products and buy local whenever possible.
2.  Avoid all chemicals.
3. Eat organic produce (it is not only healthier, it is better for the environment).
4. Eliminate waste where possible and where not possible, reduce, re-use and recycle:
  • Plastics
  • Glass
  • Paper
  • Organic matter (garden and kitchen scraps should never be sent to any landfill sites
  • Clothing, linen and household goods.
5.  Observe at least one 'buy nothing day' per week - more if you can!
6.  Use your car less - start a lift club or live closer to work.
7. Read the labels on all the products you buy.  If the ingredients are not listed or you don't understand what they are or what effects they may have on you, your family or the environment, don't buy the product.
8.  Buy yourself Ruth Winter's series of consumer dictionaries and educate yourself and your family.
9.  Remember most poisons/chemicals have not been tested for safety (out of 80,000 chemicals, only about 2,000 have been tested for safety).  We have no idea what these poisons/chemicals are doing to our health, our childrens health or the health of the planet on which we depend.  If you think you can do without the planet, just try and stop breathing for a few minutes and see what happens!
10.  As a general cleaning agent use one cup of white spirit vinegar per 10 litres of hot water.  Stronger solutions of 50/50 water/vinegar or neat vinegar can be used on tougher dirt.  Add essential oil for fragrance if you like.  The vinegar smell disappears within 5 - 10 minutes.  Vinegar is a very powerful cleaninf agent.
11.  Make air freshener using 1/2 cup white alcohol (cheap vodka works well) 20 - 30 drops eahc of 2 or 3 essential oils of your choice.  Pour into a spray bottle and fill up with water.  Shake well before use.  Alternatively, we all know that lighting a flame eradicates unpleasant odours, so leave a lighter and a candle in the loo.
12.  Use natural soaps for personal use and natural laundry soaps for laundry.
13.  Stop using fabric softeners.
14.  Share this information with all your friends.  Get them to stop using poisons and chemicals as well.
15. Consider 'right' livelilhood options.

You can make a difference.