UltraWellness Lesson 1: Environmental Inputs


IN THE INTRODUCTION, I explained how our current model of medicine ignores the real causes of disease. Now we’ll examine the first of 7 keys to UltraWellness.

Our thinking about how we get sick is completely wrong. You can’t “catch” disease. You can’t “get” cancer or heart disease, diabetes, or dementia. Our medical system is based on the idea diseases just show up, like an unwanted visitor. That it’s unpredictable and mysterious.

This may have seemed true 150 years ago when Louis Pasteur came up with the germ theory of disease: There were germs out there and some people, by a stroke of bad luck, just “caught” them. There was not much you could do except hope the germ (or disease) didn’t show up on your doorstep.

Then we found a drug for the bug in antibiotics–and voila–modern medicine could finally do something about disease. In the 70 years since the discovery of antibiotics, we’ve been on a relentless search for a drug for every bug, a pill for every ill. The problem is, this completely ignores the real cause of disease.

The only way to get to the root of disease is to understand how your personal environment (your diet, stress, exercise, radiation, trauma, and toxins in food, air, and water) interacts with your genes to determine your state of health or disease.

What You Can Do

Your genes are fixed. You can’t change them. That is called your genotype. But you can change which genes get turned on or off, and how that affects your physiology, by changing those environmental inputs. Your environment interacting with your genes creates who you are at this moment–your phenotype. And that you can change!

Every environmental input, from diet to toxins to stress, all determine the healthiness of your body. It is like preparing healthy soil for plants. To have vibrant growth you must mix the right amount of organic matter, the right pH balance, the right amount of nutrients, water, light, and air.

Our bodies are the same; we need to have healthy soil in order to be healthy. In fact, Louis Pasteur on his deathbed realized this. It’s the terrain, not the germ, that is the most important determinant of health. This explains why giving zinc to malnourished children in the third world can reduce death from infections by over 75 percent. It doesn’t stop exposure to bugs, but zinc boosts immunity, helping the children stay healthy.

So by believing in this “germ theory” of disease, medicine has ignored one of the most important scientific ideas of the last century, that our health is determined by the interaction of our genes and our environment.

The U.S. spends billions on chronic disease treatments. A fraction of that investment to promote healthful lifestyles would yield greater benefit.

In their article “Diet, Lifestyle and Longevity – The Next Steps?” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two leading Harvard epidemiologists, Rim and Stampfer agree. They tell us the benefits of studying and addressing fundamental dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors is more effective and economically sound than trying to find the latest drug or surgical treatment for chronic diseases.

As a society, the United States spends billions on chronic disease treatments and interventions for risk factors. Although these are useful and important, a fraction of that investment to promote healthful lifestyles for individuals at all ages would yield greater benefit.

Simply looking at what we put in and around our bodies every day would be more effective and much cheaper. If the leading causes of death are smoking (435,000 deaths per year), poor diet, and lack of exercise (400,000 deaths), followed by alcohol, toxins, car accidents, sexual behaviors, and the use of illicit drugs, then that is where we should put our efforts as individuals and as a society.

Get Started

I ask every patient detailed questions about all of their environmental inputs:

  • What is the quality of your diet? Do you eat whole foods? Is yours a plant-based diet? Or are you following a disease-promoting SAD (Standard American Diet) that makes you malnourished and unable to self repair, regulate and heal?
  • What are the stressors in your life: your relationships, work, societal pressures, family, or money?
  • Have you been exposed to toxins in the air, water, or in food and has that disturbed the balance of your health?
  • Have you experienced physical trauma?
  • Do you misuse or under use your body and not provide the regular benefits of moving, stretching, and strengthening that allows your organs, joints, and muscles to function as they were designed?

These are the real factors that influence and affect every system, function, and process in our bodies. If we don’t deal with them directly we are just dealing with the effects, not addressing the real causes of disease. Getting to the root of the environmental influences on your health and your life is the beginning of the possibility of your achieving UltraWellness–something we all are capable of enjoying.

Over the next six articles I will teach you how each of these core systems in your body holds the key to understanding why you are sick and how to navigate your way to health. Next, inflammation and why this hidden problem might be making you sick.

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

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14 Responses to UltraWellness Lesson 1: Environmental Inputs

  1. Connie Gray, R.N. January 14, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Just discovered your website and am thrilled!

    As an Emergency Room RN I attempt to impact the healthcare of patients, not just for the day, but for a lifetime. I speak to them about epigenetics and how they can control what “swtiches” are flipped on their DNA.

    My colleagues have gradually come to accept my suggestions and have seen personal relief from lupus, thinning nails and hair, and restless legs. Based upon their results they will now ask me to go in and speak to patients about their own underlying health issues.

    One of my first questions to patients is “6 months to a year before the symptoms of your (fill in chronic illness here) what stressful event did you experience? Once I get them to see the connection, I then ask about their nutritional therapy.

