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Episode 6: Environmental Wellness with Thania Brinks

Updated: 4 days ago

Thania Brinks
Thania Brinks

Welcome to the Wellness in Every Season of Motherhood podcast where we explore what it means to achieve total wellness. I am your host, Autumn Carter. This podcast is geared more towards mothers, but we try to be inclusive of all here as we learn together to get us out of survival mode and into thriving during life transitions.

This is episode six. Welcome, Wellness Wanderers. I will be speaking with Thania Brinks, a master's student in One Health, about the importance of environmental wellness and how it relates to her personal beliefs, academic pursuits, and life decisions.

Our discussion will explore the interconnectedness of environmental wellness with other areas of wellness and identify warning signs of neglecting this aspect of our lives. Thania will also be sharing her practices for maintaining environmental wellness and providing tips for others to enhance their health and prevent illness. I am excited to learn from her expertise and gain a deeper understanding of the significance of environmental wellness in our lives. Stay

tuned for our conversation.

One Health connects to local, nation, and global, and also to animals in our shared environment. Thania has been studying H. pylori, which is a bacteria that infects the stomach. Hopefully this will help you as you dive into our discussion.

Today I have Thania Brinks with me. She is working on her master's in public health. She is a student with a focus on One Health and she has been working on some fun research with water safety and climate change. Is there anything else that you want to introduce about yourself?

Hi Autumn, thank you for having me. Yeah, so it's as you mentioned my research focus has been water safety, Helicobacter pylori and climate change.

Awesome and it's been really fun to hear all about your internship. Thania and I have been friends since high school, so we go back. Why do you think environmental health is important.

So the environment is part of everything that we do, right? It's our homes we live in. It's the offices that we work in. It's our communities, our cities, our towns. All of this has very serious implications on our health and wellbeing.

As you mentioned, my focus in my education is One Health, and that trains me to view public health in a kind of a bigger holistic manner that really takes into consideration what is a very complex ecosystem of human health. There's three pillars to one health. There's the human health, there's animal health, and then there's environmental health. And if you really think about it, I think the environmental health portion of it is really this big web that kind of holds everything together. And if you start losing pieces of your environment, then it has really serious implications for everything else within it.

How has your environmental wellness positively affected your perspective on your career? I know that this has led you to consider a PhD. So tell us more about how it affects everything.

Yeah, so I started my education in public health thinking that my primary focus would be epidemiology until I took my first environmental health class. And it was so much fun and really just fascinating work. I spent an entire semester really immersed in toxic exposures and superfund sites and climate change. And it was fascinating and it was terrifying and really life altering that led me to choose one health instead of epidemiology for my master's program. As I'm thinking about what the next steps are for me, I'm really considering a PhD

in environmental health so I can keep working on this, you know, as I mentioned, this big network of all of the different things that impact our health with the environment being such a huge part of it.

So for those of us that don't know, can you explain epidemiology?

So epidemiology is the study of how disease manifests itself in a community, right? So your physicians are going to look at how health impacts you as a singular person. In my field, we look at how health impacts an entire community. So environment, your community is an environment. So we look at how this thing impacts the community as a whole and how we can improve health for the community altogether.

And then how has it affected your life choices?

So that's an interesting question. I went through a whole rabbit hole when I first started in environmental health. It makes me think of an assignment that I had in one of my first courses where I had to evaluate potential exposures in my own home. And that was both terrifying and enlightening. I thought I was making good choices already about the products that I use.

I limit...I would limit alcohols and fragrances and color additives because I had certain sensitivities. I found out I was sensitive to red 40 in a chemistry class one day when I spilled a beaker full of red 40 on myself. So I try to limit that. I try to limit harsh chemicals and the products that I use for cleaning because of the dogs.

So I look at labels and I try to reduce exposures in that way. But what I learned in this class is that I really wasn't including myself in the equation in the correct way. Because just because something is naturally derived, something is organic, doesn't immediately mean that it's healthy for you or good for you, that you're not going to react to it. So I found that my all natural products that I was purchasing were still making me you know itchy and dry skin and I realized as

I'm reviewing all the ingredients is because they all still contain fragrances.

So even if the fragrances are all natural they still don't work for me. So I had to eliminate that from from all of my products. I had to change all of my personal care products, you know lotions, shampoos and all this stuff. Took some trial and error but eventually found products that worked for me.

