Thursday, May 20, 2010

Treating Symptoms, VS the Cause of ALL Disease

Symptoms are the problem.

I bet you took a double take at that simple and erroneous message.

Patients “get it” that symptoms aren’t the problem. They want to know “why” they have symptoms.

Why then, is medicine so (apparently) focused on managing symptoms? Most of the medications they prescribe are symptom oriented. I think there is some confusion as to what is the symptom and what is the disease.

Is high blood pressure a symptom or disease? Is menstrual cramping a symptom or a disease? Is polycystic ovaries a symptom or disease? Is cancer a symptom or disease?

I guess it all depends on your definition of what constitutes a disease. You could make a case that they all are diseases, or at least conditions…and you could make the case that they are all symptoms.

I will make the case that all disease, any named condition, and every symptom ever experienced is caused by the process known best as stress.

Let’s look at that…could the body fail if there was no stress? Only stress overload will compromise a healthy body and brain toward dysfunction and disease. There HAS to be a stress component.

So, do we primarily begin to treat the variety of levels of stress? I happen to know that that doesn’t work. Maybe sometimes, but not even most of the time.

Do we have to dissect out the cause of stress? Is it emotional turmoil…blood sugar variations (would you call that a stress? I would!)…our toxic environment…infections…pain (that is very stressful)…pollen (would you call that stress? I wouldn’t, unless your immune system is unbalanced.)…job, marriage, and parenting pressure…abuse…poor diet…??? What else?

I have simplified this question, by creating 4 categories of stress.

1. Physical Pain or Discomfort (Trauma or repetitive strain)

2. Diet, especially sugar, refined flour, and trans fats

3. Inflammation

4. Emotional Trauma and Strain

Now it seems a bit more manageable. But is this the final answer? Is everything caused by the four sources of stress? In a general sense…I would say yes.

Now, if you have a disease, condition, or symptom…which of the four categories might you be suffering from. This is way easier to sift through than the 1600+ pages of the Medical Bible of named diseases, the Merck Manual.

And, can you treat each of these? Of course you can. So can you locate and “cure” your condition, which is caused by one of these four insults? Or two…or three…or four of the four. Think about it…if the cause of the stress that caused your disease, condition, or symptom is resolved…what happens to the disease, condition, or symptom?

I would say it is cured…but, legally I can’t say cure because medicine owns the word cure…so I guess I will just relish in your improved health!

I will tackle these four causes of stress in more detail in future articles.

The First Cause of Stress and Disease

Physical Pain or Discomfort (Trauma or repetitive strain)

Last article, I proposed that all diseases, conditions, and symptoms are the result of some form of stress overloading your body, and provided the four categories of stress.

The benefit to this line of thinking is that instead of trying to fit yourself into one of the 12,000 plus named conditions, you have four. And these four categories refer directly to the cause of the 12,000 plus named diseases, so whatever you want to call it, I would rather treat the cause.

This category begins with a straightforward assessment. Hmmm…that knee is dislocated, perhaps a cause of the pain…or was it the tree that he ran into?

I won’t even get into the blatantly obvious, and this is really more about figuring out causes for conditions that don’t present obviously. Most Fibromyalgia suffers didn’t run into a tree. So what did they run into.

Fibromyalgia is actually one of my focuses, as the “poster child disease” of “what the heck is going on here. “ And, fibromyalgia has an association to trauma. Often a whiplash injury, as in the case of my wife Sonya’s mother (You can read her story on my website under the fibromyalgia heading…click on the “personal message.”).

The even more subtle trauma to our bodies is the repetitive strain of work, play, and gravity. I often comment to my patients during our initial visit that they have a “BAD relationship with gravity!” I have a full length mirror in my exam room to show them the myriad of postural stressors that are STRESSFUL, every moment they are resisting the field of gravity. Sure, they are slight (and some not so slight), but if you walk around this way, stand around this way, for hours every day…month after month…year after year…something will give.

Think of that relative with scoliosis…don’t they suffer with chronic aches and pains. In severe scoliosis, the twisting and turning of the spine shifts the posture, and gravity becomes a major stressor…and always wins…if you have ever seen an elderly person crumpled up with scoliosis.

Most (all?) of us have more subtle postural shifts, perhaps resulting from poor arches in the feet, injuries and scars sustained during a lifetime, or simply deconditioning…a nice word for out of shape.

I use the old chiropractic analogy of holding a bowling ball. If you hold a bowling ball straight up over your elbow, it doesn’t strain your bicep…but if you stretch your arm out from the shoulder, the further you go, the more impossible it becomes to hold that ball up. It is a good analogy, because your head actually weighs about the same as your bowling ball.

And we wonder why we “hold our stress” in our backs or shoulders. That’s not your bosses fault, it is gravity whipping your butt.

I love these types of stresses, because, thanks to one of my greatest professors, Dr. Walter Schmitt, I have an awesome technique to correct these abnormal postures resulting from the accumulation of injuries over a lifetime.

