Have you ever pondered the root cause of disease?
There are four major contributors to any illness, whether we are talking about autoimmune disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or even cancer. These four contributors are diet, stress, pathogens, and toxins. Each one of these plays a pivotal role in creating an environment where illness can take hold and flourish.
Let me explain using a dear friend as an example. At the age of 39 my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. As you may know, this is too young to have begun having annual mammography screenings. At the time, the recommendation for screenings began at age 40, now that recommendation is 45 years old.
Her diet included lots of animal protein, several cups of fully caffeinated coffee per day, sugar at every meal some days and in between “pick ups” throughout the day as well, and processed food “products”. She ate few fruits and even less vegetables. Like many Americans can relate to, it was a struggle to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The reason why she needed so many sugary “pick-me-ups” during the day was because her blood sugar kept fluctuating. It would spike with the sugary and processed meals and snacks, and fall about an hour later creating a vicious cycle and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance and elevated insulin in general, are hallmark criteria for developing cancer. Sugar feeds cancer, as it is a cancer cell’s preferred energy source. This is why doctors give patients a glucose solution to drink before having a scan. The cells take up the sugar and light up on the radiograph.
Stress was rampant in her life. She had problems with family members, at work, and at home. There had been an incident in my friend’s life that had caused her much grief and the rest of her family expected her to sweep all her hurt and ache under the rug and “move on”. The incident had created a deep wound within her that needed to be addressed so that forgiveness and healing could begin to take place. Emotional wounds and negativity are toxic to our bodies and manifest in very real and physical ways. It was no secret why the cancer had manifested in her breast as opposed to elsewhere in her body. The painful incident that she couldn’t move past involved her son and her ability to be a nurturing mother. On the same point, her son was a high energy, spirited boy who had attention issues, fought with everyone around him, and demanded a great deal of energy from my friend. Her son was difficult to manage and my friend really struggled with her confidence as a mother and whether she had the skills to shepherd this child into adolescence and adulthood successfully. At home, her children fought between themselves incessantly and her husband contributed by yelling and fighting with them and her as well. Unfortunately, my friend did not know about or make time for stress management techniques.
Pathogens and infections caused by them are the third pillar of illness. My friend had struggled with her health for many years before her diagnosis but thought it was just a part of life. She had noticed three years before her diagnosis that she was having trouble with her digestion any time she ate gluten. She started experimenting with going gluten free. One summer she decided not to eat gluten the entire week and then on Friday night would have some bread during her dinner meal. She noticed she would spend several hours after her meal dealing with bloating, gas, and excruciating abdominal pain, all symptoms of gluten intolerance and/or Celiac Disease. She had been tested for Celiac, but the results were inconclusive. The gold standard being intestinal biopsy, you have to have been eating gluten-rich foods for at least six weeks prior to biopsy. The treatment of course, is avoiding gluten. So for my friend, who had already been avoiding gluten to a great degree, she decided not to continue eating something that made her feel pain and forego the biopsy in favor of a gluten-free lifestyle. But she wasn’t strict about it and had many gluten exposures. Inflammation in the gut leaves us vulnerable to maldigestion and malabsorption issues, leading to nutritional deficiencies and an inability to sustain health.
In addition, she had been diagnosed with a Helicobacter pylori infection. This of course had been treated with a double dose of antibiotics, which decimated her microbiome (the bacteria that live in our gut that help us make neurotransmitters, vitamins, immune cells, and substances that keep our gut healthy). This is a perfect storm for illness to thrive in. In combination with the continued gluten exposure, sugar, which feeds bad bacteria, and stress, her immune system was weakened allowing for pathogens and their subsequent infections to wreak havoc on her body.
The final aspect of the illness puzzle is toxins. Our toxic burden plays a huge factor in how well our immune system can protect us from illness. My friend was smart to this aspect and had already eliminated some toxins from her life (like those in her shampoo and conditioner, but not the rest of repertoire). Toxins overwhelm our bodies if we cannot safely get rid of them through our body’s natural detoxification system, which includes the liver and kidneys.
Why would we not be able to detoxify toxins, you may ask. The answer goes back to the gut. The liver needs many nutrients, vitamins, and proteins to make the detox engine work properly. If your body cannot digest and absorb the nutrients it needs from the foods you eat, detoxification will be compromised. The toxins you don’t excrete get stored in your fat cells and when you exercise and shed weight, those fat cells release the stored toxins back into the body for a second or third go around damaging cells, tissues, and organs in the process.
My friend had been training all summer to run her first half marathon. She thought she was a picture of health. Her diagnosis came just a mere three weeks before the big race. But she did have a warning a few months before that something wasn’t right. She had run another race where they threw colored cornstarch on participants while they were running. It was a fun race, but she suffered an allergic reaction, a rash that covered all of her body and lasted three days after the race.
Needless to say, when I started working with my friend to clean up her diet and lifestyle, we had a lot of work to do. I hope you can see how the four pillars of illness can do damage to your health and the need to control for these things in your life.