It’s time to alter your perspective on how disease forms in the body. This post will give you the perfect platform for understanding why we develop “diseases”. We are programed to think that disease is something that invades your body, but that is rarely the case. Disease is intelligently created by the body to deal with an environmental stress.
Why do we develop symptoms?
A symptom is an appropriate, natural response to protect the body. In order to deal with stressful situations your body generates symptoms to communicate with the brain that something is wrong. A disease is something that describes a group of symptoms that one experiences on a daily basis. This means that we are diagnosing symptoms rather than the root cause. If you are surprised to hear that disease is just a label you are not alone.
To put this into perspective, let’s consider 3 people diagnosed with different chronic diseases. The first person has ADD, the second person has Fibromyalgia, and the third person has PCOS, yet the underlying cause of all three people’s symptoms is severe gastrointestinal issues! A damaged digestive system is an environment in which harmful microbes thrive. The harmful microbes damage the digestive lining leading to nutrient deficiencies in the body. Interestingly, the nutrient deficiencies are manifested in these three patients in different ways. It is very difficult to pinpoint the root cause of disease when we each respond differently to a stimulant, however, we will review the most common causes…
- Lack of Oxygen
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Bacteria and Viruses
- Environmental Toxicity, Heavy Metals, and Chemicals
These days, Inflammation is a wellness buzz-word but for good reason. You might have heard from other health sources that inflammation is the root cause of all known chronic health conditions, but what does that even mean??
Inflammation is your body’s response to stress and comes in many forms. Think about what happens when you have the flu. As your body heats up to eradicate the virus, you experience inflammation in the form of a fever. Acute inflammation, like a fever, is beneficial when needed. Great, your immune system is doing its job! There is another type of inflammation, called chronic low-grade inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation is the root cause of many diseases, ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to dementia to cancer! While these diagnosis are considered unrelated, they are all products of inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation is disastrous for our health because it generates a constant supply of free radicals that overwhelm our supply of natural defenses, such as antioxidants. Free radicals damage DNA and speed up the aging process, causing all types of chronic diseases. The most common cause of inflammation is the diet.
Chronic disease and the quality of the food that we consume are intimately linked. Pro-inflammatory foods are the driving forces behind diseases such as Diabetes, Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, PCOS, and Crohn’s Disease. The American diet is saturated with “food-like products” that are foreign to the human body. Our digestive system has no idea how to break these foods down and cannot use these foods for energy. Processed foods cause direct injury to our cells! With all of the diets promoted out there it’s difficult to know which foods are healthy and what is junk. My rule is simple: Only eat what grows in the ground.
Depletion of Oxygen
Lack of oxygen in the body is linked to EVERY CHRONIC DISEASE. Our cells suffocate and die when there is not enough oxygen available. Lack of oxygen creates an environment in which free radicals are generated, cancer cells thrive, and microbes flourish. Oxygen is important for one reason: without a steady supply of oxygen we cannot make ATP, which is the energy currency we run on. Oxygen is also a part of many chemical reactions in the body; oxygen displaces harmful free radicals, neutralizes toxins and destroys anaerobic microbes. Indications of low oxygen levels include muscle spasms and aches, microbial infections, impaired wound healing, numbness and tingling, anemia and a suppressed immune system.
Let’s take cancer as an example. The link between lack of oxygen and cancer cell development is clear. In fact, the underlying cause of the formation of cancer cells is poor oxygenation. Lack of oxygen forces normal cells to shift their energy pathway from respiration to fermentation (a pathway that does not require oxygen). So when cellular oxygen levels drop, enzymes involved in respiration become damaged and the cell starts to depend on the fermentation of sugar for energy. Because the fermentation pathway is inefficient, cells lose their ability to function properly and turn cancerous. Cancer cells that ferment sugar grow and divide quickly and thus a tumor develops. You see, cancer is not something that invades our body. It is a response to the poor atmospheric conditions of the body. It is a metabolic disease. Cancer is just one example of many diseases that develop from lack of oxygen.
Why are we oxygen deficient? This is the million dollar question. Let’s list the reasons.
- Damaged foods: We consume foods that do not contain oxygen. Raw vegetables contain have high levels of oxygen while animal foods and processed foods contain the least.
- Lack of Exercise: When we exercise we allow more oxygen into our cells to generate more ATP. Cardiovascular exercise is essential.
- Dehydration: water is made of H2O. The more water you drink, the more oxygen is available for your body.
- Poor air quality: the air we breathe has become so polluted from toxins that the oxygen concentration in our body is lower.
- Sometimes we forget to breathe. When you breathe properly, more oxygen exchange can take place in your lungs. Quick tip: If you want to lower your blood pressure practice deep breathing.
Nutrient deficiencies are at the heart of many chronic diseases. I’ll point out some examples. Scurvy is a disease caused by lack of vitamin C and antioxidants. Lack of magnesium, an under appreciated mineral, may cause migraines, muscle cramps, and irregular heart rhythms. Cancer, autoimmune diseases and allergies are strongly linked to low levels of vitamin D. Not to mention, almost all of my clients with hypertension have extremely low vitamin D levels. You may be under the impression that if you take a daily multivitamin you are getting the nutrients that you need. Wrong! Studies show that taking a daily multivitamin does not improve health outcome. This is probably because multivitamins are sourced from rocks and chemicals instead of whole foods. So how do we make sure that we are getting the nutrients need to prevent chronic disease ?
The best way to ensure optimal nutrient intake is to consume nutrient dense foods, such as organic vegetables, fruits, nut, seeds, algae, herbs and wild caught fish. Compared to other animals, the human metabolism is not very efficient. Our bodies require a steady supply of phytonutrients for optimal health. The most nutrient dense foods are organic and local, and can be purchased at farmers markets, CSAs, or grown in your backyard. Produce from supermarkets are typically sourced from large farms with nutrient poor soils.
Sadly, a conventionally grown apple from today is nowhere near as nutrient dense as an apple from 50 years ago. Vendors are constantly under pressure to ensure steady supply to supermarkets. To keep up with the demand, farmers inject produce with calcium carbide, a chemical that ripens fruit artificially. Farmers also modify the activity of enzymes in fruits and vegetables to increase the sugar content making those deep orange carrots look radioactive. So yes, there is a difference buying organic. To what degree organic is better, I do not know.
Remember, the nutrients that you consume at this moment will determine the state of your health 40 years from now. Only put good things in your body. You are worth it.
Bacteria and Viruses
You are made of more bacterial cells than human cells. In fact, there is 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in your body. You might wonder if you are more bacteria than you are yourself. Our body is an amazing ecosystem for microbes to flourish and we can’t live without them. Bacteria have many beneficial functions in the digestive tract, including digesting nutrients, producing vitamins and helping the immune system mature. These types of bacteria are not out to kill you. You are more valuable alive when providing them nutrients and shelter. We are constantly being exposed to microbes, yet we remain healthy, free of disease.
Microbes that lead to acute infection such as strep throat, mumps, and polio cause illness in most people who are exposed. These viruses are referred to as high virulence microbes yet they are highly treatable. Chronic disease involves a different type of microbe. These microbes are stealthy, invisible to the body, and are difficult to eradicate once established. Viruses, for example, have sophisticated mechanisms to hide from the immune system and can be undiagnosable or undetectable. Viruses and bacteria are often opportunistic and will take advantage of a compromised immune system causing low grade inflammation. Researchers suggest that microbes could be the cause of some cancers, type 1 diabetes and MS.
We are primed to think that when we get a bacterial infection an evil microbe has recently invaded our body. This is not true in the case of a chronic disease. The poor upkeep of our health contributed to an atmosphere which allowed the microbe to grow out of control. These type of infections can be easily prevented if your keep your immune system strong. Many of my clients who have a chronic cough, cold or infection have extremely low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D differentiates immune cells in your body. If you supplement your diet with probiotics, vitamin D, fish oils, and you maintain a healthy digestive tract chances are you won’t get sick.
DNA is not destiny. That’s right. I said it. We used to think that once your genetic code was expressed in early development that was it for life. We now know that DNA expression is always changing and environmental factors such as diet have a huge impact. This field of study is called epigenetics. No, we cannot change the color of our eyes but we can change the way in which genes are expressed throughout our lifetime. DNA contains molecular tags (methyl groups) that instruct genes to be active or inactive. A great example of how gene expression works is the production of the digestive enzyme, lactase. The more milk you consume, the more lactate your body will generate to digest dairy foods. The gene for lactate is activated and up-regulated and the expression of lactate increases.
Epigenetics also has the potential to impact cancer prevention. We already know that eating vegetables has a number of health benefits. Well, add healthy DNA to the list! A 2010 Norwegian study showed that consuming sulforaphane rich vegetables, like broccoli, optimized the body’s cancer defenses by turning on tumor inhibitor genes. Remember, your epigenome is multi-generational and inheritable. This means that the type of diet you consume will impact the genetic profile of your children AND your great grandchildren. If your grandmother smoked too many cigarettes or ate too much sugar you could be at an increased risk for certain diseases.
