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Unveiling the Culprit: Our Environment, Not Our Genes, in Chronic Disease

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on June 21, 2023

In the search for answers to the rising prevalence of chronic diseases, a paradigm shift has occurred within the realm of healthcare. While our genes were once considered the primary determinants of our health, a growing body of evidence suggests that the environment we live in plays a more significant role. From the perspective of holistic healthcare practitioners, such as naturopaths and functional medicine providers, understanding the intricate interplay between epigenetics, environmental medicine, and chronic disease has become paramount.

Epigenetics: The Bridge between Genes and Environment: Epigenetics, a field of study exploring changes in gene expression without alterations in the underlying DNA sequence, has shed light on the intricate relationship between genes and the environment. It reveals that our environment can influence the activity of our genes, potentially leading to the development or suppression of chronic diseases. (1)

Environmental Factors and Chronic Disease: A vast array of environmental factors can contribute to chronic diseases. These factors include exposure to toxins, pollutants, poor nutrition, stress, sedentary lifestyle, inadequate sleep, and social determinants of health. The effects of these environmental factors on our genes can result in epigenetic modifications that influence our susceptibility to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and even some cancers.

Environmental Medicine: Unraveling the Healing Power of the Environment: Holistic healthcare practitioners emphasize the significance of environmental medicine, which involves identifying and addressing environmental factors that contribute to chronic disease. Instead of focusing solely on symptomatic treatment, the holistic approach aims to create a supportive and health-promoting environment for individuals. (2)

Personalized Medicine and Functional Approach: Naturopaths and functional medicine providers adopt a personalized approach to healthcare, recognizing that each individual is unique and requires tailored interventions. They aim to identify and modify specific environmental factors that can influence gene expression and contribute to chronic disease. Through comprehensive assessments, including lifestyle, diet, stress levels, and environmental exposures, holistic practitioners empower patients to take control of their health by making informed decisions and adopting sustainable lifestyle changes.

Promoting Health: Lifestyle and Environmental Modification: To address the impact of our environment on chronic disease, a comprehensive approach is needed. This approach emphasizes lifestyle modifications that promote overall well-being. It includes adopting a nutrient-dense diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress through mindfulness practices, optimizing sleep quality, reducing exposure to environmental toxins, and cultivating a supportive social network. By modifying the environment in which we live, we can positively influence our genes' expression and decrease the risk of chronic diseases.

As our understanding of genetics and environmental medicine evolves, it becomes increasingly evident that chronic diseases are not solely determined by our genes but are heavily influenced by our environment. Epigenetics provides a crucial link between the two, illustrating how our lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and overall well-being can impact gene expression and influence disease outcomes. Holistic healthcare practitioners, such as naturopaths and functional medicine providers, advocate for a comprehensive approach that focuses on modifying the environment to promote health and prevent chronic diseases. By embracing this paradigm, we can empower ourselves to lead healthier lives and minimize the burden of chronic illness.


  1. Aguilera O, Fernández AF, Muñoz A, Fraga MF. Epigenetics and environment: a complex relationship. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Jul;109(1):243-51. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00068.2010. Epub 2010 Apr 8. PMID: 20378707.
  2. Carlsten C, Brauer M, Brinkman F, Brook J, Daley D, McNagny K, Pui M, Royce D, Takaro T, Denburg J. Genes, the environment and personalized medicine: We need to harness both environmental and genetic data to maximize personal and population health. EMBO Rep. 2014 Jul;15(7):736-9. doi: 10.15252/embr.201438480. Epub 2014 Jun 6. PMID: 24907240; PMCID: PMC4196974.

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