One of the things I hear the most when I talk to other parents and concerned individuals about toxic chemicals is that people are frustrated by their doctor’s lack of information on the topic. Whether it’s your pediatrician or obstetrician or oncologist, its clear that the medical community in general has lagged significantly in this area. The general gist of what I’m hearing is:
“My doctor just stares blankly at me when I ask him for advice on chemicals”
“I asked my pediatrician about chemicals and she had no idea what I was talking about.”
Why is this? How could doctors not know how toxic chemicals influence disease in children and adults? Well, when l I started investigating this issue of chemical toxicity a decade ago, I was stunned to discover that doctors do not know about this issue because it isn’t covered in their medical training.
There are some leading American medical practitioners like Dr. Alan Greene, Dr. Leonardo Trasande of New York University in NYC, Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana of Seattle Children’s Hospital and Dr. Phillip Landrigan of Mt. Sinai’s Hospital in New York that are world class leaders in this field of environmental medicine, but for the most part the majority of doctors practicing in the US find themselves on the back foot of this issue. (Interestingly all of the above mentioned are pediatricians.)
Indeed a study surveying obstetricians published last year by the University of California San Francisco revealed how obstetricians struggled to advise their pregnant patients on the issue of chemical toxicity. Lynne Peeples of the Huffington Post interviewed me about this study when it was released and I told her how challenging it was to find medical professionals who could speak knowledgeably to their pregnant patients.
Last year I had the incredible opportunity of interviewing the pioneering research scientist Dr. Theo Colborn before she passed away. Theo is a legend in the research community for being the first to piece together the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals and she had this to say about the training doctors get in chemical toxicity:
Indeed, this is the situation in Europe as well. Here pediatric consultant Dr. Gavin ten Tusscher, who has advised the European Union, elaborates on his training as a doctor. He also raises the fact that pharmaceutical companies that sponsor many medical studies do not sponsor toxicity research, so it can be very difficult for doctors to get involved.
Of course the other aspect of this is how conservative the medical profession is. I spoke with Professor Janna Koppe, a prominent Dutch neonatologist, who gives a little perspective on how slow the medical community has been to change.
The great news is that whilst medicine has been slow to change, we are seeing changes. The Endocrine Society, one of the leading medical societies in the world is at the forefront of this awareness. Here Theo Colborn discusses how the Endocrine Society has moved to the forefront of the medical community with regards to chemical toxicity awareness and research. I’ve been working with the Endocrine Society and I can tell you we will see some interesting movement on this issue this year.
Last year, I spoke with the excellent Dr. Jeanne A. Conry, President of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and I’m thrilled to report that the issue of chemical toxicity in pregnancy is of concern to the society and that we should expect to see more involvement from the Congress on this issue. Indeed a BPA study was presented at last year’s annual meeting and there is a BPA in pregnancy advisory.
So what can we all do to move things along? Here are three ways we can all nudge the medical community forward:
- Discuss your concerns about chemical toxicity with your practitioner. Acknowledge that it’s a new science that is moving at lightning speed and that it’s hard for practitioners to keep up. Remind your physician that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists the American Nursing Association are all members of the Safer Chemicals coalition seeking better regulation of toxic chemicals.
- Support any initiatives your doctor or practice might make towards disseminating information and share trusted resources with them. If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your doctor contact the practice manager or speak to a nurse. The nursing community has moved far more quickly and in fact Theo Colborn says her faith is in the nurses.
At Seattle Children’s Hospital it was the nursing leadership that brought in DEHP (phthalate) free medical devices to make the hospital a cleaner place for newborns in intensive care.
- If your doctor is unreceptive to discussing your chemical concerns find a doctor and a practice that will take you seriously and is making efforts to be as knowledgeable as they can be. And make sure you tell the doctor you are leaving why you are leaving his practice and why this is so important to you. If patients insist on better medical advice they will get it.
When you see doctors like Dr. Greene discussing this issue, know that he has that knowledge because he’s made the effort to know as much as he can, which involves a considerable investment not the least in time. We need to encourage all of our doctors while we wait for medical training to evolve. As Theo Colborn says here we don’t have one hundred years to change the medical community like we had to with cigarette smoking. We need change, now.
Is your doctor knowledgeable about chemical toxicity? Have you ever had concerns that your doctor dismissed or do you have a rockstar practitioner who is receptive and aware of the issue? How did you deal with the situation if they were difficult? Let me know in the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.