Q&A: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Planet – with Aterah Nusrat, MSc, DIC

Posted On: February 6th, 2024

Q&A: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Planet – with Aterah Nusrat, MSc, DIC

Brigham Clinical & Research News recently featured Aterah Nusrat, MSc, DIC, the Osher Center’s Director of Programming in Integrative Medicine and Planetary Health, on how the health of the planet affects human health – and vice versa.

Q&A: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Planet



The relationship between human health and the health of the planet is intertwined. Western culture has slowly acknowledged this relationship and adopted strategies to improve both human and planetary health. An integrative healthcare model, which emphasizes a holistic approach combining conventional medicine with complementary therapies to address an individual’s well-being, can address the needs of the patient and positively serve the planet. The Osher Center for Integrative Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School advances integrative health care through a ‘whole-person’ health perspective, which encompasses the health of mind, body, spirit and community. Aterah Nusrat, MSc, DIC, director of integrative and planetary health programming at the Osher Center, recently published an article in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine exploring how a change in perspective can lead to improved health outcomes for people and the planet. 

Q: Can you please describe what planetary health is and why it is important to understand in the context of health care?

AN: If we don’t have a healthy planet, we cannot be healthy as individuals or as a community. The quality of our environment impacts our quality of life: the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the place we call home. If our environments are unhealthy, it shows up in our biology, our psychology and in our social interactions. The World Health Organization states that healthier environments could prevent almost a quarter of the global burden of disease. In addition, with the increasing incidence of natural disasters, it’s more common for people to experience nature-related mental health concerns such as solastalgia (psychological distress caused by degradation to one’s place of belonging), eco-anxiety, and climate grief, related to the actual or anticipated loss of a familiar environment. There is a very clear direct relationship between the health and well-being of the planet, the individual and our communities.

Q: How can shifting to an integrative healthcare model change care and outcomes for patients and the planet?

AN: As mentioned in the article, the U.S. healthcare sector accounts for over eight percent of our national greenhouse gas emissions, of which hospital care, physician and clinical services and prescription drugs are the main contributors. Integrative healthcare interventions that are preventive, such as adopting a more plant-based diet, pursuing a more active lifestyle, and engaging in nature-based therapies, can help keep people out of hospitals and thereby benefit people’s health and well-being upstream, as well as reducing their ecological footprint on the planet downstream. Some studies also suggest that mindfulness-based practices, such as compassion-based mindfulness can lead to more pro-social and pro-environmental behavior with positive impacts on our relationships, communities and ecosystems.

Q: How do you envision health professionals and health institutions using the information in your article?

AN: Healthcare providers are trusted members of the community and can help their patients become better informed of healthier lifestyle choices that not only support their own healthcare needs but also benefit the planet. I hope practitioners will also reflect on their own relationship to health and how it influences how they deliver health care. When they engage with their patients, ideally they can broaden their approach from treating a disease or condition to seeing care through the lens of whole-person health and well-being, which includes a person’s inner values and outer environment. I also recommend that healthcare practitioners become involved in related initiatives throughout their hospital. Projects such as Watching our Waste and the Cool Food Pledge have sprouted at the Brigham and aim to reduce medical waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Gregg Furie, MD, Medical Director for Climate and Sustainability at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has overseen a variety of climate initiatives at the hospital. Efforts are also underway at the system level. Mass General Brigham has signed the U.S. Health Climate Pledge, which commits us to reducing our emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050, and has launched a Climate and Sustainability Leadership Council to develop systemwide goals and opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment. In addition, to support Mass General Brigham’s effort to set systemwide goals, a team is in the final stages of studying the system’s full carbon footprint.

Q: Why has the idea of an integrative health model been so slow to adopt in Western culture?

AN: I think this has to do with the way we practice medicine. Our current healthcare model is reductionist and organized by organ systems, such as cardiology and neurology. This has unintentionally created silos in our healthcare system. Because of that, shifting to an integrated model has been difficult to adopt.  At the Osher Center, we have been pioneering research across systems for over 20 years and exploring how integrative therapies including those from traditional healing systems, like East Asian medicine, can integrate organ systems leading to healthier mind-body-spirit connections.

Q: What motivated you to study the relationship between human and planetary health?

AN: I’ve found the recognition of interconnectedness to be essential. There’s something in the integrative and whole-person health model that lends itself to realizing that you’re not an isolated entity, but that you exist in an interdependent web of relationships with all living and non-living systems. This appreciation can help someone reassess their own values, the lifestyle choices they make, and the resulting impacts—both beneficial and detrimental—for themselves, their loved ones and our shared environment.



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