Dr. Aly Cohen, Director of The Smart Human, Educates People About Health Risks of Chemicals
Dr. Aly Cohen is on a mission. Board-certified rheumatologist, integrative medicine physician, and environmental health specialist, she is the founder and medical director of The Smart Human.
Dr. Cohen is recognized as one of the leading authorities on the harmful effects of exposure to everyday chemicals in the U.S. Helping people to make smart choices in a world in which they are constantly bombarded by chemicals is her goal.
“The Smart Human seeks to educate, coach, and empower everyday people to make safer, smarter choices for human health,” explains Dr. Cohen. “We help hospitals, schools, and manufacturers make changes to reduce unsafe chemical exposure to the children and adults whom they serve.”
A graduate of Princeton Day School and the University of Pennsylvania, she received her medical training at Hahnemann University Hospital of Medicine in Philadelphia, and completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. She continued her specialist training in rheumatology and auto-immune diseases at Montefiore Hospital/Albert Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y.
Dr. Cohen has practiced for 12 years, and in 2012, opened her own office in integrative rheumatology at 312 Applegarth Road, Monroe Township. Her practice focuses on both traditional western medical management of rheumatological ailments, as well as integrative options for total wellness, such as bio-feed back, acupuncture, cognitive therapy, diet and exercise counseling, environmental toxin counseling, smoking cessation, stress management, and sleep evaluation.
Dr. Cohen also received training in medical acupuncture from the Helms Institute at UCLA and in Environmental Medicine from Dr. Andrew Weil and the Arizona Center for Internal Medicine. She has studied and worked with Dr. Weil and his colleagues in the field of integrative medicine during the past five years.
In 2012, she was honored as the recipient of the Jones/Lovell Rheumatology Scholarship at the Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, Arizona, and in 2015, she was awarded the New Jersey Heroes Award in Education.
Dr. Cohen explains that her focus on The Smart Human is an outgrowth of her interest in human evolution. “I was an anthropology minor at the University of Pennsylvania, and I believe we must look back at human health and biology to move forward. The human body is truly amazing. Our bodies have evolved over 2.5 million years to fight off infection, think, feel, break down food, detoxify harmful substances, and create life — a series of evolutionary miracles, built on our ever-changing environment.
“Within the past 200 years, human creativity has brought forth more change than ever before in history. The industrial and technological revolutions have transformed the human experience and life-style into a fast-paced world of technology, chemical production, and greater convenience.
“With all of the chemical influx and immersion, the human body has not been able to appropriately evolve on the evolutionary timeline as fast as our surroundings have changed. The polluted air, food additives, toxins, and emotional stressors, to name a few, have had a negative effect on our bodies.”
More than 87,000 chemicals are commercially available in the U.S., points out Dr. Cohen. They are used in plastics, cosmetics, food additives and preservatives, computers, fabrics, toys, furniture, cars, and other products.
“Most chemicals are not tested for toxicity,” she adds, “and only five chemicals have been banned in the U.S. since 1976. Asbestos is still prevalent, and is a known carcinogen.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not review chemicals for how they affect growing fetuses, infants, and teens. Our bodies are sponges. Everything that goes in, on, or around them is absorbed. Babies today are born with more than 200 chemicals in their bloodstream. They are actually born polluted.”
Dr. Cohen especially wants to reach out to and inform younger people of the risks of chemicals to their health. As she explains, “Regarding personal care products today, including shampoo, hair conditioner, cosmetics, deodorant, etc., studies show that women typically use 12 a day, men six, and teens 16. The chemicals in these products get into the body and can be passed onto the next generation.
“Health is a combination of environment and genetics, and the environment has much more impact on our diseases today. For example, studies show that breast cancer is 90 percent environmental and 10 percent genetic.”
A number of illnesses can be traced to chemicals, continues Dr. Cohen. “The endocrine system is affected by chemicals that can cause changes in the thyroid, including thyroid cancer, breast cancer, gynecological problems, obesity, and diabetes.”
When people make different choices and changes in diet and lifestyle, Dr. Cohen has seen improvement. “I’ve had patients with auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, who have significantly improved with changes in lifestyle, diet, and stress management.
“We have to live in the world we are given, and so it is about making reasonable choices. The choices can be for fewer chemicals and less harmful chemicals. For example, try to buy a product with ingredients that are familiar, that you understand and recognize.
“My goal is to have The Smart Human as a resource for people, including a website and a book. It’s not judgmental, but offers helpful, practical, usable, and cost-effective information. The Smart Human uses all available medical and toxicology texts, research articles, data bases, and experts to create real life recommendations for healthy living in a chemical-filled world.”
Dr. Cohen is also writing a book, The Smart Human: Essential Guide to Living Healthy in a Chemical World, and is co-editing another book Integrative Environmental Health, which is part of Dr. Andrew Weil’s academic book series.
In her desire to make more people aware of the risks of chemicals to health, Dr. Cohen lectures nationally and locally in schools, healthcare facilities, medical schools, and other organizations and institutions. She has been a consultant for major corporations such as Knowledge Universe to help reduce the chemical exposure of infants and toddlers in more than 2,000 KinderCare Daycares across the U.S.
Her strong interest in environmental chemical exposure has also led to her current collaboration with the Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) to create a CME accredited presentation on endocrine disrupting chemicals and their relationship to human health, designed specifically for physicians, nurses, and other health professionals.
In addition, she has extended her message to Princeton High School, where she is piloting a program to integrate environmental health information into the current health curriculum.
“My goal is to help as many people as I can,” she explains. “The challenge is to reach the largest audience possible, to make people aware that even if there is no cough or no rash, there can still be possible long-term health implications due to chemical exposure.
“We see the emphasis on ‘going green’ in the environment; I want to ‘green’ our bodies. The relationship with the environment is critical. There is only so much that can be controlled. I want to help you with what you CAN control.
“Everybody can become a ‘smart human’ if the appropriate information is presented to them. Knowing the potential threats in your environment will give you the option to make better choices.”
Dr. Cohen can be reached at (609) 662-5212. Website: www.alycohenmd.com and Facebook:The SmartHuman.