In the last few years there has been a growing consensus among medical researchers and front line health care providers that all chronic and autoimmune diseases share some very important similarities. This new medical model suggests that there are several primary components to all chronic disease. By learning about these fundamental components you can do a lot to improve your health by investigating each of these aspects of illness in your own life. If you feel that one or more of these components is limiting your ability to heal what follows may and by making decisive choices to enjoy a life of vitality that is free from disease.
The nine components that determine the progress of disease are external triggers, central nervous system distress, metabolic instability, incomplete detoxification, immune system dysregulation, chronic inflammation, gene expression, epigenetic dysfunction and uncooperative consciousness. Some of these are common sense and some are a bit technical. I hope this inspires you to learn more about your health and gives you some hope if you are feeling out of options. If you want to learn more about this there is a link to an article on my website.
External triggers include environmental toxins, food allergies, infections, drugs (recreational and pharmaceutical) and, believe it or not, the weather. Most external triggers cause inflammation and some central nervous system distress. Depending on the trigger, your symptoms and your medical history may tell you that your liver is overloaded, your immune system is highly reactive or barely doing its job or you may find that your hormonal metabolism is strained. I estimate that external triggers are involved in 70% of chronic adult illnesses and in 80% of children with chronic poor health. Luckily, removing the triggers makes a huge difference in most people’s lives and is as common sense as it gets.
Central Nervous System Distress
Central nervous system (CNS) distress is involved in over 80% of the processes of all chronic and autoimmune disease. Your CNS includes your brain, muscles and nerves as well as all of the governing hormones that regulate your metabolism. The most stressful things for your CNS are emotional trauma, physical pain, obesity, substance abuse, malnutrition and immune system dysfunction. When your CNS is in distress you are more likely to react to external triggers and more likely to have chronic inflammation. If there ever was a design flaw to human beings it would be how sensitive we are to chronic stress. Now is the time to investigate how much stress you are carrying in your body and your life. Sometimes each of us has to do a bit of spring cleaning with the stress in our lives and learn some tools to relax deeper and feel better about ourselves.
Metabolic instability is the most common health concern that I see in clinical practice. At a certain point of CNS distress the combination of physical, mental and emotional stress puts a huge strain on your adrenalin metabolism, which regulates your ‘fight or flight’ responses and certain aspects of inflammation. The North American diet, which is too high in overheated saturated fats and an excess of refined carbohydrates over-stimulates your insulin metabolism and inflammatory metabolism, which affects your cravings, energy levels, weight, moods and ability to repair injuries.
The overuse of stimulants and intoxicants, which are often used to compensate for stress, makes deep relaxation, proper sleep and healthy choices more and more difficult. This eventually disturbs your serotonin metabolism, which greatly affects your moods and can cause insomnia, increases the urgency of your cravings and reduces your threshold for pain. When any or all of these hormonal regulating systems has been stressed for a few months, your thyroid metabolism can be thrown out of balance, becoming either overactive or under active. The thyroid gland regulates the demand for, and use of, energy in your whole body.
When any or all of these metabolic regulating systems are out of balance it becomes very difficult to tell which is the most affected. They share many of the same symptoms so doctors wanting to make a precise diagnosis can become very confused. It is my opinion that it is almost impossible to try and treat a person for any specific diagnosis while their metabolism is this unstable, even with blood tests. I have tried and chased many people’s symptoms all over their internal organs, leaving both of us a little worse for wear. Therefore, stabilizing a person’s metabolism is always my first step. Once this is accomplished, many of their symptoms have been relieved and we can both get to the root of their health challenges.
Incomplete detoxification is another of the most common things I see in my practice. Your body has an amazing ability to handle toxins; digesting your food, breathing and exercising all create toxins that your body, especially your liver, has to break down into something safe. Our environment is becoming very toxic; at present there are over 70,000 industrially produced chemicals out there that your liver has to sort out, in one way or another. Your diet is likely to be toxic in two ways; it is probably full of additives, preservatives, colorings and industrial chemicals that are very new to your liver. As well, your diet may be very low in the essential nutrients that your liver needs to detoxify the rest of your body. This is especially true if your metabolism is unstable, because your body will produce more internal toxins. The process of detoxification that occurs in your liver is amazing and also a little confusing, so I will start with some basics. You will learn all about the details throughout the book.
Your valiant and hardworking liver has to perform two very specific processes that have to co-operate very precisely for your liver to do its job properly. The first process takes toxins, bacteria, digestive nutrients and wastes and certain kinds of fats and breaks them down or changes them chemically. During this process your liver actually produces some of the most dangerous substances imaginable, called free radicals. Free radicals are like little chemical vandals that can circulate through your body, damaging your blood vessels and your cell membranes, as well as making your immune system over-reactive. This situation is called oxidative stress and has been linked to almost every chronic disease.
The second process of liver function can usually take all of the byproducts of the first process and make them inert or non-reactive and water soluble, which makes them safe to pass through your elimination organs. This process requires a lot of specific and hard to store nutrients. If your diet or your digestion is poor then your second phase may have insufficient nutrients to function properly.
The trick with this two part process, or bi-phasal detoxification system is that both phases, must operate at the same pace. Most people that I have met have dietary (or other) habits that speed up the first phase and slow down the second phase of detoxification. This means that the rest of your body has to deal with the still reactive waste products of phase one detoxification plus several types of free radicals, causing more inflammation and even more free radicals. As you can see this is very important to your health so it is a major focus of the cleansing process.
Immune System Dysregulation
Just like your liver, your immune system is very amazing and very complex. In fact, your liver is a big part of your immune system. I will describe the specific aspects of your immune system as they come up throughout the book, but for now I would like to introduce you to what I call the Seven Layers of Immunity.
