© 2017 by Kim Eabry - all rights reserved
While I was pursuing my Master’s in Public Health, my mother was dying of breast cancer. A guiding theme had woven its way through my earlier public health experience: access to, and acting on, very simple information could prevent disease and even save lives. I had seen this as a volunteer peer educator giving safer sex presentations to fellow undergrads at UC Santa Cruz, and later, as a volunteer in rural Indonesia. There I witnessed the suffering caused by conditions that could easily have been prevented through diet or supplements, such as blindness with Vitamin A, and goiters with iodine.
So when my mother died, I threw myself into researching what may have contributed to her disease. I wanted to know how I could protect myself and others. I learned about endocrine disruptors, and other toxic chemicals ubiquitous in consumer products and the environment.
For example, bisphenol A had just been discovered to have leached from polycarbonate laboratory flasks during a breast cancer study, causing the breast cancer cells to proliferate, demonstrating that it is a biologically active xenoestrogen (Krishnan, 1993). Bisphenol A was, and (over twenty years later) still is, in many polycarbonate plastics, resin dental fillings, the lining of metal cans, cash register receipts, and more. I also learned about the disproportionate effects of toxins on children, and that breast milk, though still considered absolutely vital, is the most contaminated food source on the planet. It is only one of the ways in which we pass the legacy of our toxic environment to the next generation.
This experience wove in two more central themes: first, that our technological abilities far surpass our understanding of biological systems, and second, that there is a huge gap between the information available in the scientific literature, and public knowledge, policy, and behavior. I wanted to help bridge this gap.
I was particularly concerned about the use of pesticides in growing our food. If I was going to advocate for organic food, I decided I needed to know first-hand how organic farming worked and whether it was a viable alternative to conventional agriculture. I became a student (and later a teaching assistant) in the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) apprenticeship program.
There I learned that organic farming is not just the absence of chemicals, it is really about using the principles of healthy ecosystems to support strong, disease and pest resistant plants: building soil fertility with natural compost, just like nature manages her meadows or forest floors through the decomposition and recycling of fallen branches, leaves and flowers; planting crops rich in both species and genetic diversity, which decreases overall susceptibility to pests and disease; and attracting or introducing beneficial insects (natural predators) to control insect pests.
Viewed through the lens of public health, it was easy to see that conventional farming shares the same philosophy as western medicine. Both are products of the dominant world view which favors technology over biology. One outcome of this bias is the treatment of symptoms with chemicals, whether pesticides, fertilizers, or prescription medicine, rather than supporting the health and well-being of the whole organism in achieving its natural potential, within the context of a healthy environment. Technology has given us the illusion that we are independent of, and can control, nature. Inherently, this world view encourages the prioritization of the economy over health and the environment. There is big money in the creation and use of pollutants that initiate and promote disease, big money in early detection, and big money in the often toxic and invasive treatments.
Thus my experience with sustainable agriculture wove in another important theme: my belief that the most viable solutions to the environmental challenges we face will involve reconnecting with the natural systems and rhythms of the earth within which we have evolved. I believe this connection must be the compass that guides technological innovations into the future.
After completing my studies, I began volunteering on local pesticide issues. I was chair of a local activist group which convinced both the City and the County of Santa Cruz to adopt Integrated Pest Management programs to reduce or eliminate pesticide use on government property, and I served on the advisory boards for each. In addition, we helped create a County plan to prevent aerial spraying for an insect pest that was threatening the wine and nursery industry. Meanwhile, I was employed at WomenCARE, a non-profit providing support for women with cancer, and later I became a program director and then executive director for the Homeless Garden Project, supporting people in discovering themselves and creating new lives through organic farming.
Then my personal health experiences began to be woven into the picture. It is ironic that despite my desire to avoid toxins, over the last sixteen years I have myself experienced a series of toxic exposures. In researching how to heal from these exposures I have added a great deal of information to my health education toolkit. This experience has given me the gift of a unique perspective and the passion to share what I have learned with others.
My first exposure was to a toxic form of mold, to which I was uniquely susceptible because of my lifetime struggle with candida. I became ill with unexplained fevers, and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), with symptoms of headaches, constriction of the chest, and extreme fatigue from exposure to perfumes, cigarette smoke and other chemicals. I achieved partial healing through remediation of the mold, some dietary changes, and wherever possible, avoidance of chemical exposures.
A few years later, I ate a meal which turned out to have been contaminated with heavy metals. In addition to an acute response, I experienced a flare up of candida which would not be controlled. In researching solutions, I discovered the ketogenic diet. Ketosis involves a fundamental change in metabolism, from glucose as the primary energy source, to ketones which the body makes from fat. Following this low-carb, high fat diet has been shown, among other things, to discourage candida and cancer, both of which feed on sugar. While maintaining this diet, I am able to stay (mostly) candida free, and my chemical sensitivity is reduced.
More recently, the third toxic exposure involved a combination of physical and mental stress along with an increase in electromagnetic radiation (EMFs). This left me in a state of complete exhaustion for several months. My symptoms included a face rash, anxiety, restless leg, difficulty sleeping, sensations of pins and needles, irregular heart beats, and tinnitus. After more research, I discovered that I had become electrically hypersensitive (EHS), although my condition is not nearly as severe as some.
Interestingly, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), mold, and heavy metal toxicity appear to be risk factors for EHS. My ketogenic diet may have provided some protection with anti-inflammatory, immune system and antioxidant benefits. The primary treatment, however, is avoidance of exposure. After addressing the electromagnetic field (EMF) issues in our home, spending a lot of time outdoors, and getting plenty of rest, my symptoms have improved. I am very grateful that along the way, I found a wonderful community of caring and skilled people who helped me navigate this path.
I began researching the health concerns around EMFs and returned to one of my original themes: there is a large body of rigorous peer reviewed science showing serious health effects from EMFs, juxtaposed against the public perception that there is no evidence of harm. This perception is carefully cultivated by the telecommunications industry’s manufacture of doubt.
Our EMF exposure levels are already frighteningly high, and newer technologies (5G and the Internet of Everything, soon to be rolled out across the nation) will add yet more. Each new level of technology adds more convenience, which we quickly get used to and then demand more, not realizing the potential cost to our health, our genome, and the environment.
While there are many exposures that we, as individuals and households, can control and reduce (see my Tips for the Safer Use of Technology), we desperately need meaningful changes in policy and standards. My goal is to join with others already working in this field to inspire people to personal and social action. I would like to be part of the change.
Krishnan, A.V., et. al., (1993) Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving, Endocrinology, Jun;132(6) pp. 2279-86 URL: