Getting to the Root of Chronic Illness: Part VII

In part VI of this series, I focused on some of the downstream effects of impaired digestion and gut inflammation. Namely, a leaky, inflamed gut leads to the malabsorption of food, resulting in macronutrient, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies at the level of each individual cell. Remember: When the cells don’t get what they need to perform their vital functions, such as detoxification, cellular repair, neurotransmitter and hormone production, and many other critical processes, we start feeling off, ill, and over time we succumb to chronic illnesses.

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

Part I      Part II      Part III      Part IV     PartV    Part VI

Today, I’m going to be focusing on the following factors that are often part of the complex web of dysfunction in those with chronic health challenges:

  • #12 Sluggish Liver and Impaired Detoxification Pathways
  • #13 Genetic Polymorphisms such as MTHFR That Are Expressing Themselves due to Epigenetic Influences

A Sluggish Liver Spells Trouble! 

One of the integral functions of the body that takes a major hit when you have gut inflammation—and as a result, nutrient deficiencies—is liver detoxification. You can bet that if you have a leaky or inflamed gut, your liver detox pathways are impaired to some degree. That’s because specific nutrients, or cofactors, are required in order for the phases of liver detoxification to occur.

These nutrients are required for the liver to eliminate harmful substances from the body, such as environmental toxins, excess hormones, micro-organisms, heavy metals, pesticides, drug residue, alcohol, and more. Impaired detoxification pathways translate to an inability to process and excrete these toxins. This spells trouble!

Furthermore, gut inflammation and a high toxic burden are two of the epigenetic influences that can cause genetic polymorphisms, such as MTHFR, to express themselves. Just because you may have been born with genetic mutations at MTHFR doesn’t mean you’re destined to become ill. Rather, these genetic “glitches” express themselves when epigenetic factors such as diet, extreme stress, toxic body burden, lack of or excess exercise, drug and alcohol use, toxic environmental exposures and more come into play.  The bad news is that having these mutations does put you at risk of developing certain health complications. The good news is, your diet, gut health, lifestyle, and thoughts without a doubt influence how your genes express—and you can use this to your advantage to keep disease at bay, or recover from whatever chronic disease you’re suffering from!

Detoxification: Emptying Your Cup So It Doesn’t Overflow

In our modern world, we’re assaulted by an unprecedented number of toxic influences each day. Almost everything we come into contact with on a daily basis exposes us to toxins, from our mattresses, which are laden with pounds of flame retardants, to our water supply, which contains traces of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, medications, and microbes such as bacteria and parasites—as well as fluoride, chlorine, and bromine, which, by the way, displace the essential mineral iodine in the body. (And without iodine, the thyroid cannot produce thyroid hormone—so it isn’t any wonder that we have an epidemic of thyroid disease today!)

Your liver is your main organ of detoxification, but it can only filter out so many toxins a day. If you have a plethora of them coming in—and you’re taking in more toxins than your liver has the capacity to get rid of because it’s not able to carry out phase I and phase II detoxification—you’re going to end up with toxic overload. Think of your body like a cup: Each toxin is a drop of liquid that fills the cup. The medication you’re taking is a drop, the plastic bottle you’re drinking from is another drop, the pesticides on the apple you had with lunch is another drop, the chemicals in your makeup are another few drops.  Walk outside your home and breathe in exhaust fumes, add a few more drops. Before you know it, your cup runneth over.  And not in a good way!

In a person with a nutrient dense diet, a healthy lifestyle, an optimally functioning gut, and well-managed stress levels, the liver is typically able to handle and filter out these toxins.  This is because the body is getting all nutrients required for the job.  In a chronically ill person, on the other hand, it’s safe to say this process isn’t being completed. This is why it all comes back to the gut!

Some of the essential nutrients required for Phase I liver detoxification, which transforms fat soluble toxins into water soluble ones so they can be excreted from the body, include B vitamins, vitamins A, C, D3, and E, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Phase II, which renders the toxins less harmful so they can be safely transported out of your cells, requires L-carnitine, N-acetyl-cysteine, amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, cysteine, taurine, and others.

