Getting to the Root of Chronic Illness: Part VI

Click on these links to read the previous articles in the series:

Part I      Part II      Part III      Part IV      Part V

In part V of this series, we focused solely on the health, or lack thereof, of the gut. As Hippocrates so progressively pointed out during his his time, the gut is the absolute be-all-end-all of health—it’s where disease begins and ends. Without a healthy gut, many life-supporting bodily functions are greatly compromised.  For starters, you cannot digest your food properly, which then inhibits the conversion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into amino acids, neurotransmitters, hormones, and energy.  

You also cannot ward off harmful pathogens that may hitch a ride in your water and food and you cannot maintain healthy blood sugar or weight.  Moreover,  you cannot prevent bi-products of gut microbes and undigested food particles from leaking across the a leaky gut lining into the blood supply; triggering the immune system, causing histamine- and cytokine-induced inflammatory responses, and eventually debilitating diagnosable illnesses.

Healing the gut is the key to restoring your health!

Over the years, I was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Disorder, Interstitial Cystitis, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Lyme Disease, Parasitic Liver Disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue/Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Mold Illness, and even highly suspected Multiple Sclerosis at one point.   I wholeheartedly believe today that if I had made gut health (and stress reduction!) a priority from the beginning, I would not have accumulated so many diagnoses and become so terribly ill. I believe this is true for all my clients, and you as well.

In this installment, I’m going to delve deeper into the effects of impaired digestion and gut inflammation on the whole body, and also discuss how toxins and oxidative stress make matters worse.   The points I will be focusing on are as follows:

#10 Macronutrient, Vitamin, and Mineral Deficiencies

#11 High Toxic Burden/Oxidative Stress

One of the most devastating effects of an inflamed, leaky gut is the malabsorption of food, resulting in macronutrient and micronutrient (what we call “vitamin and mineral”) deficiencies at the level of each individual cell. When cells can’t perform the jobs they’re intended to because they lack the nutrients they need, organ systems become impaired and various problematic symptoms develop in the body—after all, every organ system in the body is made up of cells! In addition, chronic illness goes hand in hand with high toxic burden and oxidative stress, which fuels the inflammatory cascade even further.  Both prevent cells from getting the necessary nutrients for optimal function and cause our bodies to become overburdened, sluggish, and sick! 

It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What You Can Digest and Absorb!

Our cells depend on macronutrients and micronutrients in order to carry out the millions of biochemical reactions that take place in our bodies each and every moment we are alive. Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—essentially, the food groups we eat every day.

The protein we eat in our daily diets supplies us with amino acids, which our bodies use to make neurotransmitters. In order to have optimal and balanced levels of neurotransmitters, which allow us to have good mental and emotional health, we need a healthy gut that can assimilate protein into usable amino acids. Some examples of protein are meats, fish, beans, and nuts.

The healthy fat we consume in our diets is our primary source of cholesterol, one of the building blocks of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Fatty foods in general, such as avocado, coconut, and olive oil, require extra time and effort to digest. For the body to convert dietary fats into usable essential fatty acids for hormone synthesis, our digestion and overall gut function need to be in tip-top shape. 

And finally, the carbohydrates we eat are broken down into glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. Optimal digestion is required in order for carbs to be converted into usable glucose. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, beans, non-gluten whole grains (although I am not a big of fan of them and grains are not right for everyone!) and lentils. 

See the pattern here? If the gut is inflamed, not in good working condition, and the lining is “leaky,” your body can’t actually absorb your food and use it for its intended purpose.

Furthermore, if foods are not properly digested and broken down, they ferment or putrefy in the gut and become a food source for undesirable and pathogenic microbes to set up camp. 

Both undigested carbohydrates and pathogenic microorganisms will produce neurotoxic gases such as ammonia or hydrogen, or methane. These toxic gases then make their way across a compromised gut lining into the body, where they can cause one to feel run down, achy, and generally unwell.

Many clients that come to me have done a wonderful job making many healthy dietary changes, but unfortunately they are not absorbing even half of what they’re eating—and in that sense, even a healthy diet can be toxic. What we don’t digest and assimilate will harm us as it festers in the intestines.

Vitamins and Minerals: Essential Food for Your Cells

Micronutrients, on the other hand, consist of the essential vitamins and minerals found in these foods, such as selenium, iodine, zinc, potassium, calcium, vitamins A, C, D, E, K, the B-complex vitamins, and more.

Magnesium, considered the “master mineral”, is required for every biochemical process that takes place in the body, either directly or indirectly, and it’s often the first mineral to become depleted in someone under chronic stress. Between the high-stress, fast-paced lifestyle in our modern world and soil that has been depleted of magnesium because of current agricultural practices, I would venture to say that everyone is deficient in it to some degree, with chronic illness sufferers being extremely deficient.

All systems in the body require particular vitamins and minerals in order to carry out their functions. For example, methylation is a metabolic process that takes place in every cell of our bodies, millions of times each minute, and it directly influences every biochemical process that occurs.

Methylation paves the way for detoxification, cellular repair, immune function, neurotransmitter production, and many other critical functions in your body.

