Last year, this column examined the problem of chronic disease. As that article noted, if you combine the list of chronic diseases, as compiled by the World Health Organization, with that of our own CDC, you get these six afflictions: arthritis; cardiovascular diseases; cancers; chronic respiratory diseases; diabetes; and obesity.
The article pointed out the high incidence of these chronic conditions (affecting 40 percent of all Americans, and 88 percent of those over 65), as well as the seeming hopelessness of it all: Examples abound of "healthy lifestyle" individuals, who nonetheless either die young or are plagued with chronic illness. And, there's the somewhat plausible conspiracy theory that chronic disease will never be solved because there's way too much money in treating it.
But even if that conspiracy theory is true, since seven out of ten deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases, there will simply not be enough money available to provide adequate treatment if the situation continues unchecked.
Various explanations have been proffered for this onslaught of chronic illness, and in a sense they're all related. At the core of these explanations is our wonderful inflammatory response...
Inflammation--This widely used medical term is defined as "a local response to cellular injury that is marked by capillary dilatation, leukocytic infiltration, redness, heat, pain, swelling, and often loss of function and that serves as a mechanism initiating the elimination of noxious agents and of damaged tissue."
The idea here is that chronic illness and what we call "aging" result from too much of a good thing. The inflammatory response saves our lives, but if we are always in this state of alert--so to speak--we are slowly breaking ourselves down. Opinions differ, however, on what is causing this constant state of inflammation--or what is the most important cause.
One theory holds that a principal cause of inflammation is low-grade bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in the bloodstream and gut. Related to this is dysbiosis--an imbalance of bacteria and fungi (usually in the gut). After all, proponents note, 70 percent of your immune system resides in the gut, and could be overly cranking in attempts to offset this imbalance. This camp offers dietary suggestions (80% vegetable-based), along with advocacy of prebiotics and probiotics.
A second theory focuses more on stress--acknowledging that stress will alter gut pH, and itself throw off microbial balance. More than that, stress will activate a release of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, increasing blood sugar and altering the immune system--among many other effects. For early man, survival type stressors would appear and disappear, but in the modern world, for many people this stress never completely fades, and their bodies will never relax. Thus, they are prone to essentially every chronic illness.
Another theory suggests that toxic exposure not only triggers inflammation, but affects metabolism, and in some cases can directly cause disease. A leading proponent of this theory is Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND--a champion of science-based natural/integrative medicine. Pizzorno founded and served for 22 years as president of Bastyr University--America's first and largest fully accredited university of natural medicine.
His brand new book is The Toxin Solution: How Hidden Poisons in the Air, Water, Food, and Products We Use Are Destroying Our Health – AND WHAT WE CAN DO TO FIX IT. It is billed as "The first definitive book on the dangers of environmental toxins," and surely does provide copious information on these baddies, as well as the diseases they cause. More importantly, it offers comprehensive solutions to rid your body of them. In keeping with Pizzorno's science-based approach, hundreds of references are cited.
The book already has an impressive list of endorsers, including Mark Hyman, MD, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine; Jeffrey Bland, PhD, co-founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine; and James S. Gordon, MD, founder and executive director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
Listen to Dr. Pizzorno:
In my practice, lectures, and teaching of future health leaders, I became concerned with the conditions that have become commonplace with adults in the prime of their lives. Over the past two years, my team has reviewed thousands of studies for clues that matched with the epidemic rise of chronic conditions, symptoms, and ill-health. The findings were conclusive, unnerving, and overwhelming. While diet, exercise, and genetics play a role in health, toxin overload is the one common link to these conditions.