The incidence of conditions such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, and cancer have increased substantially in the past 30 years. The human genome has not changed in that period of time, so the environment is the likely cause of much of this increase. Our “environment” is very broad and includes industrial and agricultural chemicals, physical agents such as heat and radiation, food and nutrients, prescription drugs, by-products of combustion and industrial processes (e.g., dioxin), lifestyle choices (including substance abuse), social and economic factors, infectious agents, and the microbiome (i.e., gut flora). We cannot understand the full etiology of disease without a more complete understanding of the role of the environment in disease. In the past, basic toxicology focused on the simple dichotomy of toxic versus nontoxic, which implies that all substances can be harmful at high doses while at some lower dose, no harm is done. However, we now know that some environmental chemicals can create physiologically relevant effects at low doses, and these effects can have a substantial impact on our health. Every individual responds differently to the myriad of environmental stressors to which we are exposed. Developing a robust understanding of the sources and magnitude of that variability is essential to inform risk-based decision making within individual, community and regulatory contexts. The list of chemicals that can cause altered developmental programming as well as the list of diseases shown to be affected by environmental exposures continues to expand. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is one of the 27 research institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and its mission is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. NIEHS continues to support research focused on mechanisms by which environmental exposures lead to increased risk of disease, the mechanisms behind the long latency and multigenerational effects, as well as the development of biomarkers of exposure and disease susceptibility which can be used to aid in disease prevention and intervention.
1. Understand the wide range of environmental chemical exposures and how they may impact our health,
2. Recognize the role of individual varibility in health related responses, and
3. Identify opportunities to modify our environment to reduce potentially harmful exposures.