But without adequate levels of B12 and folate, among other nutrients, you can’t properly methylate, which spells trouble for all of these systems.

Another example is the Krebs cycle, which is the process where the body makes energy from foods. The Krebs cycle requires nutrients such as CoQ10  to do its job.  It also needs dietary glucose, which is converted into Acetyl Co-enzyme A, an essential molecule for energy production. These vital processes work only if you’re breaking down your food well.

Many gut infections can also steal nutrients; for example, parasites love dietary iron, so they’ll eat it and leave none for you (if you have low ferritin, you may have a parasite). Other undesirable gut microbes love to steal B-vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins, all while producing toxic byproducts that make you sick.

Why I Don’t Advise Buying/Taking Tons of Supplements

Many people think that heading to the grocery store and grabbing a bottle of vitamins off the shelf will replace whatever they’re deficient in, but it’s not so simple. Firstly, a lot of supplements are made of synthetic components that are not in their bio-available state, which at best means the nutrients won’t make their way into cells—and you’ll just pee them out! At worst, they can actually harm you.

A great example is folic acid, the synthetic version of folate. Many people cannot turn folic acid into folate because of MTHFR gene mutations that are expressing themselves due to epigenetic influences.   So, by taking it, all it does is clog up folate receptor sites on cells, preventing real folate from being absorbed.  Folate deficiency can result in anemia, chronic fatigue, poor digestion, unstable moods, immune dysfunction, and the list goes on!

Bottom line: We’re meant to be getting the bulk of our nutrients from food, not supplements. I’m a big proponent of supplementing a healthy diet and using them in healing protocols —but only if you’re going to address the underlying causes that are causing the deficiencies in the first place. In my work with clients, I use highly bio-available, targeted supplements for three purposes:

  • to support the body with nutrients while we work on root causes;
  • to substitute what the body may be lacking, such as adequate digestive enzymes;
  • and to stimulate organ systems, such as adaptogenic herbs that stimulate or soothe the adrenal glands.

The ultimate goal, however, must be to repair the gut so you can once again get the majority of your nutrients from food sources.

Like most people, I was culturally programmed to view the body in a reductionist way, reach for the nearest remedy, or seek out a “diagnosis” the instant my body began sending whispers of discomfort. I also had the mindset that if I was low in a nutrient, I could fix it by simply taking a supplement. I surely did not understand the concept of healing the gut and nourishing the organ systems to correct deficiencies. By doing this, I failed to address the imbalances in my body that were creating dis-ease at the cellular level. This, unfortunately, drove dysfunction in even deeper, creating the framework for a complex web of health challenges that I continue to unravel to this day.    

Toxins and Oxidative Stress: Burdens on Your Body

A downstream result of all the upstream issues mentioned above is increased toxic burden on the body, with ultimately leads to oxidative stress. When our cells don’t get the nutrients they need to carry out detoxification, support the immune system, and produce energy, oxidative stress sets in—and it’s the precursor to every single disease, from depression, to cancer, to Parkinson’s disease, to ALS. Oxidative stress occurs when too many circulating toxins overwhelm the body’s antioxidant system leading to a large number of circulating free radicals.

Free radicals are highly reactive oxygen molecules that can wreak havoc on the body by damaging cell membranes, disrupting mitochondrial function, and binding to DNA, causing the genes of health to turn off and the genes of disease to turn on. 

When the body’s ability to clear and neutralize toxins with antioxidants becomes overwhelmed, a similar chain of events happens to our cells; they dry up, become impermeable to necessary nutrients, they can no longer produce energy, and eventually die.  A natural repercussion of this phenomenon effect will be diminishing energy levels and rising inflammatory markers. 

To help my clients better understand the long-term effects of circulating free radicals, I often describe them as unruly teenagers on a Saturday night with no parents around and the perfect house for a party.   Another analogy would be to consider what happens to an apple that has been cut in half and left out on the counter top. In time, the apple will turn brown, develop wrinkles, possibly become moldy, and eventually totally rot away. 

When it comes to targeting oxidative stress, I often bring in important antioxidants such as vitamin C, selenium, glutathione, vitamin E, and others to support the body. However, the only approach that will truly correct oxidative stress and restore you to vibrant health is to clean up the gut, heal the gut lining, address chronic infections, and reduce toxic burden by eating organic, drinking out of glass bottles rather than plastic, filtering your water, dry brushing, rebounding, sweating regularly, and other practices.

The Stress-Pain-Illness Connection: Not to Be Ignored! 

Changing your relationship to stress is another key component when it comes to lowering oxidative stress, as oxidation increases under chronic psychological stress. Life will always bring stress our way, and it’s the choices we make and the perspectives we choose to have that can make all the difference in how well we manage it.  Overloading your schedule, keeping toxic, self-abusive thoughts, engaging in perfectionism, and remaining in dysfunctional relationships are surefire ways to stay stuck in fight or flight mode and prevent your body from healing.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I will explain more about what happens when cells begin to die more than they are regenerating and the genes of illness are switched on.

Cheers to Restoring Your Health and Reclaiming Your Life!