Toxins, inflammation and infection are involved in all chronic disease. They are so intimately connected and intertwined that I have combined them together as one of the steps of my 6-Step Protocol. Chronic inflammation has many causes, however, the two biggest categories are infections or toxins. The most common infections I see are in the form of dysbiosis (over-growth) of bacteria, yeast, fungus or parasites in the gut or oral cavity. Some of the most common toxins come from pesticides/herbicides and additives in our food, skin care products, prescription drugs and dental amalgams. Together these low grade infections, toxins and inflammation wreak havoc on our immune system and damage the delicate lining of our GI tract. The inflamed and damaged gut lining is referred to as “Leaky Gut” or increased intestinal permeability which allows the bacteria, yeast and other infectious agents, undigested food particles and toxins to enter the blood stream. This is when chronic disease and autoimmunity can set in – the immune system begins to react to the flood of toxins, inflammation and infectious molecules that have broken through one of the body’s main barrier systems (the lining of the gut).
The lining of the gut is only one cell layer thick, and if it were laid out flat, it would be roughly the surface area of a tennis court. This delicate interface between the external environment and our internal environment is incredibly important, because it determines what is allowed to pass into our blood stream and what ends up in the toilet bowl. Researchers estimate that 70% of our immune system lives in this gut lining, and it’s called the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue). This GALT is important, not only for immune function, but also for digestion and absorption. It is our first line of defense against the majority of assaults coming at us including toxins, dietary molecules and infectious agents.
The primary focus of GALT is two-fold:
• Determine if stuff (food, bacteria toxins etc.) coming in is “Friend or Foe.”
• Initiate and sustain an appropriate immune response.
It’s often impossible to determine what came first: the toxins, the leaky gut, the infections or the inflammation. However, once the immune system is activated, it releases all kinds of immune and inflammatory messengers which create more inflammation which further damages the gut. The more damage to the gut lining there is, the more toxins and infectious agents are allowed to enter the body, thus creating more inflammation. This vicious cycle causes a neurological, endocrine and immune wind-up that can spiral out of control.
Functional Medicine tackles this vicious cycle head-on by addressing the root causes of chronic disease. Traditional (“allopathic”) medicine, however has little to offer here. Why? Because taking shortcuts always creates more problems, and allopathic medicine has only one answer to infection – antibiotics, which also destroy the good, healthy flora (bugs) in the gut. These good flora are your first line of defense against reoccurring infections, because when their numbers are sufficient, they help snuff out other infections. Antibiotics may be useful in severe acute bacterial infections, however, their chronic over-use has made them useless or downright harmful in many situations. Not only do they destroy your own good flora, they have created vast numbers of super bugs that are resistant to every known antibiotic.
Allopathic (traditional) medicine’s answer to inflammation is not much better. They use either corticosteroids or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), both of which damage the intestinal lining, kidneys, liver and never address the underlying causes of inflammation. And when it comes to toxins, allopathic medicine often ignores them altogether, because some of the most toxic substances on the planet are the drugs they prescribe.
Toxins are the biggest public health challenge in the world today. They are the most pervasive, costly and destructive force against nature that we’ll ever see. If you need convincing that the world we live in today is full of toxins, here are two great resources – The Endocrine Society and The Enviromental Working Group. These toxins are everywhere: in our food, water, air, cosmetics and skin care products, food containers, furniture, automobiles, mattresses, prescription drugs, paper products, paint, carpet, light bulbs -- even our children’s pajamas. Many of these toxins are fat soluble, meaning you can’t wash them off nor can the body easily eliminate them. In addition, many of these toxins are endocrine disruptors (meaning they act like hormones) and either cause or contribute to cancer, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, immune dysfunction and hormone disruption.
Inflammation is well documented as the most prevalent cause of all chronic disease. Cancer and cardiovascular disease, the two leading causes of death, have inflammation as their root cause. Diabetes and autoimmune disease also share inflammation as a root cause. Medicine continues to promote drugs as the way to combat inflammation, while ignoring simple things like diet and lifestyle factors which can often completely reverse the inflammation. Prescription drugs may help decrease pain and inflammation in the short term, but they do so by blocking enzymes and metabolic pathways needed for regeneration and repair. Drugs also put an additional burden on the liver, kidneys and GI tract. More importantly, drugs do not address what caused the inflammation in the first place.
So where do we start when trying to eliminate Inflammation, Infection and Toxins?
The first thing you must do is stop eating what your body is reacting to and eliminate foods and chemicals that promote inflammation. Most often, the next step is to address the dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast, fungus or parasites) in the gut, especially if you have been on acid-blocking medications or antibiotics. At this point in care, I often will also do a complete Functional Medicine lab workup and/or stool analysis to see what type of overgrowth we might be dealing with. Every patient is unique and deserves a personalized approach which is why proper testing is so important. Functional Medicine labs will give me an accurate map of your “metabolic terrain,” so I can begin to formulate a personalized and precise treatment plan for you.
I understand that some of the 6-Step Protocol may seem overwhelming and can make you feel as though it’s too big, too much, I’ll never accomplish that, or why even start. All I can tell you is that the body is truly remarkable, and your job is not to judge, but rather trust and move forward. Dale Bredesen, MD, a neurodegenerative researcher, compares treating Alzheimer’s to fixing a roof with 40 holes in it, because Alzheimer’s does not have one big cause. Instead, there are about 40 smaller causes. He explains that prescription medication will never fix the problem, because each medication can only fix one hole, and while it may fix that one hole very well, there are still 39 holes in the roof. I wholeheartedly agree that Alzheimer’s and many chronic diseases are much better addressed by Functional Medicine than by allopathic/traditional medicine. The reason is simple – our bodies are amazing, and if you identify a few of the larger burdens that prevent it from functioning properly (some of the root causes) and actually fix them, the body can fix the rest of the holes in the roof on its own.
I often start by addressing Toxins, Inflammation, Infection and Leaky Gut all at the same time. This jump-in-with-both-feet approach has allowed my patients to notice significant improvement within 6-8 weeks. Complex, chronic disease cannot be cured in 6-8 weeks – however, once patients realize they are getting better results in 6 weeks than they have in 6 years, they are ready to take the next step. With that success in mind, we are able to forge a therapeutic partnership and connection that is built on trust and results. My purpose is to show you great results as quickly as possible, educate you honestly about the challenges ahead and create an empowering vision of YOU for the future!