He calls it Injury Recall Technique, and it is so simple, yet effective, it amazes and dazzles the patients I have used it on. Literally, in moments, pain can be relieved, postural shifts can change, that you can see and feel.

Unfortunately, most of my patients have one or more of the other categories of stress, that take a bit more time to shift away from or out of, so my “miracles” are few and far between.

The Second Cause of Stress and Disease

Diet, especially sugar, refined flour, and trans fats

Yes, your diet. And don’t tell me you don’t know what you should eat. You know that a Little Debbie isn’t good food, and broccoli is good food.

I see too many people act helpless to eat a good diet, and I just won’t have it. Well, I do have it…I am a softy, so I encourage and correct, encourage and correct, with the hopes that they will “get it” sooner or later.

But it is frustrating to see people feel and act helpless to know what to eat.

There is an art to eating a healthy diet, and you can have your cake and eat it too. Yes, I will say it…in moderation. Moderation and “paying off” your indulgences is the path to de-stressing your diet.

You see, when you eat junk food, foods laden with sugar, white flour, or trans fats, you stress your blood glucose regulation. This system involves the whole digestive tract, pancreas, adrenal, thyroid and pituitary glands, and all the cells this system is feeding. And the food provides ENERGY. Energy is FUN.

You feel great when you have abundant energy from a good diet and a healthy system.

If we take an extreme…you never eat healthy food…you ALWAYS eat fast food, junk food, sugar, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives…you have NO chance of de-stressing your body. You will succumb to disease, and you will die prematurely. From what depends on your genetics…diabetes, cancer, heart disease…

And the reason is stress. It is stressful to eat junk food…if you could take a microscope to your insides, you would see cells screaming and crying, fighting for their lives, trying their best to make do with a natural disaster. You should never do that to your cells. You should love your cells.

But remember, I said you can have your cake and eat it too. That means you don’t have to be perfect. There is no such thing as perfect. I teach my clients to “pay it off.”

What does that mean?

Well, if you have pizza and beer night, have a salad first. Go for a walk the next morning. Do 50 pushups. Eat a bunch of fiber. Take some extra fish oils. Eat a chicken breast with your pizza, or some broccoli. Take some extra B vitamins, Liver support nutrients, antioxidants, inflammation support…

Pay it off!

And, you will become bankrupt if you have to pay it off every day or every meal. You can’t compensate for a total lack of essential nutrients, massive sugar overload, and flooding your system with chemicals.

More great news…eating healthy and supporting your cells isn’t that difficult. I can walk someone through the process of making just a few different choices, focusing a little bit differently, and finding your healthy diet, in just a few weeks…as long as you/they are willing.

It is vastly more difficult to shift the stressed out hormonal system, including insulin, back to a healthy state. Generally, by the time I get these stressed out folks, their thyroid, adrenals, pituitary and pancreas have been affected, along with steroid hormones, those specific to gender.

It takes more effort…we have to be closer to perfect…and we have to flood the body with essential nutrients and herbs that will sustain and stimulate internal functions. But, it can always be accomplished!

The Third Cause of Stress and Disease


The body will only shift from normalcy (health) in response to a stress. Normalcy for the body is a state called homeostasis, or balance. If you are in good physical balance, you can take a fair bit of stress. But, once shifted off balance, your ability to endure stress becomes less and less.

Think about this from a purely physical standpoint. Let’s say that I talked you into letting me punch you in the shoulder as hard as I can. If you agreed, you would probably position yourself in a fashion that increases your center of balance. You would widen your stance, perhaps lean into the forth coming “stress,” and maximize your stability. And, you might be able to take my punch. I was a golden gloves boxer for several weeks in high school however, so I wouldn’t take me up on this challenge.

Point being, stress shifts us from center, and if you knew you were going to be enduring a great stress, your best asset would be a strong center.

Inflammation is my third stressor, and my third cause of imbalance. These imbalances lead to every known condition and symptom you have ever heard of, so this is important.

Inflammation is familiar to us. Time magazine and Newsweek have both done front cover articles on the topic of inflammation. We have all experienced acute inflammation with an injury, such as a sprained ankle.

Inflammation consists, in part, of hormone like chemicals that function as a message to your nervous system that the body is sick or in danger. It’s that simple…inflammation = sick or danger. Sick or danger to the brain means activating our stress response. Either get the immune defenses MOVING…which actually puts us in bed…OR…get the heart (oxygen) and energy MOVING…which puts us into overdrive. This is the familiar fight or flee response.

So, if you are inflamed, your physiology, your internal environment, is stressed out. And you can’t walk away, go for a drive, or zone out in front of the TV to avoid this stress…it’s inside you, and goes wherever you go…including to bed with you.

It is this type of stress that has the greatest consequence to our health. A fight with your spouse is NOTHING in comparison when taken to the cellular level. With inflammation, your cells are afraid of dying. This ignites a hardwired neurological response, altering every function you can think of…hormones, digestion, circulation (why do you think some blood pressure meds block adrenaline?), brain function, and immune function…as well as the normal process of healing and repair.

