Stress and Environmental Toxins

Of course reducing toxic exposures is an important way to reduce risks from unhealthy chemicals, but a growing body of research suggests paying attention to positive habits – such as good food, healthy sleep and active play can often reduce or even eliminate harm when exposed.

An update on this emerging field of research appeared in October 2011 in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives, focusing on the physical effects of stress and relaxation.

Psychological stress can change how chemicals affect the body. Stress has been demonstrated to change the effects of lead exposure and of exposure to air pollution in children. But much remains to be learned about other chemicals and other types of exposures. And about how this all works.

We know that some stress is good for children; a little adrenaline or cortisol can fuel kids to reach new heights of achievement. And we know that when stress becomes too prolonged, too severe or too frequent the immune system can be altered in a way that increases the impact of chemical pollution.

Sadly, sometimes the most stressful environments are also the most polluted.

In January 2011, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants totaling $7 million were awarded by the EPA to work on new approaches to understanding how stress changes what happens when kids are exposed – and what we can do about it.

I’m excited about this, and expect it to uncover valuable new knowledge. But in the meantime, common sense makes sense. Follow Healthy Child Healthy World’s Five Easy Steps: Minimize pesticide exposure; use nontoxic products; clean up indoor air; eat healthy; and be wise about plastics. And do what it takes to minimize un-useful stress. Have fun together!

Cooney CM. Stress-Pollution Interactions: An Emerging Issue in Children’s Health Research. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011; 119:a430-a435.

Published on: October 06, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
No comments yet. Start the conversation!
Add your comment