The First Layer of your immune system is your elbow. That’s right, every time you bend your elbow and put something in your mouth you may be affecting your immune system. You can protect this layer by separating what is good for you and what is not.
The Second Layer is the process of digestive assimilation. This starts with how well you chew your food, how much stomach acid and how many digestive enzymes you produce, and whether or not your bowels and body are infested with bacteria and yeast. We will learn about healing this layer, and the rest of your immune system throughout the program. The Third Layer is the integrity of your mucosal membrane. This is the membrane on the surface of your stomach and intestines which keeps your poop out of your bloodstream and keeps you from digesting yourself (usually). It is the point at which your food enters your bloodstream and is possibly the most important layer of your immune system.
The Fourth Layer of your immune system is the bi-phasal detoxification system of your liver. As I described above, it can produce inflammatory substances, free radicals and other irritants that can go anywhere in your body and cause the production of more free radicals.
The Fifth Layer is your elimination organs which is the largest part of your immune system. Your liver often releases toxins into your lymphatic system, kidneys, skin and Gall bladder when it’s bi-phasal detoxification processes are out of balance. The Rehabilitation of your elimination organs takes quite some time and can only realistically happen when the first four layers are working properly.
The Sixth Layer of your immune system is your individual cells, your trillions of little cells which are often wondering where all the toxins and erratic hormones are coming from. When cellular immunity is compromised you can develop some very serious problems like rapid aging, degenerative diseases and even cancer.
The Seventh Layer of your immune system is you, the person who has chosen to embark on this very personal healing journey. I have chosen to write this manual as if I am talking directly to you, and I hope that this will help you learn more about your health and help you make the best choices towards improving it.
Immune system dysregulation can happen at any one of the seven layers of you immune system. The most common kinds of dysregulation are hypo-immunity and hyper-immunity. Hypo-immunity means that your immune system isn’t strong enough to take care of front line defense which means you will catch whatever is going around. It also means you are more prone infections, especially in your gut. Hyper-immunity means that your immune system is over reacting to everything that it comes into contact with. This creates the conditions for allergies, food sensitivities and unexpected weight gain or weight loss. Then there is auto-immunity. This can look like a strange combination of hypo and hyper-immunity and can eventually make your immune system attack your own tissues, especially membranes. At present auto-immune disease is rising at an alarming rate and is a particular focus of this book.
Chronic inflammation is easily the most important place to start in improving your health. Inflammation is a natural part of day to day life and a natural part of any illness process. Inflammation helps your body fight infections, begins the wound healing process and protects you from things like the common cold. Chronic inflammation produces immune system substances called Interleukins that tend to promote more CNS distress and increase your body’s reaction to external triggers. Inflammation can also effect gene expression and epigenetic dysfunction. This makes chronic inflammation the all time winner for a negative impact on immediate and long term health.
Lowering inflammation lessens both your reaction to external triggers and the amount of CNS distress you carry in your body day-to-day; which, as it turns out, lowers inflammation in your whole body even more. Lowering inflammation can be as simple as avoiding sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods as well as eating a lot more vegetables. As you investigate your relationship with inflammation you will find many opportunities to reduce the inflammation in your body.
Every disease requires that you have the genetic potential or the specific gene to express the disease. If you have the gene for arthritis you may or may not actually get arthritis in your lifetime. Many people live their whole lives with the genes for any number of illnesses which they never actually get. Unfortunately, once the gene for a specific disease is turned on it can never be turned off. It can, however, be turned down. This is a new perspective in medicine and not everyone agrees, but it has been my experience that genetic potential can be turned down by doing everything that you can to stabilize the other components of chronic disease. As a health care provider and as a patient with an autoimmune disease this makes me want to do a happy dance!
Your epigenetic system is made of thousands of enzymes that replicate and repair your DNA. Poor nutrition, chronic stress, chronic inflammation, poor detoxification and an overactive immune system can cause epigenetic dysfunction which can create the conditions for your DNA to express the gene of a disease you may have inherited from your parents and ancestors. Less inflammation, less stress and fewer external triggers will reduce the likelihood of your epigenetic system telling your genes to make any emergency decisions about your health. As it turns out the best thing any of us can do to reduce epigenetic dysfunction is to have a positive attitude, get enough exercise, play more, laugh more and get enough sleep.
From the perception of the Indigenous healing traditions that I am familiar with the greatest challenge most of us have in life, especially in the 21st century, is to make friends with ourselves. The Elders and Medicine People say that if a person cannot change their choices and behaviors while consistently losing their vitality then this person needs a healing. If they do not ask for any help with this need for a healing then all we can do is pray for them and do the best we can to help them do less harm to themselves and their community. That may sound passive but it is based on the experience of some the oldest cultures in the world.
Building and joining your personal health team is admitting you need some or a lot of help. It is also the first step to making consistently positive choices to improve your lifestyle, health and relationship with the gift of this life. Most of us who are living a life that is challenged with a chronic disease, myself included, became chronically ill because of a combination of the above “medical” components of disease as well as a difficulty feeling we deserve the benefits of good health. Or we were convinced by our upbringing and culture that how much money we have or how we look is more important than our wellbeing. We may have spent asking ourselves to make choices and sacrifices that we would never ask of a good friend.
In my personal experience this is the greatest challenge and the source of the deepest healing. Learning to cooperate with myself and consistently make the choices that will create the best conditions for health has been the source of the most life changing insight I have experienced. The opposite is also true. When I get too stressed or take the hurting that comes with living life too personally I sometimes become uncooperative with myself and make choices that are against my health which I end up paying for. Even after twenty years of this journey of healing I still have times when I go back to old habits and beliefs. The voice of shame, control and fatigue says “when will you learn?” The voice of patience and kindness says “I guess it is time to do some more learning and healing”