ACNEM’s Four Pillars of Health


By Professor Kylie O'Brien, Director of Education, ACNEM

ACNEM is committed to educating medical and health practitioners about those nutritional and environmental factors that impact on health.

We have distilled these many factors into four main categories, each of which can positively and negatively impact on wellbeing:


1. Diet and Nutrition

A healthy diet is one in which the nutritional needs of the individual is met and supports the mental and physical wellbeing of that person. When diet and nutrition is not adequate, or harmful, illness can result. Research suggests up to 30-35% of cancer-related deaths are estimated to be linked with diet, with the remainder due to other factors including infections, physical inactivity, stress, radiation and environmental pollutants [1]. Poor diet can lead to overweight and obesity, risk factors for many chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many others [2-5]. The western diet is characterised by a high Omega 6: Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio which is pro-inflammatory [6] whilst other diets eg. Mediterranean Diet are associated with better health outcomes [7].

The good news is that there is much research evidence on the protective actions of many different diets and foods.


2. Physical Activity

Humans evolved to be physically active; a sedentary lifestyle and inactivity is unhealthy [8, 9] and are risk factors for obesity, chronic illnesses (eg. cardiovascular disease, cancer) and all-cause mortality [10, 11]. 

On the other hand, physical activity reduces risk of many illnesses and promotes optimal physical and mental wellbeing and healthy aging. Physical activity can reduce risk of many chronic illnesses including risk of developing cancer [12] and mortality risk (all-cause and cancer-specific mortality) after diagnosis [13, 14]. The benefits of physical activity carry on into old age: a meta-analysis of 9 cohort studies in older adults found a significantly lower (22%) risk of death from all causes in those who engaged in low-dose moderate to vigorous physical activity [15]. Physical activity can lower blood pressure [16], assist blood glucose control in type 2 diabetics [17], reduce anxiety and depression, aid sleep, reduce pain, improve immune system functioning and more [14, 18-21].


3. Sleep

Good sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing. Sleep helps regulate many of our bodily processes including appetite, memory, hormone levels, cell regeneration, DNA repair, and weight reduction [14]. Sleep is vital for our emotional wellbeing, helping us recover from stress and regulating our emotions [22, 23].

It has been estimated that sleep disorders may contribute to up to 70% of diseases [24]. Poor sleep is associated with many chronic illnesses including cancer [25, 26], cardiovascular disease [27-29], depression [30-32], anxiety [30], cognitive decline [33] and decreased immune functioning [34]. You can see why it’s important to get regular, good quality sleep.


4. Environmental Factors

At ACNEM we envisage the concept of ‘environment’ to be broad, encompassing the inner milieu of the body, our personal environment (eg. exposure to stress), our home and office environment (eg. exposure to chemicals), and the global environment (eg. air pollution, pesticides, climate change). Environmental factors can detrimentally affect health [35]. For example, the world’s water supplies and entire food chain are contaminated with chemicals that can damage human brains, reproductive systems and hormonal systems [35]. It is critical that we address the potentially detrimental effects of such environmental factors on health.


Four Pillars of Health and ACNEM Education

In educating healthcare practitioners about nutritional and environmental medicine, ACNEM promotes the Four Pillars of Health as the foundation for a healthy life:

  1. Healthy diet and good nutrition
  2. Adequate physical activity
  3. Good sleep
  4. Healthy environment

These four pillars of health are a focus of ACNEM’s educational offerings which include webinars, short courses, as well as structured training pathways to gain ACNEM Fellowship. ACNEM also have an annual conference, now in it’s 11th year. The ACNEM 2020 Conference focused on environmental disruptors which featured 8 weeks of online training on our inner environment, personal environment (including stress, physical activity, sleep, breathing), home and office environment, and global environment (still available for purchase).

We have just released a new short course focused on stress (Helping Your Patients Reduce Stress) and are soon to release two more - one focused on the potential health effects associated with electromagnetic radiation, and the other on oral health. These short courses allow practitioners to dive deep into the four pillars of health.



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