While you might think that taking these nutrients in supplement form can fix the problem, you could potentially end up with very rapid detoxification in Phase I—and if you’re not able to complete Phase II, dangerous toxins are turned loose in your body without being deactivated and eliminated. This is why simply popping supplements when your or other organ systems are compromised and detox pathways aren’t functioning well may do more harm than good!

Give Your Liver Some Love!

While we can’t change the world we live in, we can absolutely take steps to minimize our exposure to toxins as well as incorporate gentle forms of detoxification into our daily lives. Rather than running out and buying a 10-day liver cleanse, which may leave you feeling sicker than before, start with these basics to reduce your toxic burden:

  • Filter your drinking water.  Some filters I suggest investigating for yourself are AquaTru, Berkey, Nikken, and Kangen (which is what I own and use).
  • Eat the best quality food you can buy, including grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and poultry, wild caught fish, and organic produce as much as possible in order to avoid glyphosate, the herbicide used on GMO crops that disrupts the gut microbiome (if you have to buy conventional, follow the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guidelines).
  • Avoid unnecessary RX medications and over-the-counter remedies, which your liver has to work overtime to process.  At one time in my journey, I was taking 13 prescription medications just to get through the day and I was still feeling horrible. Take a look at your drugs and ask yourself, “are all of these necessary? Am I achieving my health goals by taking them?”
  • Swap your toxic personal care and household cleaning products for safer alternatives. Hormone-disrupting chemicals such as parabens, heavy metals, and phthalates abound in many of the brands we all grew up using.  Everything from your makeup, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, to your dishwashing soap and laundry detergent will likely contain toxic ingredients. Do a little at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed and use the EWG’s Skin Deep database to check product safety.
  • Ditch plastic for good! Toss your plastic bottles and food containers and purchase glass or stainless steel instead. Don’t drink bottled water; toxins from the plastic bottle can leech into it.
  • Avoid canned food products, or make sure they are BPA-free.

Next, I suggest taking the following steps to help your body clear toxins more effectively:

  • Drink 12 ounces of lemon warm lemon water in the morning, which helps to alkalize and flush toxins out of the body.  
  • Consider daily rebounding, which is a great way to get lymph fluid moving. Lymph carries toxins out of your system, and unlike blood, lymph doesn’t move unless you physically move your body. The two rebounders I recommend are Needak and Cellerciser.
  • Exercise of any kind moves your lymph fluid, so if a rebounder isn’t in your budget, just make sure you’re moving a minimum of 30 minutes each day—whether it’s walking your dog, mowing the lawn, or doing a gentle yoga practice. If you’re severely chronically fatigued like I was at various stages of my journey, I know this can feel impossible. Start with 5 minutes a day of extremely basic movement, like leg lifts in bed, and increase by 5-minute increments until you can do light stretching on a yoga mat. You might check out gentle routines by “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube.
  • You may also want to bring in some basic supplementation to help support your detox pathways such B Complex, Magnesium, Vitamin C, and a high quality protein powder that includes the full spectrum of amino acids in a non-denatured form.  Two that I have had good results with are ProOptimal Whey by Dr. Mercola as well as Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides.  
  • Heal Your Gut! I can’t stress enough the importance of healing and sealing your gut to get your digestive tract absorbing the nutrients you need for detoxification!  Since gut healing is so individual, this is where a skilled functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner of functional medicine doctor can help.

Genetic “SNiPs”: When the Genes of Illness Start Expressing Themselves

Methylation is a core process involved in detoxification, along with many other vitally important functions in the body. You’ve probably heard of it in the context of the MTHFR gene mutation, which everyone is talking about these days!

We all have “glitches” or imperfections in our genes to some degree, and they are not inherently bad. These “glitches”, more commonly known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP’s or “snips” for short) are not monumental irregularities such as what you would see in a child born with Down Syndrome or Spina Bifida.

