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Clinical Ecology Research

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Project log

David H. Nelson
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Four decades ago, several health movements were sprouting in isolation. In 1980,the environmental group Friends of the Earth expanded the World Health Organization definitionof health, reminding citizenry that, “health is a state of complete physical, mental, social andecological well-being and not merely the absence of disease—personal health involves planetaryhealth”. At the same time, a small group of medical clinicians were voicing the concept of “clinicalecology”—that is, a perspective that sees illness, especially chronic illness, as a response to the totallived experience and the surroundings in which “exposures” accumulate. In parallel, other groupsadvanced the concept of holistic medicine. In 1977, the progressive physician-scientist Jonas Salkstated that “we are entering into a new Epoch in which holistic medicine will be the dominantmodel”. However, only recently have the primary messages of these mostly isolated movementsmerged into a unified interdisciplinary discourse. The grand, interconnected challenges of ourtime—an epidemic of non-communicable diseases, global socioeconomic inequalities, biodiversitylosses, climate change, disconnect from the natural environment—demands that all of medicine beviewed from an ecological perspective. Aided by advances in ‘omics’ technology, it is increasinglyclear that each person maintains complex, biologically-relevant microbial ecosystems, and thoseecosystems are, in turn, a product of the lived experiences within larger social, political, and economicecosystems. Recognizing that 21st-century medicine is, in fact, clinical ecology can help clear anadditional path as we attempt to exit the Anthropocene.