HAPPY EARTH DAY! This year, April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the day we celebrate clean air, land, and water. The purpose of this global holiday isn’t just to celebrate the earth, but to raise awareness about environmental issues, promote political action, and encourage civic participation in order to make the world a better place to live — both today and in the future. But “going green” isn’t just good for the planet; It’s good for our health — especially for those of us with chronic illnesses or autoimmune diseases.
While we all benefit from environmentally-favorable acts like recycling, composting, conserving energy, driving cars with lower emissions, and shopping locally, there are some earth-friendly actions that are even more advantageous for autoimmune warriors. Here are five ways you can positively impact the planet and your autoimmune health at the same time:
Eliminate plastics – Plastics contain the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor. The BPAs in plastic water bottles, containers, and bags can leach into our water and food (especially when heated), bind to estrogen receptors, and create a cascade of hormonal dysfunction. Additionally, BPAs appear to have the same molecular structure as some thyroid cells, and molecular mimicry is one cause of autoimmunity.
- Healthy solution: Consider switching to reusable glass or aluminum water bottles and food containers, travel with metal straws and bamboo utensils, try natural beeswax covers instead of plastic wrap, and shop with mesh vegetable sacs and fabric market bags. [SIDE NOTE: Non-stick cookware also contains BPAs, as well as other xenoestrogen chemicals, such as PFOA and phthalates. This means they interfere with normal thyroid function, too. Switching to cast iron, stainless steel, enamel, or ceramic tools for cooking and baking eliminates this risk.]
- Environmental bonus: Less plastics used = less plastics in landfills.
Switch to concentrated, plant-based, and reusable cleaning supplies – Toxic chemicals are everywhere, not just your plastic water bottles and non-stick cookware. Laundry detergent, dryer sheets, dish soap, hand soap … Most are laden with toxins that seep into our water supply, affecting both human and ocean life.
- Healthy solution: Look for eco-friendly, plant-based cleaners, avoid perfumed formulas (perfumes can aggravate autoimmune flares for some people), buy concentrated solutions to use with water and refillable bottles, and use wool dryer balls (which last for approximately 1,000 loads before they need to be replaced). You can even make your own cleaners with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or castile soap.
- Environmental bonus: Less chemicals means fewer toxins are released into the water and eco-friendly packaging creates less trash.
Buy a water filter – Tap water gets a bad rap, thanks to a long list of possible contaminants that include man-made chemicals (e.g., pesticides) and natural minerals (e.g., mercury, arsenic, and lead). Over time, exposure can lead to a toxic buildup with serious consequences that include liver failure, nerve damage, and brain damage.
- Healthy solution: Install a water filtration device at home. Start small (think: Brita pitchers) or go all-in with a whole-house system that will filter both drinking water as well as water used in showers, bathrooms, etc.
- Environmental bonus: Filtering actually conserves water and eliminates the need for plastic water bottles that overload landfills.
Eat a more plant-rich diet – The typical American diet — high in processed food, artificial sweeteners, trans-fats, GMOs, chemical preservatives, and alcohol — is highly inflammatory and contributes to autoimmunity.
- Healthy solution: Focus on a plant-forward or flexitarian diet, which reduces inflammation and the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Every little bit counts: Add pureed fruits and veggies to recipes, eat one or two meatless meals each week, and consider an alcohol-free month or season.
- Environmental bonus: Following a plant-rich diet decreases the carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse emissions, lowering air pollution, conserving water, and slowing deforestation.
Walk or ride your bike more (and drive less) – Driving is a convenient and essential part of life, but it also contributes to poor posture, increased stress (road rage, anyone?), and global warming.
- Healthy solution: Whenever possible, grab your sneakers and walk (or bike) rather than drive. Daily movement is good for the body and mind; It raises metabolism, strengthens bones, reduces inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, and produces endorphins.
- Environmental bonus: Fewer cars and trucks on the road means less air, water, and noise pollution in the world.
While there are certainly other behavior modifications that are equally beneficial to Mother Earth, making these five changes can vastly ameliorate autoimmune health — and ultimately, what’s good for our personal well-being is also good for the planet.
AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, physical trainer, registered dietician, or health care provider, and am not licensed to give medical or nutritional advice. The purpose of this article is to share personal experiences and current research in order to educate, inform, and support readers. It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor and/or professional medical team to determine if the ideas discussed herein are appropriate for your individual circumstances.