SOUTH PORTLAND — What does it matter if tar sands oil is allowed to flow through Portland Pipe Line, through our ports in South Portland and onto tankers docked there?

It depends on one’s perspective. My perspective, and that of my naturopathic medical colleagues practicing in the state of Maine, is one of prevention.

Naturopathic medical professionals are trained to look for the many causes of disease. I say “many,” because in this, the age of chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer. cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases), and neurological conditions (like autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), the cause is never just one thing.

We take into account a person’s genetic makeup, family history and medications prescribed.

We also look at lifestyle factors affecting a person’s health: the nutritional, mental and emotional stressors, allergenic exposure and, most especially, the toxic burden their organs must endure from chemical and hormonal exposure in their available food, air and water supply.

What matters is the environment in which one lives, works, breathes and eats.

With the arrival of the digital age, we have entered the age of communication. We are finally recognizing how interconnected everything is. We can transmit thoughts, feelings, emotions electronically, instantaneously – and experience the consequences just as fast.

It’s no different inside the human body. What goes on there, too, involves transportation and communication. We are made up of cells, organs, tissues, nerves and blood vessels.

Like batteries, we are electrically charged, send currents that move muscles and open gates and channels to allow cargoes of messenger molecules to move up and down highways of wires (nerves and neurons) or along channels and streams (blood and lymph vessels).

The doors and gates on the cell membranes are called “receptors.” Chemicals, hormones and food nutrients affect and activate these receptors, delivering messages inside the cell, which generates more actions and responses. These messages and the molecules involved inevitably edit a person’s DNA, the blueprints carried from one generation to the next – which become the printouts that shape the manifestation of health or disease.

Witnessing the state of our larger environment, we do appear to be in trouble.

The carbon in our atmosphere is causing Earth’s temperature to rise to alarming levels. It’s as if some virus or bacteria has invaded our planet, given it a fever that is not being taken seriously. If this were an individual warming up a degree or two, you better believe some kind of action would be taken, because a few degrees more and death is knocking at the door.

Allowing tar sands to enter and exit South Portland is a gateway for allowing more fossil fuels to be burned on this planet. From a preventive-medicine approach, this is asking for trouble.

Why is that? Well, if the body manifests a fever, it is generally a sign that some nasty organism has entered it, taken over vital processes, creating acute and immediate symptoms.

Bad as that can be, there are other, long-term consequences that can take decades to manifest, leading to the chronic illnesses mentioned above. We are just now beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying faulty communication.

We can continue to look for the magic pill or bullet to conquer diseases, but this approach doesn’t quite grasp that individuals, much like our planet, operate as a system – a system within a system. The health of our air, land and water matter. Everything is affected by everything else.

If there are toxins and heavy metals in our water, they will affect the creatures feeding off those waters. If they are in our soil, they will leach into our foods, our water supplies – and us. If they are prevalent in the air we breathe, over time, depending on our age and genetics, and where certain of our cells are in their growth cycle, cellular communication will be disrupted.

Our unwillingness to see the environment, and ourselves, from a systems perspective has resulted in the health care crisis we are now experiencing. Our planet is telling us that we’ve reached a tipping point.

Maine cannot afford a Kalamazoo-type water tragedy from a tar sands spill, nor a Mayflower, Ark., land contamination. Nor should Maine’s citizens and their children have to deal with benzene or other cancer-causing chemicals emitted into their air.

The Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors commends the city of South Portland for its ongoing efforts to prevent tar sands from coming to Maine – where health matters, and tar sands can, and should be, stopped.

— Special to the Press Herald