The speed with which medical institutions, including medical schools, are beginning to open to integrative medicine is astonishing and very gratifying. They're being forced into it. The institutions have no choice but to adapt; nonetheless it's nice to see. This change in medicine could be very important to society, going way beyond developments like alternative therapies. To give one example: if physicians were educated about the relationship between the environment and health, and really came to appreciate environmental causes of illness, they could as a group be a very powerful force pushing for environmental protection and clean-up. A more conscious, more enlightened medical profession would be a strong agent for social changes within our culture.
Breast cancer and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and ALS, for example, are going to turn out to be traceable to environmental toxins like endocrine disruptors. Doctors' educations now include none of this understanding of environmental toxins as a causation of disease. Physicians as a profession have been very apathetic and just haven't pushed for this, though they're the ones who should be most concerned about it.
It's how physicians are trained and also our culture's very reductionist thinking. It's the prejudice and bias of science in our culture to see natural products as inexact and want to reduce activity down to single compounds. Medical education really isolates people from nature. Students have no first-hand experience of it in their training and pick up the prejudice that nature is inexact and wild and uncontrolled and dangerous.
Other interactions of environment and health include evolution of new diseases, especially new bacterial strains, and other factors contributing to the weakening of human immunity and defenses. We'll have to see what happens with these new diseases, but there is reason to be worried. Integrative medicine looks at antibiotics, for instance, in several ways. First, it doesn't reject antibiotics totally, but tries to teach people when it's appropriate to use them. Second, it tries to strengthen the body's defenses rather than just attack the germs; that approach especially comes from Chinese medicine.
A few years ago, I was with a Japanese scientist whose field of research was herbal medicine. …