photo from Dr. Greene
Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., FAAP, (yes, that's really his name) is a holistic pediatrician and author of Raising Baby Green, a guide on raising happy, healthy children in an earth-friendly way. The book includes advice on the seven most important choices you can make for your newborn, eco ideas for the nursery, a comprehensive guide to green diapers, and more. He's also got a web site that's packed with all kinds of health information and advice about keeping your baby healthy. Check out my interview with Dr. Greene, below.
Is there a difference between how you and a more traditional pediatrician practice medicine on a daily basis?
Doctors like me look more at the impact of lifestyle choices, the impact of the environment on kids. If someone comes in with eczema, the typical medical approach is to put steroids on top of the skin to treat the symptoms. My approach is to try to figure out where this is coming from, what kind of exposure might have been triggering it, to decrease and deal with that, and to use things like omega-3 fats and probiotics to try to decrease the allergic response instead of just trying to cover up the symptoms.
As a green doctor, do you prescribe green medicines, or is it more about preventing illnesses and infections in the first place?
Both. It's far better to prevent an illness than to have to treat one, and many of the best ways to prevent it are environmental solutions. It's about how we eat, exercise, what kinds of exposures we've had, and once you do get an illness, working with the body instead of against it.
One big example that's recently been in the news pertains to over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines. People are now recognizing they aren't a good idea because there's no evidence they help, they cost a lot, there's all the packaging that's involved, and then there are side effects. Gentler remedies have been shown scientifically to be just as effective. Things like honey or even dark chocolate for coughs in kids over a year old; there are often food solutions, and green solutions, to many of the common illnesses, that at least decrease the medicines needed.
Now, I want to be clear, I'm in many ways a conventional physician in that I think that antibiotics were one of the greatest life-saving inventions of the 20th century—untold suffering has been prevented because of them. It's just that we overused them, and they've gotten out of control. The number-one reason kids get prescribed antibiotics is for ear infections, and most ear infections are better treated without them. But in the right setting, they can be great.
How can a stressed-out, sleep-deprived mother add green concerns to her list of things to think about and incorporate into her life without exploding?
What I try to do is find situations in which everybody wins: the parents, the kid, and the earth. One of the best examples of that is breastfeeding. When someone is bottle-fed, there's this long trail of environmental impacts: the carbon footprint of cows; the fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones that go into the milk; the factory; the packaging; shipping it across many miles, which causes more air pollution and fuel loss; and then the plastic bottle that has lots of health concerns about it. Whereas nursing is the ultimate eating local: It's right there, there's no packaging, it's perfectly designed for the kid, and the mom burns an extra 300 calories a day, as if she was running a mile or two. It lowers her and her baby's lifetime cancer risk, and it decreases the baby's need for antibiotics, surgery or hospitalization. So it's this total win-win: better for the planet, better for mom, better for the baby—and easier.
Are there smaller everyday examples that might not occur to most people?
The littlest things help. For example, when your baby gets a little older, choose organic ketchup. It costs about the same, most kids find that it tastes better, and not only are you supporting a system of agriculture that isn't dependent on things that are toxic to the environment, but you also end up with 100% more antioxidants in the ketchup. So you get a lot more nutrition for essentially the same amount of money, and you don't even have to think about it. It increases cancer-preventing lycopene in kids' diets by 57% if you make that one little switch.
Is it possible for a mother to be too green, like raising a baby on a vegan diet?
The first priority is the health of your child. It can be healthy to have a vegan diet, and it can be healthy for kids to be raised vegetarian, as long as people are paying close attention to getting plenty of nutrition. But I've had people come to me who are so concerned about being green that they forget the core health issues. I would keep that central and, after that priority, choose green.
How would a family go about finding a local doctor like you?
You can use the tool, Find a Great Doctor, on our web site, where people can rate doctors in their area and you can see what they have to say. What we've done is recommended green doctors and you can find someone that matches your needs.
Would you bring your baby to a green pediatrician?