About OEHC

What is Environmental Medicine?

This field has been around longer than me … well, almost.

In 1965 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine was started. One of my teachers, Dr. John Maclennan, was president of the Academy in 1969, followed in 1970 by Dr Theron Randolf, who is generally thought of as the founder or father of Environmental Medicine in the US. Dr Maclennan–a Canadian–should be considered our founder/father here in Canada. He lived near Hamilton Ontario, one of the most polluted cities in Canada. He was a savior to many patients: Without his knowledge, many of them would have been much worse off. Many would have died, or ended up in great suffering.

When his patients saw me in his office and found out that I, too, was a doctor, they got excited.

“You are going to be a much better doctor now,” they said. I was insulted and told them I was already a good doctor. It took me several years to understand what they meant.

It was hard to believe that there was another field of medicine out there–a whole different world that was not addressed in medical school, yet a world that made infinitely more sense than medical school, as it looked at the whole reason why we become sick. A world that, ultimately, may even be more evidence-based than what I was taught. A world that at first elicited a sense of anger in me, as I thought I was taught everything that I needed to know.  Deep down I knew that that could not be the case, that no one knew everything they needed to.

I went to see Dr Maclennan not only to learn more about the field, but also because I realized that I was not doing well myself, physically. He was very intuitive when I asked if I could come up and watch him:  He said, “Well, would you like to see me as a patient?” Those words were music to my ears. I had heard so many good things about him, from very well educated people. No one else had really been able to help me, and as a doctor I knew there was something not right, something I was unable to figure out.

Thus began my journey to learning about Environmental Medicine. And yes, I did become a better doctor, but mostly I learned to be patient with my patients. They sometimes had no clue as to why they were sick, and it is a challenging journey to learn how to change your world so you can feel good in it. And when they were sick it was difficult for them to understand what I was telling them, as most of the time their brains were not processing well because of their illness. If they were being told by non-understanding doctors or family members to not listen, then it was very hard for them to be motivated to change. In fact, it was very, very hard for them: They had to learn that not only was it possible for them to get better, they needed to listen to their own common sense to do it.

Dr Maclennan warned me that common sense went out the window after World War II, when the world started using more pesticides on the crops. Nitrates from the war munitions were diverted for use as fertilizers, and this made the crops grow weak and spindly, and because of that the crops needed more fertilizer. Need I say more? If you think about it, a lot of toxins started being dumped in our environment after the war.

Every day, every week, that I spent with Dr. Maclennan–and it ended up being a few years–my world opened up more and more. I had learned while in medical school that many of my questions were unable to be answered, so I stopped asking and kept my mouth shut. Yet while sitting and watching and listening to Dr Maclennan, more and more of the questions that had been quietly hidden away in my mind were regularly being answered.  He was constantly imparting answers to me on a daily basis. I became increasingly excited; my mind was opening up like a parachute. Yes, then I could see that as I would learn to integrate this type of scientifically based medicine into my practice, I really could help more people, and become a better doctor, and even a more patient doctor. His patients were right, I WOULD become a better doctor after all!

It had been a long and hard lesson, not one that a doctor can learn or accept overnight. It is almost something you learn because you have to, because you or a family member has become ill, and you inherently know there is a better path to wellness.

Who would have guessed that what you eat, drink, breathe and put on your skin can affect how you feel? That the nervous system, which is about 70% fat, is the most sensitive organ to all of these things we do? And why is this? Because many of the chemicals to which we are exposed are fat soluble. They go to our fat and stay there unless we figure out how to get them out. It is now accepted that diabetes is likely caused by some of these fat soluble chemicals, which go to our delicate pancreas. More and more information is coming out in the news and in the medical literature to support what environmental doctors have been preaching for a long time.

It is sad that it takes at least 20 years for science to go from knowledge to application in medicine, but that is one of the reasons that progress has taken so long in this field. Combine this with a lot of opposition from industry, who are protecting their own interests, not ours: Like the fact that it took 50 years to get the cigarette companies to admit their own studies showed that smoking was unhealthy. Like the fact that Monsanto was producing PCBs for years (these are persistent organic pollutants), and they told the US government that someone would have to prove to them that they were toxic before they took responsibility for pulling them off the market.

In this web site, I will try to give an overview of the major categories of problem factors to which we are exposed, as well as what we can do about them, and the resources which are published and accepted by our government that can be used by you to have a healthier life style. My hope is that you will not need to end up on our waiting list!

If you empower yourself by doing the right things, then you should be able to live a happy, and healthier life, with those you love. What more could you ask for?

–Dr Jennifer Armstrong

OEHC - Ottawa Environmental Health Clinic © 2016-17