So, where does this inflammation come from? The quick answer is diet (inflammatory foods), infections (many infections are relatively quiet compared to the flu or common cold), and toxicity (detox nutrients, along with hormone products are the most commonly prescribed in our office).

It is a very complex system, with unfamiliar names, so it would probably be more confusing to try to describe the actual processes and chemicals, unless you want to go to medical school, but there is a simple way to see if you are inflamed…there is a diagnostic lab test, called C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which is gaining popularity, so you may have heard of it…that is a blood marker (identifier) of inflammation.

This is so easy and inexpensive to test, there is no reason why anyone with a chronic condition should NOT know their CRP levels, or anyone at all for that matter. Mine is under 1…that is the ideal level for de-stressing your body. When you get higher than one, the lab report TELLS YOU, right on the paper, that your risk of death is increased!

CRP levels are far more important than cholesterol numbers, but with the discovery of Statin drugs, and the potential of profit, millions in advertising dollars have made it clear that you need to know your cholesterol levels.

CRP can ONLY be treated nutritionally, (short of taking Prednisone, which is a very dangerous drug), so you don’t hear as much about it unless you actually read what researchers are saying about it. And researchers are shouting (in effect) that this is the most valuable, most critical number you should know, if you desire health and longevity, or freedom from disease and pain.

The Fourth Cause of Stress and Disease

Emotional Stress and Strain.
A couple shocking realities that you might not know about emotional stress (of life…job, parents, spouse, children, money, etc.):

1. Stress is most often helpful to our growth and health.

2. Stress isn’t the experience, it’s the meaning you make, and the lessons you take, from your experience.

“What… stress…helpful? You must be out of your mind!”

That is the reality. Your life stress activates healthy response mechanisms that strengthen your body and brain. Much like our little immune challenges, colds and other infections, they actually make you stronger and more resilient.

Much of our internal stress from life’s experiences comes from what we make of it. If we have been trained (by our parents and educators) to be helpless or hopeless, victim or loser, or always on the short end of bad luck…we are going to find almost any situation or experience stressful. If we have been taught that we can figure out anything, we’re winners in winning or losing, and life has a strange way of working out…we are going to endure almost any situation or experience.

And, this is still one of my four categories, so it isn’t all just lessons and growth. Chronic unresolved stress, abuse, trauma, loss, etc., do add up and contribute to our stress load. At some point, either in intensity or longevity, the emotional stress starts to break us down.

With the patients I treat, who have been “through the mill” looking for help, if emotional stress wasn’t an initiating trigger for their health problems, it sooner or later becomes a sustaining factor, as hopelessness creeps in as they go from doctor to doctor, not seeing any improvement in their condition.

The initial point I wanted to make clear is…stress is not the enemy. It is the inability to resolve stress that wears us down, including beginning the cycle of dysfunction, disease, and disability.

So what do we do about life? I have a fairly simple formula to resolve stress, at least enough to return health, and, patient willing, into that wonderful place called happiness. One disclaimer though…life still challenges us, even from that state of happiness.

My simple formula is to treat any perceived threats to survival. Those are mostly the metabolic states such as hypoglycemia, anemia, and immune activation. By the time we clean up the body, life is looking and feeling easier. Next, I use the Dr. Dan Amen brain typing protocols to identify and actively treat the areas of the brain that are stuck, and ultimately keep us in our stress.

Just a quick summary…

1. Frontal Cortex: This part of our brain, located as you might guess, right in the front, helps us see ourselves as whole and powerful, to organize our desires and goals, and maintain focus toward those desires (that feels good to know you are working toward something great!) When this area of the brain gets stuck, we feel depressed, lack focus, experience low self esteem, and don’t know what the heck we want from life.

2. Limbic System: This part of the brain holds our values and principles. It is what helps us emotionally make choices in life. When this area gets stuck, we find ourselves in bad habits, feeling depressed and conflicted, and powerless.

3. Basal Ganglia: This part of the brain holds our beliefs about ourselves, others, and life in general. It has a tuning in effect on life, helping us find more of what we believe in. When this area gets stuck, we feel anxious, even fearful, often predicting poor or the outright worst outcomes, and, of course, we find we were right.

4. Cingulate Gyrus: This area of the brain is our systems analysis. It records what is working (or not) and adjusts our behavior to move towards our desires. When this area gets stuck, we are stuck…think of the psychiatric level of stuckness in this area…OCD. We are unable to make different choices, or can’t see other possibilities, and spin our tires endlessly on the same struggle.

5. Temporal Lobes: This part of our brain moves into interpersonal relationships…accountability and communication. When this area gets stuck, we find ourselves slightly paranoid, feeling unsupported, and have to do everything ourselves…feeling alone or lonely. We often express this as anger or even rage towards others.

In order to move forward in life, we must achieve connection and activation in all these neural areas. By knowing where we are stuck neurologically, we can make adjustments to our nutrition, actions, and even beliefs, allowing the “circuit” to be closed, all areas activated, and forward progress resumed…kind of like getting enough pull on your stuck car, and feeling that relief of “it’s over.” Stress relief!