They are more covert and hidden in a sense. Meaning, the health conditions that result from these SNP’s typically present as chronic health issues—or they may never express themselves at all.   Whether or not these SNP’s express themselves, or “turn on”, depends on a wide range of epigenetic influences.

While there are numerous types of SNP’s, MTHFR is grabbing the spotlight lately. The “glitches” or anomalies that can influence the MTHFR gene are the 677T and 1298C variants, which ultimately have the potential to impair a person's ability to methylate . The biochemical process of methylation is absolutely crucial to optimal health; it is responsible for critical functions such as cellular repair, detoxification, neurotransmitter production, and healthy immune function. It also plays an integral role in one’s ability to make and recycle glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant involved in detoxification.

If you have poor methylation due to SNP's that are expressing themselves as well as other health blocking influences, you are at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, ADD, autism, bipolar and other mental disorders, dementia and Alzheimer’s, blood clotting issues, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, infertility and miscarriage, autoimmune conditions, cancer, and other illnesses.

Genetics Loads the Gun, But The Environment Pulls The Trigger!

Luckily, the field of epigenetics has proven that our genes are not our destiny as once was the popular belief! Rather, they are merely warehouses of genetic potential. Genetic expression is influenced by the environment within the body, such as our nutrition, gut microbiome, how much sleep we get, and the number of prescription drugs we take, as well as outside the body, such as our jobs, relationships, and the amount of electromagnetic fields and blue light we’re exposed to.

Think about it! Why do some people with the genetic marker for a particular disease develop it, while others with the same genes don’t? This phenomenon has been studied among identical twins that share the same genes and in many cases the same upbringing, but one develops an illness while the other doesn’t.

I have an example of this from my own life. I discovered that I was homozygous (two affected genes, which is the worst case scenario!) for the 677T anomaly and heterozygous for the 1298C after a blood clot caused me to lose my first and only child in late term pregnancy. From this point in time, it became clear to me why I always seemed to have low stress resilience and why I developed a pulmonary embolism two years prior with no “typical” risk factors for clots. I was curious about how I got these genes, so I decided to run a 23andMe genetic test on my mother, who is in her 80s and has never had chronic health problems in her entire life—and I learned that she is also homozygous. But why isn’t she having the same devastating health conditions I had? Simply put, these genetic “glitches” have not expressed themselves in her as they have in me.   I also need to mention that my mother gave birth to 6 healthy babies with zero complications during any of her pregnancies.  

I, on the other hand, had many life circumstances that primed my genetic glitches to express themselves, some of which I could control and others, I couldn’t. A relentless perfectionist, I worked 15-hour days, carried a ton of psychological stress, and held on to anger. I took multiple prescription drugs, had a load of gut infections, and unknowingly had a parasite in my liver.  I also experienced a significant amount of trauma throughout my life beginning as a young girl.  My body simply broke under all of this pressure, as it most likely would for anyone.

You are In the Driver's Seat; Take Control of the Wheel!

My point being: Even if you do have genetic SNPs (which we all do!), keeping stress manageable, cultivating positive and loving relationships, working at a job you enjoy, eating a nutritious diet, clearing gut infections, and healing intestinal permeability can drastically lower your chances of these SNPs expressing themselves.  So rather than simply suggesting to my clients to take boatload of supplements with the false hope that they will heal the body as a stand alone approach (as was my experience with many practitioners that I worked with throughout my own journey), I emphasize the need to work on ALL lifestyle factors first.  No amount of supplements will do anybody any good if the fundamentals of health and healing are not in place and being practiced regularly.  

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I will discuss some of the stealth intracellular infections often involved in chronic fatigue and pain syndromes, and a destructive enzyme measurable in the blood of MANY people with chronic fatigue syndrome!

Cheers to Restoring Your Health and Reclaiming Your Life!