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October 29th, 2008
Protecting the Environment Can Avoid Disease

Environmental factors are key drivers in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, according to the authors of a groundbreaking new report, Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging.

The report undertook a comprehensive review of the currently available research on the lifetime influences of environmental factors on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, two of the most common degenerative diseases of the brain. These influences include common dietary patterns, toxic chemical exposures such as air pollution from traffic and fossil fuels, inadequate exercise, socio-economic stress and other factors. It explains how influences throughout life, set the stage for the later development of neurodegenerative diseases.

These environmental influences are also correlated with the rise of the “Western disease cluster”– a group of diseases including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. These diseases afflict millions of Americans today and impose staggering health care costs on families and the nation. These Western diseases are rare among more physically active societies in which people eat more whole, plant-based foods (especially fresh fruits and vegetables), and less processed, fast, fried and animal foods.

According to co-author Jill Stein “As we compiled the medical literature, it became clear that much of the growing chronic disease burden suffered by Americans of all ages is not inevitable. Rather, it is the result of environmental conditions including the poor nutrition associated with industrialized agriculture, and a built environment and transportation systems that discourage activity within daily life. In addition, exposure to pollutants (including air pollution, lead, pesticides and bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastic) adds to the risks, as do severe social and economic disparities that routinely compound environmental injustice. Our health care system is staggering under the costs of treating diseases that are eminently preventable. These trends can be readily reversed if we act on the prevention opportunities available at so many levels. This should be a health and justice priority for all of us.”

The report includes recommendations for specific steps individuals can take to reduce risks. It points out that actions must also be taken at the community level because individual actions are often limited by availability and expense of “healthy choices” within the current system. And there is often no choice at all, for example, about breathing polluted air for those living surrounded by traffic or coal plants, and fresh fruit and vegetables are frequently unaffordable or simply unavailable to large sectors of the population. The report suggests many actions that can be taken by families, schools, businesses, communities, and government to provide essential conditions for health for all.

Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging, is published jointly by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Science and Environmental Health Network.

To download a copy of the report, click


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