Exposome: Nature and Nurture

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Exposome: Nature and Nurture
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The term “Exposome” refers to the cumulative sum of all a person’s environmental exposures and individual experiences throughout their life, including both external factors (such as air pollution, chemicals, diet, and lifestyle choices) and internal factors (such as genetic makeup and metabolic processes). Understanding the exposome is essential in comprehending how these various factors interact and impact human health.

When it comes to our physical and mental health, we tend to have a myopic view. Accordingly, we identify a few rascal elements in our environment and place the entire weight of our physical and mental health at the mercy of these very limited causes of sorrow and happiness. Yet, in reality, our emotional life, mental health, and physical health are a product of a collaborate of everything, from our genetics make up, to our fetal environment, all the way through the mass of encounters and exposures we experience throughout our lives.

Through our unique exposome our self emerges, along with all our physical and mental weaknesses and strengths. Of course, our finite minds has no way to capture the mass data included in our personal exposome. We can only grabble around the edges, cherry picking a few low hanging fruits to evaluate why we are ill, unhappy, or unsuccessful.

Key Definition:

The exposome is the cumulative measure of environmental influences and associated biological responses throughout the lifespan.

Complexity and Our Exposome

The forces shaping us are extremely complex. Over thousands of years of research and philosophy, with all the resources and intelligence, we are just barely scrapping the surface of the reality of our existence. Gary Miller, a leading voice for the concept of the exposome, wrote, “each day we are bombarded by a dizzying amount of exposures and influences from our environment.” Miller goes on to explain that even though we are limited in mental capacity to process every exposure and environmental influence, we can create a framework to assist in organizing, making sense of, and utilizing the concept of exposome to improve our lives (2020).

Exposome and Psychopathologies

Studying the exposome can provide valuable insights into the intricate relationship between environmental exposures and the development of diseases. By examining the exposome, researchers can uncover potential links between specific exposures and adverse health outcomes, enabling the development of targeted interventions and preventive measures.

In an article in JAMA, the authors wrote, “most research has thus far focused on investigating the effects of single environmental exposure on a single outcome (termed caseness), aiming for deterministic specificity of cause and effect with an etiologic precision. However, we may reasonable think that the environment, akin to genetics, consists of conjoint networks involving many interacting elements that my be pinned down to shared biological and mental processes in the casual pathways of mental illness” (Guloksuz, et al., 2018).

Joel T. Nigg commented, “Static models of psychopathology are as a set of fixed entities are outdated. Instead, psychopathology must be understood dynamically.” He continues, “although some elements are static/stable, the entire syndrome is not; psychopathology emerges from dynamic cybernetic and transactional processes.(Nigg, 2023).

Other Similar Concepts Preceding Exposome

Other psychological concepts may help us grasp the modern construct of exposome.

Reciprocal Determination

Reciprocal determinism is a concept first presented by Albert Bandura in the 1970’s. According to his model, our lives are shaped by three forces (behavior, environments, and personal characteristics). Consequently, our lives our expressions of the reciprocal and dynamic interaction of these forces. Basically, each element influences the other, which in turn requires a new response, and each response changes the other two factors.​


The key focus of epigenetics is the impact of environments on our genetics. We have an individual make-up (DNA), consisting of character traits. Research has discovered that many of our characteristics, however, are activated by environmental exposures. The DNA simply creates vulnerabilities and sensitivities that will react to certain environmental situations.

The epigenetic research explains how twins, sharing the exact same DNA, may develop differently.

Exposome takes these early concepts and adds breadth to the factors involved. Perhaps, we are adding systems thinking to the earlier concepts. Looking beyond the simple observable events and consequences but also considering all the downstream effects through second and third order consequences.

Research in Exposome

One of the key challenges in exposome research is the sheer complexity and vastness of the data. With numerous potential exposures and their potential interactions, accurately measuring and analyzing the exposome requires sophisticated techniques and advanced computational tools.

Researchers in the field of exposome science employ a variety of innovative approaches, including high-throughput technologies, bioinformatics, and advanced statistical models, to capture and analyze the diverse array of environmental exposures. These methods, combined with longitudinal studies and large-scale population-based cohorts, enable scientists to evaluate the long-term effects of various exposures on human health.

A European collaborative effort has created the Human-Life Exposome project “to characterize the early life exposome which includes all environmental hazards that mothers and children are exposed to” (Zhou and Lee, 2021). In many ways, exposome research is an expanded version of life course theory. T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “Any theory of development must consider human lives within their historical time and place. Life course theory examines human life within changing environments, examining life pathways within the context of their histories” (2022).

Life Course Theory and Modern Exposome

In Life course theory, research relies on longitudinal studies. Exposome research, in our modern era of mass data, derives data from much larger pools of people, and collects information on unfathomable diverse elements. Complex programs calculate the data and find associations.

The potential applications of exposome research are far-reaching, extending beyond disease prevention and public health interventions. In the future, the insights gained from studying the exposome may pave the way for personalized medicine approaches that consider an individual’s unique combination of exposures and genetic makeup. Markedly, with a deeper understanding of how environmental factors impact each person differently, healthcare providers could tailor treatment plans and interventions to optimize health outcomes on an individual level.

Utilizing an Exposome Mindset in Our Personal Lives

At first glance, considering all the diverse factors impacting our lives, we don’t glory in the awe of complexity, but, instead, feel overwhelmed by the weight of the unknown. The mass data is beyond the limited capacity of our finite minds to process. Perhaps, this is why we have a growing number of people hanging up their hat, giving up on trying to understand, and blindly following groups.

Miller suggests that instead of getting overwhelmed we should focus on a modifiable version of exposome. While there are major factors on the international and national level that we have little influence over, and countless environmental factors we don’t know about, there are plenty of areas within our local, family, and personal lives that provide accessible opportunities for us to personalize the exposome of our lives (Miller, 2020).

We can start by making a manageable list of elements we have some control over such as, diet, exercise, relationships, and media exposure. Perhaps, we can consider these the basics of wellbeing. These common and scientifically proven essential factors fall within our ability to change. These elements we can identify. Consequently, through these changes, in a small way, we modify our overall exposome to something a little better.

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

In summary, the exposome represents a comprehensive view of the myriad environmental exposures that shape our physical and mental health throughout our lives. By unraveling the complexities of the exposome, researchers are gaining valuable insights that can inform public health strategies, disease prevention efforts, and potentially revolutionize the field of personalized medicine. In addition, we as individuals can identify a select modifiable elements in our environments. By taking responsibility to improve some elements, we can help shape the whole.

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Guloksuz, S., van Os, J., & Rutten, B. (2018). The Exposome Paradigm and the Complexities of Environmental Research in Psychiatry. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(10), 985-986. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.1211

Miller, G. (2020). The exposome in the community. The Exposome, 211-235. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-814079-6.00009-2

Murphy, T. Franklin (2022). Life Course Theory. Psychology Fanatic. Published 6-23-2023. Accessed 9-1-2023.

Nigg, Joel T. (2023). Considerations Toward an Epigenetic and Common Pathways Theory of Mental Disorder. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science, 132(3), 297-313. DOI: 10.1037/abn0000748

Zhou, X., & Lee, S. (2021). An integrative analysis of genomic and exposomic data for complex traits and phenotypic prediction. Scientific Reports, 11(1). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-00427-y

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