Going Green With Healthcare
Dr. Brenda Trudell

There is a lot of “green talk” going on these days, but one area that is commonly missed is healthcare.  There are different aspects of healthcare, and each area should be addressed when it comes to going green.  Going green starts with prevention by looking at our food and lifestyle choices, and how these decisions affect our health and environment. It continues by focusing on environmental pollution caused by overuse of medications, and contamination by pharmaceutical plants and medical centers.  It looks at how the types of treatment we receive may impact our environment through energy usage and the hazardous waste products created.  Going green also discusses how simple things like using electronic medical records and insurance decreases our paper usage and can impact the world around us.

With food choices, it should be a no brainer that the healthier the food you eat, the healthier you will be, and therefore less likely to have health problems that need medical treatment.  Healthy food starts with healthy animals.  In the US today, 70 percent (25 million pounds!) of ALL antibiotics are given to “healthy” livestock each year. Reasons include promoting growth and preventing disease in conventional industrial farming conditions.  Over one billion tons of waste is created each year from large livestock operations. Much of that waste contains intact and undigested antibiotics, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  All of that ends up on fields, and in our lakes and streams.  Releasing these antibiotics into the environment is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is affecting wildlife and humans.  One way to go green is to avoid meat, poultry and fish from large factory farms, and focus on getting it from local organic farmers who avoid feeding their livestock unnecessary antibiotics. This will improve your health and the environment.

Humans are a large part of the problem when it comes to medications and personal care products showing up in our water supply.  Studies all over the world show an increase in the amounts and types of drugs and chemicals that are appearing in municipal water supplies, lakes and rivers. Some of the most common ones found are chemotherapeutic agents, antibiotics, anti-depressants, birth control pills, seizure medications, painkillers, tranquilizers, cholesterol lowering drugs, endocrine disrupters, caffeine, cosmetic preservatives and sunscreen agents.

Many species of fish are showing male and female characteristics within the same fish, and frogs are developing serious mutations.  Scientists claim that because the detected concentrations are so low that it is safe and there is nothing to worry about.  But other scientists disagree and say that long-term and synergistic effects of pharmaceuticals and chemicals on humans and wildlife are not known.  Add to that the fact that many Americans are already on at least one medication, get vaccines, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and eat highly processed and refined foods, and there is no way to predict what the effects might be.  Some populations are at an even greater risk, like pregnant women and young children.

Just how do humans contribute to this problem? Through bodily elimination after taking medications, flushing unused prescriptions down the toilet, throwing unused drugs in garbage that eventually end up in landfills, and through pollution by the pharmaceutical plants. By taking care of your health to prevent the need for medications, avoiding unnecessary prescriptions, and properly disposing of unused meds, you can help stop environmental and human damage by pharmaceuticals.

It is important to make responsible decisions when it comes to choosing treatment options as well.  Surgery is a very common practice in the US, and many procedures may be unnecessary. Whether it is a minor procedure or major surgery, tons of waste is produced.  Many things are disposable and come in individual packaging for sterilization purposes. Packaging, gloves, gauze, tubing, disposable instruments, disposable linens and one-time use gowns and drapes can pile up fast. Over 3.2 million tons of waste is generated by hospitals alone each year. Although ¾ is non-hazardous, the hazardous waste has its own set of problems. Many hospitals still use incinerators to dispose of human waste, but this releases cancer-causing dioxins into the air. The remaining ash is full of heavy metals, especially mercury from amalgam fillings in teeth.  These incinerators are also fuel inefficient and use a lot of energy to burn waste products.

While life saving surgery is obviously something anyone would want to have available, it is important for us to limit the amount of unnecessary surgeries that are performed each year. This would help reduce the amount of physical waste that goes in our landfills, the amount of dangerous chemicals released into our environment, and the amount of fuel used to perform the surgeries and dispose of the waste.

By choosing a healthier lifestyle to prevent the need for medications and surgery, we can eliminate much of the pollution and environmental destruction being done. There are many natural forms of healthcare that do not use a lot of fossil fuels or create nearly as much waste as mainstream medicine. And many can actually help you get off of your medications and avoid surgery.

Treatments like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and energy work are non-toxic, do not cause chemicals to end up in our water supply, do not release cancer causing chemicals into the air, and generate only a fraction of the solid waste compared to hospitals. Many people avoid back surgeries, knee surgeries, C-sections, and carpal tunnel surgeries by seeing a chiropractor or acupuncturist. Some patients are able to get off of painkillers, high blood pressure and high cholesterol medications, or quit smoking by using more natural therapies.  Patients who seek chiropractic, acupuncture and other alternative treatments are less likely to use or need prescriptions.

Ask your provider if they use paperless medical records or electronic billing. If we all do our part, we can make healthcare in this country green and help protect the health of ourselves and the planet. Next time you are about to pop a pill, think about where that pill will end up, and who may be next in line to take it.