    Unfortunately, a large number of patients have BECOME their illness. Their entire lives revolve around their illness, doctor appointments and being the “sick person” in their family. They have no hope– it has been destroyed because the health care system focus has been on masking symptoms rather than solving their bodies problems.

    So, thanks for your work, I look forward to learning more!

    • Mary Ehly December 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      Thank you, Connie Gray, for being such a smart, caring nurse. I’ve heard that theory about looking back to see what happened 6 months before a child starts to need glasses. It makes sense about the entire body, too.

  2. zohreh ghasemi August 4, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    very good.thanks

  3. Linda M. September 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Thanks Dr. Hyman – I have my supplements and will be starting your program this week. After awhile you get tired of feeling ill but nothing really being “wrong,” other than high cholesterol, allergies, weight gain, and menopause, and all the prescriptions, I have my master’s in health promotion, and plan to become a certified health coach – if I’m going to do that, I’d better be in shape myself! Thank you for your program and insight –

  4. Carole March 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    404 is all I get on the link on inflammation

  5. Dr. Matthew Phinney September 30, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Great concepts, If modern medicine spent a fraction of their time, energy and resources on wellness and prevention the world would be a healthier place. Its not the seed its the soil! Time for people to wake up!

  6. kaipha October 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    brilliant ideas based on ancient wisdom and modern science. environmental health is very much part of our personal health &wellbeing.each of the core systems is separated for ease of study, but functionally it is one big whole system,taken care of by lifestyle, diet and environmental factors.Pasteur was right, alas too late, that terrain is everything. thanks for new idea of functional medicine, being a retired family physician myself.to your good health.

  7. Dorothy December 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I just began the requirements of becoming a patient on your site. I have finished lesson 1 on Environmental Inputs and what an eye opener. Thank you for the simplicity of the information so common folks can understand it.

    I feel like I’m on deaths door at the age of 47. i wasn’t sure if I was knocking on the door to get in or holding it shut to stay out, but after reading this lesson I understand I am knocking on the door. I’m excited to continue learning this program so that I can have the tools to lock the door shut.

    Until now I’ve just felt powerless due to being overwhelmed with my health and trying to understand other resources that was to complicated for me to comprehend. I have a long road ahead of me but now I feel that I have a resource to get me there that is on my level of understanding.

    Thank you so much for what you are doing.

  8. Cathy March 10, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    Oh my God–I am in tears after reading this material. First, I must say that I feel so stupid not coming across the concept of Functional Medicine before. My research journey started last May when I developed excema on my hands. I have tried conventional medicine. I have changed my diet by eliminating foods and am currently undergoing accupuncture treatments. I stopped all dairy products for 2 months. I stopped all gluten products for a month. I stopped 90% of processed foods. I felt like I was starving myself and now I have fallen into a vicious cycle of fasting/binging, and am so depressed and feel utterly hopeless. I am going to continue the lessons here and follow the suggestions. Thank you so much.

  9. Laura May 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Each day I look forward to getting on the internet to see what you have to say. What you write is clearly written, easy to understand, and if we take what you share to heart, it is all very doable.

    I am a testament to having been on a nutritional quest for the past year. I have lost 45 lbs, but that was just a by product of simply learning and applying high-dense nutritional foods which has become my lifestyle by choice. I will never go back to the ‘old behaviors’.

    The Dr. Daniel Amen and his wife, Tana, have had a profound influence in my life as well and I am so grateful that you all are good friends. We’re all on the same page together which is very important. We need community/support and today, I choose to surround myself with like-minded people. I just smile and rejoice as I watch people all around me “get well.”

    Thanks for making such a difference in the lives of others! You are so appreciated.

  10. Stacey A. Bender December 31, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    What can you tell us about the link between toxins and rare cancers (and autoimmune disorders). My brother at the age of 18 died in 1981 after a seven month battle with bone cancer. My mother passed after a 25 year battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and I (female age 54) was diagnosed 13 years ago with Antiphospholipid Syndrome and ITP. We lived in an agricultural area of Texas and California during our formative years (birth to age 6). Our brother (living, age 56)and father (age 80) are both healthy!
    Curious and thankful for your incredible knowledge!


  11. Martha S. December 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    As a physical therapist in a major hospital outpatient network, I’m still baffled by the way patients are being cared for. For example, a doctor told one patient that he should not go on the 10-day detox diet because it will make him sick (from being insulin dependent diabetic). Or that someone’s doctor told them they can’t drink green tea because they were on a prescription anti-inflammatory. In other words, the doctor doesn’t want to deal with getting their patient healthy–they want to keep them sick. I don’t understand why the Functional Medicine movement has not taken more of a hold in the mainstream and why medical schools aren’t adopting this approach. Please enlighten me Dr. Hyman!

  12. Sharon Z March 1, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

    Very educational and useful information. Thanks

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