Genes very rarely cause disease, however, the way your DNA influences disease outcome is a very interesting topic. While your DNA may make you more susceptible to a disease, the decisions you make have a greater impact. Let’s take the well known BRCA1 gene as an example. The BRCA1 gene provides instructions for transcribing tumor suppressor genes, which protect you against cancer cells. A common misunderstanding is that if you have the BRCA1 gene you will inevitably get cancer. Not true! However, a mutation in the BRCA1 gene puts you at a higher risk for developing cancer than others. If you have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene take extra care of your body and consume lots of antioxidants to protect your cells.
Environmental Toxicity, Heavy Metals and Chemicals
Do you ever wonder why you find yourself weirdly enjoying the smell of a chemical? Our cells love chemicals and their accumulation over time can cause serious illness. Heavy metals disrupt function of vital organs and displace nutritional minerals. When minerals are low in the body and heavy metals are present, the body will utilize the metals in chemical reactions. For example, when there is a low amount of calcium available in the body, the bones absorb lead. Lead may also replace iron, magnesium and other vital minerals in the brain, causing mental issues. When the body is low in zinc, the metal, cadmium will replace zinc in reproductive organs leading to reduced fertility in men and women. Arsenic can inactivate over 200 enzymes and replace phosphate in many biochemical pathways. As you can see heavy metals mean serious business.
Because we live in an urban environment we are constantly exposed to anthropogenic sources of metals. There are 200,000 man-made chemicals in the environment that were not present 100 years ago! While industrial population is a large contributor to heavy metal toxicity, metals can be found in our food, water, vaccines, and our medicine! For most individuals, diet is the largest source of exposure. Even certified organic food is not safe from heavy metals! Not to mention the CDC frequently shifts their recommendation for levels of safe consumption of mercury. How about zero as a safe level?
Heavy metals and other chemicals play a central role in chronic diseases, including Alzheimer, Dementia, Asthma, Fibromyalgia and ALS. Most of these diseases are termed, “idiopathic” meaning they have no known cause. It became clear to me that many of these diseases develop due to heavy metal toxicity. I’ve had plenty of clients who are plumbers, construction workers and electricians who decided to quit their jobs due to exposure of heavy metals, but they are not the only ones at risk. We must be aware of the heavy metals in the urban environment and start eliminating them from our life. The first thing you can do to avoid heavy metals is stay away from food preservatives such as sodium nitrites and MSG. Next, drink good, clean water. Avoid pesticides from batteries, plastics and dyes. Be aware of exposure to metals in dental work. We will discuss more about heavy metals detoxing in the future!
Stress is an integral part of our daily lives. Even our own thoughts can cause stress. I’m sure you’ve heard that too much stress is bad for the body. That is an understatement. The cumulative physiological effects of stress are devastating; elevated blood sugar, immune system suppression, hormone disruption, compromised digestive function, sleep disturbances, weight gain, etc. The relationship between stress and chronic disease is a complex one but it starts with the suppression of the immune system and the continual release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Let’s define the term, stress and break down the physiology…
Stress refers to what happens when an organism fails to respond appropriately to a threat resulting in biological changes that could increase the risk of illness. Some stress can be beneficial. Short-term stress enhances the immune system, however, chronic stress will ultimately manifest in illness. Your body reacts to stress by stimulating the production of corticosteroids, primarily cortisol, the primary “stress hormone”. Another hormone is also released, called Vasopressin, which constricts the blood vessels and raises your blood pressure. Your blood pressure needs to be higher in times of stress because your tissues need more oxygen and nutrients, just in case you have to run from a tiger!
Cortisol has many functions in the body but its primary targets are metabolic. By countering insulin’s effects and promoting glucose production in the liver, cortisol tightly regulates the amount of glucose circulating in the blood. When you are stressed there is a need for high amounts of available glucose in the blood because glucose is easy and fast to break down for energy. That is why high levels of cortisol creates insulin resistance and can lead to diabetes. So for all those who want to lose weight, de-stress your body! High cortisol levels also suppresses the immune system. Cortisol prevents T-lymphocyte cells from proliferating and stifles inflammation due to inhibition of histamine release. These processes can render individuals vulnerable to infection.
Elevated blood pressure, elevated glucose levels, inflammation suppression… all of these reactions are beneficial when you are being chased by a tiger but these reactions do not have much use in our daily lives. Start by eliminating environmental stresses from you life, like chemical products and processed foods. Emotional stress is more difficult to regulate. The good news is that we are in control of how we live our daily lives. Practice deep breathing and put a smile on your face and you’ll find that your body will be a lot less stressed.
Chronic disease develops from a combination of causes, never just one. Remember, all responses from your body are intelligent. Learn to listen to and to trust your body. Start by loving yourself and you’ll find that you’ll heal from chronic disease much faster!