Finally! At last! The future habitability of our planet for human life is reaching the forefront of public discussion, political debate, and the consciousness of citizens throughout the globe. No longer are we able to ignore the consequences of excessive and reckless consumerism upon the natural world around us. As we finally confront this reality and pledge to meet the challenges to our biosphere, we are beginning to practice external environmentalism. As a citizen of a small planet, each one of us realizes our personal health is linked inextricably to the health of Earth.
Another worldwide movement gaining momentum gradually is our awareness of how the foods and other substances we ingest affect our health. Honest, thorough, 21st Century, nutritional writers and researchers are documenting the serious diseases caused: by the types of foods many of us have been eating; by the application of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals upon agricultural fields; by genetic alterations in food crops; and by the processing of foods prior to consumption. Just as we have learned about the consequences of discharging toxins into the air, water, and lands of our planet, we are learning also about the severe consequences of polluting the internal biosphere of our individual bodies. Therefore, when we strive to eat healthful foods, drink sustaining beverages, and breathe clean air, we are practicing internal environmentalism.
What many of us have yet to realize is that the human gastrointestinal tract and the elements of our immune system living within it are merely an invisible extension of the external environment surrounding us. As foods, liquids, and other substances (e.g. drugs) are taken in from the outside, they begin to move through the 20+ foot human digestive tract; however, they have not yet actually entered the internal organ systems of our bodies. The protective membranes in the walls of the GI tract regulate which components of these outside substances are admitted into our internal organ systems and which components are rejected and then discharged, via urine, feces, and expiration, back into the visible external environment.
Under ideal conditions, our digestive system and the elements of the immune system which it houses practice internal environmentalism on our behalf. If we ingest toxins from the external environment, these systems can often disarm such invaders and prevent them from gaining entrance to the inner sanctums of our bodies. However, many substances we consume are so toxic that they damage the membranes and microbes of our protective systems and, thus, compromise our health by allowing toxins to enter and pollute the internal environment of our bodies.
A specific example of internal pollution occurs when we eat wheat-based foodstuffs. An intrinsic component of wheat (yes, even organic whole wheat) is a lectin protein named Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA). The human digestive system is poorly equipped to breakdown and utilize this protein. When we eat wheat-containing foods, WGA accumulates in a partially digested state in the small intestine, where it causes a breakdown in the one-cell thick membrane that normally separates the corrosive contents of the GI tract from the bloodstream. Such a membrane breakdown is termed “Leaky Gut Syndrome,” When this breech occurs, partially digested proteins and other foreign substances that should not be in our blood, do enter the bloodstream. These invaders initiate several types of serious disease processes. Leaky Gut Syndrome is equivalent to when heavy rains and floods in our external environment cause municipal sewage plants to overflow, pouring millions of gallons of raw sewage into our rivers, streams, and streets. In both cases, extremely serious and often irreversible disease processes are the result.
By now, it should be apparent that our internal and external environments are linked inextricably. Just as we must educate ourselves continually about the effects of the products we buy, use, and discard into our outside environment, we must continue to educate ourselves about how the foods and substances we ingest and assimilate affect health inside our individual bodies. Stuffing fast-food bun-burgers, grain-based foodstuffs, or potato chips down our throats is equivalent to pouring used crankcase oil into the storm drains in the streets outside our homes.
We have the power to change all the substances we purchase, consume, and discharge. All we have to do is inform ourselves about and care about the health of our planet and our bodies. No question, we face great challenges. However, it is clear that to practice external environmentalism successfully, we must practice internal environmentalism as well. These two movements are one.