Written by Dr Ese Stacey
MBBS, FFSEM(UK), MSc (Sports Med),
The traditional model of how to tackle ill health takes a disease, condition or symptom and tries to find a treatment for it.
For example, if you have a headache you take a headache pill.
If you have diabetes you take medication to lower your blood sugar.
If you have high cholesterol you take medication to lower your cholesterol.
If you have high blood pressure you take medication to lower the blood pressure.
I could continue but I think you get the picture.
In general this taking of medication may be a short lived affair for something like a headache but for chronic disease, this will mean life-long treatment. Conventional medicine often means that we ‘manage’ the condition with daily medication.
But how about if we take a different approach to understanding disease or dis-ease?
When we are young our bodies are able to cope with almost everything we throw at it. Colds are easily dispensed with and if we get injured we quickly recover. As we get older we find that the cold may last a few days longer and the injuries take longer to heal.
Why is this? Just old age? Well what is old age? What is ‘aging’ and why do we suddenly start to get the diseases of old age such as arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure. Why can’t we lose those extra pounds in weight and why do we ache and feel tired in the mornings?
Chronic ill health, whether that be a chronic injury or a chronic condition represents the body’s inability to heal itself. Another way of looking at it, is to say that your actual diagnosis (or condition) is a symptom of the body being unable to correct the (metabolic) imbalance, imposed upon it by some external or internal factor. The Hierarchy of Health will explain this concept in more detail.
Toxins can influence the way your DNA functions.
At the centre of the wheel is you, represented by your DNA.
Science has shown that the DNA actually vibrates. Yes! Really!
The vibrations can be picked up using equipment such as the Raman spectroscope. When your DNA vibrates at its optimal frequency, you remain in good health.
Toxic substances can attach to parts of our DNA and prevent proper function. These substances are sometimes called ‘DNA adducts’.
The first layer of The Hierarchy of Health is the blue layer or the Toxin Layer. These toxins can be from metals, chemicals and moulds but can also be from toxic emotional or subconscious stress.
Interestingly, electromagnetic frequency (EMF) from devices such as mobile phones also have the potential to affect DNA function.
We live in an increasingly toxic world. Whilst it’s good to focus on eating healthily, we must also be aware that our environment, as well as the food we eat, may result in a buildup of toxic substances that our body may find difficult to deal with.
The acute ingestion of high levels of toxins is well recognised to cause adverse effects to health. However, the effects of repeated exposure to lower levels of toxins is not often considered as a cause of ill health.
Chronic exposure to toxic substances adds to the body’s ‘toxic inflammatory burden’.
When thinking about environmental chemicals, we typically think about toxins in the air such as diesel and petrol fumes. This is not incorrect, however, the toxic substances we are exposed to in our homes may be equally damaging.
The substances we use regularly are often the worst culprits such as perfumes, soaps and shampoos. Silicon contained in many everyday toiletries and hand washes can build up over time and disrupt normal cellular function.
Herbicides and pesticides can harm the gut microbes and therefore increase the toxic inflammatory burden. Heavy metals displace the normal trace mineral levels of zinc, copper, magnesium and manganese and therefore also hinder normal cell function. Heavy metals may come from poor air and water but also may come from tooth amalgams, from stainless steel pans (nickel) and personal care products (deodorants, shampoos).
Toxic exposure can have occurred many many years in the past, as some toxic substances will be deposited in the body’s tissues, organs and bone. Many are deposited in fatty tissues.
Certain individuals may be exposed to moulds in their home, work or from food.
Again, acute high levels of exposure can cause acute ill health with symptoms affecting almost every system of the body.
Low levels of exposure, over a long period of time, may not be recognised as a cause of ill health but will add to the body’s toxic stress.
Mould in the air, from damp houses or workplaces may give allergic symptoms.
However the toxins, called ‘mycotoxins’ produced by moulds can, like heavy metals, sit in the tissues and organs and disrupt normal function.
Fungal contamination of certain foods such as grains, cereals, nuts, pulses, coffee and fruit has been reported in literature.
Animals that eat contaminated grain can produce mycotoxins in their milk.
Products such as breads produced from contaminated grains will also show levels of mycotoxin.
Eating grass fed meat, washing fruit in apple cider vinegar to remove moulds and being wise about grain consumption may help to reduce overall toxic inflammatory load from ingested moulds.
The gut and its microbes are the body’s first line of defence.
We exist in a complex two-way relationship with our gut microbes (microbiota).
The microbiota help us to digest food, provide valuable nutrients, detoxify from harmful substances and play an important role in helping to maintain a strong immune system. In fact, the gut is an immune organ rather like the spleen.
Good gut health is dependent on a positive balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes.
When this balance is lost, a situation called ‘gut dysbiosis’, occurs.
The imbalance in gut microbes causes a disruption in the gut barrier, allowing passage of foreign substances including toxins, food (e.g gluten) and infections.
The immune system attempts to respond to the ‘invasion’ of unfamiliar material.
It will cope for a while but eventually immune dysfunction may result.
We are then prone to inflammation. This inflammation is usually low-grade, chronic and silent.
This means that in the early stages there may be no symptoms.
However, it is chronic low-grade inflammation that has been shown to be the trigger for most chronic diseases such as obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Low-grade inflammation can switch on and off your genes.
The mechanism for the ‘switch’ is called epigenetics.