It makes me think of a quote from an old bacteriology professor that said you know host makes the illness. Your biology is the most critical component in the pathway of disease.

There is an app that you told me about that you use to discover if things are safe for you, if they've been tested. Can you tell us a little bit about what the app is called and how you use it?

It's a really cool app. Actually, it was one of my classes where I had to use it to look at some of these different exposures. It's called, it's from the Environmental Working Group. You can, you know, go on your little app store and find it and it download it. And it's kind of cool because you can scan the barcodes on your products.

If it's in their system, it'll pop up a profile for this product and it'll tell you the different types of potential health impacts that it has had. It's a cool place to start. You do have to take it with a grain of salt because instead, host makes the illness.

So it might say there that it isn't like allergen causing ingredient but maybe it's an allergy for you. So it really all depends on you. But it's a really great place to start just to take a look at is the product that you're using, does it have artificial dyes?

Does it have ingredients that have been known to be carcinogenic?

Does it have a lot of fragrance, a lot of color? I think it was put out about 10 years ago. It's a great resource to have.

It sounds like it's really important to pay attention to how you are reacting to your environment, things that you're putting on yourself, places where you're at, because it sounds like for you, you discover that with your skin. Your skin is reacting to different things. These are the things I need to avoid. Maybe I'm getting headaches because of different things.

Is that kind of where you're heading with environment?

I mentioned, you know, in public health, we look at these impacts on the community level. Is my environment something that is conducive to my health? And you really have to think about, how do I feel in this particular environment? Am I getting a headache when I'm in my office? You know, am I feeling unwell when I'm in a space that has a lot of noise?

So those things are very personalized and it can be very different for different people just depending on our own sensitivities, our own biology, our own genetics. Like I mentioned, this particular chemical could be an allergenic chemical, but I'm fine. But maybe you're not. Maybe you're really reactive to it.

How do you think it ties into the other areas of wellness?

And I remember you mentioning this in another episode of your podcast, but you talked about how these are all really, all these areas of wellness are really intermingled. Environmental health, as I mentioned, this is the web that holds everything together. Right? We know that environmental exposures and environmental illnesses can have impacts not only on your physical health, but also your mental health. Disorders like anxiety and depression have been tied to environmental exposures.

There's some research out there that things like Alzheimer's and schizophrenia can be triggered by things like mold or lime. Those are less conclusive, but it does illustrate that the environmental exposures have really lifelong impacts on some people. So if you're sick and and your environment sick, it's impacting others around you.

If your home has mold and it's making you sick, it's probably also making your family sick. It's probably making your pets sick, maybe your plants. It just has all these snowballing implications for the health of everybody in this particular environment. That's your physical, that's your emotional, that's your social health that's being impacted by a sick environment. And if you're sick, you're probably not spending a ton of time developing in some of the areas.

Sometimes diagnosis of environmental illness can be very challenging.

It adds a lot of layers of emotional stress,financial stress. And if you don't have the time or the means to go down these long, complicated pathways of diagnosis

to get a diagnosis of environmental illness, to try to find help for it, that can also be really detrimental.

We know that stress has serious health implications on you as a person now,

on you as a person in your older life, and then can even be passed on to the next generation, particularly as women, we have children, our de-stressors can be passed on to our children.

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There are so many studies on pregnant women and how there's things that go through the blood barrier, meaning that different medications, different environmental things can be passed on from you absorbed through your skin, absorbed however, into your body and then into your fetuses, into your baby that's growing in your stomach.

It's very important where you're at and sometimes we think about environment and we're just thinking about how we feel emotionally in this environment. And oftentimes we are neglecting the things that you were talking about, the things that are a little more hidden, you know, lead paint or mold or radon or myriad of other things. Okay, my next question is, what do you think the science are that you are neglecting your environmental wellness?

It's not always very clear. It's not a cut and dry A is causing B. We're supposed to do a lot of different things and and it can be really challenging to untangle all these different potential exposures and causes for illness.

And as I mentioned, my training is more at the community level. Once you get down into the personal level, it just comes down to how do you feel in your space? If you're-- I mentioned the example of being in the office. Does that give you a headache? Is that-- are other people in the office also getting headaches?Does it get better when you go home or vice versa? Do you feel better when you leave your home?

