At Bastyr University, environmental medicine — the study of chemical relationships between the body and its surroundings – is a robust part of naturopathic courses, clinical care and research.
Faculty member John Hibbs, ND (’83), believes future naturopathic doctors should recognize that environmental health is a central part of health, not an obscure specialty.
“We’re on the verge of realizing that detoxification therapies need to be a part of our lives,” he says. “We’ve created a fairly toxic world, and we need to take steps to be well and prevent illness.”
In Dr. Hibbs’ environmental medicine courses, he teaches students about the extraordinary number of chemicals in the modern world, and the limitation of our knowledge (and regulations) regarding their dangers.
Environmental medicine is a potentially overwhelming subject, with threats lurking everywhere. Research has linked synthetic chemicals accumulating in human tissue to cancer, infertility, obesity, heart disease, depression, brain development disorders and other illnesses.
But Dr. Hibbs shows students the body’s remarkable ability to handle such threats – with the right help. “I try to remind students of our body’s marvelous ability to cope with most of these things,” he says.
Dr. Hibbs also supervises environmental medicine visits at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. These clinical shifts offer students like Natalie Walsh a chance to deepen their knowledge. Working with Dr. Hibbs has raised Walsh’s interest in using a sauna in her future practice.
“I was surprised how much cleansing you can do just by having someone sweat,” she says.
In the Bastyr University Research Institute, a research professor recently initiated a first-of-its-kind study on how sauna sessions can help the body flush out toxins. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to help develop better-understood detoxification therapies.
“It just makes sense to study this, because we’re animals functioning in an environment,” says Walsh. “Just like sunlight affects plant growth, different pollutants affect us, because we’re biological systems too.”