So for example, we know that just because you carry the genes for a particular condition, you will not necessarily get that condition.
Chronic low-grade inflammation may flip the switch to give you the disease or condition.
This means that gut function and the balance of microbiota in your gut can determine the levels of low-grade inflammation, which in turn can affect your genetics.
This means that gut health is important for almost all health conditions.
Sugars feed ‘bad’ microbes.
‘Bad’ microbes promote inflammation and inflammation leads to disease.
Which sugars should you avoid to avoid this outcome?
Well, let’s see! I regularly ask my patients about their diet.
There are certain foods that come up all the time as what I call, Culprit inflammation-causing foods.
Cereals and grains, including oats, sweet fruit and fruit juice come top of this list.
Yes! fruit! Yes! Oats!
It can be difficult to ‘stomach’ (forgive the pun) that your favourite ‘healthy’ foods can be inflammation-causing.
You may get away with eating these foods if you have a healthy gut microbiota balance.
If you don’t have a healthy gut microbiota balance i.e. you have ‘gut dysbiosis’ (‘leaky gut’), eating the Culprit foods may be contributing to inflammation.
It can be a good idea to view your gut microbe family like trees. The ‘good’ microbes represent one tree and the ‘bad’ microbes represent another tree.
Both trees can eat sugars.
If you start off with a very big ‘good’ tree and a small ‘bad’ tree and you feed your gut with sugar, the ‘good’ tree will grow more than the ‘bad’ tree. So, no problem there.
However, if you start off with gut dysbiosis i.e. a very big ‘bad’ tree and a small ‘good’ tree and you feed your gut sugar, it’s the ‘bad’ tree that’s going to grow the most.
As mentioned previously, cereals, grains, nuts, milk and sweet fruit may also contribute to inflammation because of associated moulds and pesticides.
Immunity is often thought of in terms of fighting infection.
This is correct but only represents part of the story.
The immune cells also deal with inflammation.
This combined function of fighting infection and dealing with inflammation gives us the 3rd layer in The Hierarchy of Health - the Immunity Layer.
Your immune cells are rather like scavengers that look for ‘trouble’ around your body such as injury, infection or toxins and deal with it to keep you fresh.
A sustained effort over many years, to deal with ‘trouble’ can harm the immune cells and lead to chronic low-grade inflammation.
I’m sure you’re getting the picture now.
Low-grade chronic inflammation is the cause of most, if not all, of the diseases associated with old age.
Cancer happens when there is a failure to regenerate new cells adequately.
Your immune cells would normally pick up on abnormal regeneration and deal with the ‘rogue’ cells.
However when immune cells are poorly functioning, as a result of low-grade chronic inflammation, this can allow the ‘rogue’ cells to run amok which is when cancer presents itself.
Deficiency of essential nutrients will cause the body to ‘decompensate’.
This is when disease happens.
The body will try to deal with inflammation and infection by using the resources it has to hand such as vitamins, minerals and other specialised molecules.
However, after a period of time, these resources get used up and the body becomes deficient and so creating the 4th or beige layer called the Deficiency Layer.
In my practice B vitamins such as B1, 2, 5, 6 and 12 are commonly depleted.
Red cell magnesium levels may also be low.
Coenzyme Q10 and zinc may also be low.
As well as the depletion of vitamins and minerals, the endocrine systems may also be overwhelmed giving symptoms of fatigue.
This may be associated with dysfunction of the adrenal or thyroid glands. Most people understand that vitamin D is important for bone health. It is also commonly known that vitamin D levels rise with adequate sunlight.
However, what is poorly understood is why people even in hot countries who are being exposed to adequate sunlight can have a low vitamin D levels.
One possible reason may be that vitamin D also functions like a steroid and responds to inflammation.
It may be that the ‘epidemic’ of low vitamin D is related to the ‘epidemic’ of chronic low-grade inflammation.
Symptoms happen after the previous 4 levels have been compromised.
Chronic inflammation and deficiency will eventually trigger, the 5th or Symptom Layer.
Chronic diseases are therefore symptoms of the previous 4 layers of the wheel.
Getting help for the Symptom Layer should involve dealing with the deepest layers and not just the Symptom Layer.
For example, you may have a diagnosis of osteoporosis. Your doctor may prescribe calcium and vitamin D (dealing with the Deficiency Layer) or Bisphosphonates to control bone turnover (dealing directly with the Symptom Layer).
These treatments deal with the outermost layers but do not deal with the inner layers.
Our increasingly toxic environments mean that chronic low-grade inflammation will compromise the body’s ability to deal with the disease.
Medications and treatments aimed at these layers may also be less effective.
All the little factors that cause inflammation such as sugars and environmental toxins must be weighed up against inflammation-combating factors such as low sugar, toxin free foods, exercise, positive emotional health etc.
If the body receives an ‘insult’ such as a highly stressful event e.g. an operation, a relationship breakup, work stress, loss or bereavement, the internal (metabolic) stress may tip the body into net inflammation.
If the inflammation-combating factors are not strong and the background levels of inflammation-causing factors are high, the body may find it difficult to find its equilibrium again.
The net inflammation will then tip you into ill health.
Your particular assortment of genes will determine the type of ill health you get, as the inflammation acts as an epigenetic switch.
Effective re-balancing of your system will need a Whole-Person Approach, which looks at the deeper layers as well as the most superficial layers.