It makes me think of an instance I had when I was renting an apartment in Michigan some years ago and I was getting weird symptoms. I would go on work trips and I would feel better and then I would come back to the apartment and I get sick again. So I went to the doctor and they're like, "Well, clearly there's something wrong in your house." Those are the kinds of things that we can be more in tune to gain this understanding of is the place that I'm in making me feel unwell. It could be something as simple as, "The people around you are wearing a fragrance that reacts funny with you." or it can be something more serious like you mentioned, mold, radon, these are big serious problems.

Mold in particular, something like half of buildings in America have issues with dampness and mold, that's a pretty big one. In your home, some of the most common exposures can be like candles and air fresheners, things that we use all the time that seem really benign, but some people really react to those fragrances, to those high carbons that are being released into the air when you're burning candles, cleaning sprays, the plastics that we use, those are ubiquitous and almost impossible to get away from all these different plastics. And then there's the more complex issues like the materials that your home is built out of can be off gassing things that you're reacting to. Carbon monoxide, asbestos, all these things that are in the buildings. As I mentioned, it's kind of hard to kind of untangle all these different things, particularly if you don't know what to look for.

And then we think about the community level, taking a step up the scale here, but you think about what is around your home. Do you live by a busy street?

You're thinking about air pollution, right? Do you need a near a mechanic?

There might be some fumes there. Do you live near some kind of industrial operation that uses caustic chemicals?

Those are things that can make you sick, but then what about the things that improve your health? Do you have trees? Do you have plants? Do you have a safe, healthy place for you to spend the time outside? Are you able to spend time outside? These are all the kinds of things that can either be beneficial or detrimental to your health and well-being. If you're feeling unwell and there's no apparent medical explanation or it, you can start to think about the fact that maybe it is your environment that's making you sick.

I love that. So many people instantly go to, "Oh, it must be foods," where they don't realize how much our skin absorbs, how much our inhales absorb. There are other ways for us to absorb things into our bodies. It's not just through our mouth, through food. What have you done or routinely do to check up on your environmental wellness?

So I don't think it's anything necessarily routine, but as I've spent more time in this education and I've learned more, I do pay more attention to how the environment that I'm in makes me feel, both physically and emotionally. Talked a little bit about the physical, but for example, I really like going to sporting events and concerts, but I always leave feeling really drained and kind of cranky and headachy and just kind of gross. You start to think about,"Okay, what do these environments have in common?" Well, they're really noisy. They're really loud, there's lots of people, there's a lot of commotion. And I realized that I do have a little bit of sensitivity to noise. So there's something conducive in this environment that is not conducive to me being healthy and well in it.

So what I did is I bought these earplugs. They're called loops. They're fairly common and they dampen background noise. Boy, that was a game changer.

I was able to go to concerts and go to sporting events and be comfortable and feel healthy and feel well in that environment while still enjoying things that are fun for me.

Individually, those are the kinds of things that we can do to help improve our interactions with the environment. And the environment is constantly changing. We are constantly changing. So, something that we might be reactive or not reactive to now could change down the line. I didn't have a problem with noise when I was younger, but now I'm aging, these things are becoming a little more problematic. So it's a big complicated problem and it really just comes down to how do you feel in your environment. It sounds like it's really taking the time to take a beat and check in with yourself. Like how are you feeling right now? What's going on around you if you're not feeling okay?

It made me think about how I had a sinus infection and I had so much stress going on. I didn't realize it and I tried to go scuba diving and I ruptured my ear drums. If I would have slowed down enough, I would have realized I don't feel right. Maybe I should not be taking this class right now. I was in a pool. I wasn't actually going, I was going to 12 feet deep, I wasn't going super deep. Could you imagine if I tried to go further? It just makes me realize how important it is to take a breath. How are you feeling right now? Check in.

What's going on around you? Do you need to get outside and get some fresh air? If you've been cooped up inside, are you having a hard time breathing because there's new carpeting in your office? I've had that happen several times. What can others do to strengthen this area if they are in a deficit?

So, you know, like you mentioned, just stop. Think about how am I feeling in this environment? Is this environment making me feel, you know, funny? Sometimes we can't even define what that feeling is. Like, I just don't feel well. And talk to other co-workers or talk to other people that are in this environment. Are they having a similar experience that can help you pinpoint, you know, maybe it's just me, maybe it's just something I'm reacting to, maybe it's something bigger.

That's impacting a lot of people. I was just reading an article about occupational exposures and dust inhalation, where you typically have a small cohort of people that are feeling the same symptoms and feeling ill. You can get something like that in a household, in an office place of employment, where you've got little groups of people that are not feeling well. And sometimes

we don't talk about it, right? Because we're like, "Go, go, go. I have a job to get done. I have deadlines to meet. So we don't stop to check in with each other either. I mean like, "Hey, you feeling okay today? I kind of have a headache. Do you kind of have a headache?"

These are the things that we kind of do to help identify where our illnesses are coming from.

That made me think about when I took environmental health. So this project that I had to do, there were people in the office that were sick and only some of them were sick and not others. And we had to try and narrow down based off of the little bit of data that we had and guess what it was. And nobody in the class guessed correctly. But we guessed pretty close, the teacher was actually like, that's a pretty good guess. But no, you're wrong. I think that there is so much to it that some people, like you were saying, might be affected by things and other

people might not. But if there are enough people that are affected in this cohort or this group, maybe you guys should dig into it a little bit more and figure out what's going on. The guess that we had was actually mold, mold in the AC system. The workers who were by the unit. I remember that was very enlightening.

All right. Do you have any last thoughts?

Yeah, so it can get really overwhelming, right? There's so many different potential exposures out there and it's, it's really hard to untangle them all.

And I don't want people to walk away from this being like, oh myGod, my house is killing me. You know, the thing to remember is like I mentioned before, host makes the illness. You are an integral part of this equation of how you get sick.

So just because something has a potential exposure doesn't mean you are going to react to it, doesn't mean people around you are going to react to it.

And the other thing I like to remind people, particularly when we're talking about chemical exposures and things that are potentially toxic, is host makes the poison. You have to have a certain level of exposure, a certain amount of exposure of certain, you know, of these chemicals in order for them to actually make you sick. Think about like, pears have formaldehyde, right? You're not going to stop eating pears, but you certainly don't want to drink that, you know, vial of formaldehyde either. So, you know, that that's also an important thing to take into consideration. Yeah, so just the biggest thing is just listen to your body. It is telling you what is making you sick. And it just, you know, it takes some time, especially with environmental exposures to really, really understand what, how you are reacting to it, what's beneficial for you, what's not beneficial for you,

and it's going to be trial and error.

Sounds like you were saying, listen to your intuition, listen to your gut. You said not all naturally occurring things are healthy. I mean plutonium, yeah, that's super healthy. Let's eat some of that, right? Then with pears and formaldehyde,

this is naturally forming, correct? Absolutely. Yeah. A lot of fruits and vegetables.

A lot of things that we normally eat have chemicals that we might consider to be very toxic,very dangerous, but in tiny, tiny amounts, it's when we concentrate them that these things really become problematic. Right, and we definitely take a lot of things that are naturally occurring. And then we expound upon it to make it work for us. So we use formaldehyde. It helps preserve things.

Like she's saying, small doses, so don't think pear is scary, stay away. Pears are good. And if you don't want them, I will take them and I will eat them.

Thank you so much for meeting with us.

Thank you so much for having me.

Here are some of my coaching questions related to environmental wellness.

What parts of my environment need to change?

What do I want to feel in my home environment?

Worship environment? Work environment?

How can I nurture my environment?

What can I do to protect myself from environmental hazards?

Where is my special place to meditate?

How can I spend less time in my car?

What products do I need to change that are going on my skin?

In summary, I spoke with Thania Brinks, a master's student in One Health, about the significance of environmental wellness and how it relates to her personal beliefs, academic pursuits, and life decisions. We delved into the interconnectedness of environmental wellness with other areas of wellness and identified the warning signs of neglecting this aspect of her lives. Thania also shared her practices for maintaining environmental wellness and provided tips for others to enhance their health and prevent illness.

Next week we will have another special guest discussing social wellness.

Thank you for joining our wellness discussion this week with Autumn Carter. If you liked what you heard, follow me on Instagram @momswellnessineveryseason to keep up with the latest wellness tips for moms.

Please share the podcast love with others by sharing, subscribing, and leaving a review wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you want a topic covered in more detail or a free coaching consultation, please DM me on Instagram or send an email through my website

I look forward to connecting with you.



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