By Melanie Genssler
Chronic illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are experiencing a rapid, world-wide spread.
The World Health Organization has reported that, in 2001, chronic illnesses represented approximately 46% of the global burden of disease, and 60% of the 56.5 million total reported deaths.
The burden is expected to rise to 57% in 2020. Furthermore, conventional medicine and conventional doctors are running out of ways to treat these conditions, and continuously find their patients returning with the same signs or symptoms, or worsening conditions. Practitioners within the conventional medicine field are tired, frustrated and simply do not have the time to provide more education to those who are continuously sick, and getting worse. From the patients’ point of view, they do not feel heard, and are frustrated and startled when all they get from the practitioners are pamphlets explaining their chronic illness and what possible treatment protocols are available to them. Lastly, financial concerns are rising, as the doctor visits and treatments become more costly. So where can these doctors – and more importantly patients – find further support to get to the root cause of their illnesses? What is the root cause of chronic illnesses? And can we, the patients, find alternative ways to take responsibility for healing ourselves?
The most important cause of chronic illness is chronic inflammation, which is the underlying condition behind obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Important to note is that it is not a simple fix of a sign or symptom, yet a whole system that is in imbalance. For example:
- Excess fat or being overweight is not the cause of obesity – inflammation is.
- Increased cholesterol intake is not the cause of heart disease – inflammation is.
- Increased sugar intake is not the cause of diabetes – inflammation is.
'The most important cause of chronic illness is chronic inflammation'
So, What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation, derived from the latin word, inflammatio, can be classified by the signs and symptoms of heat, pain, redness, swelling and loss of function. Most commonly we see these signs and symptoms when we have an external skin wound. But this is not the only place we can experience inflammation; it can also occur internally. When this type of inflammation becomes chronic, chronic illness resides. Let’s use cardiovascular disease as an example. Since the industrial revolution, findings have shown that increased cholesterol intake leads to increased incidences of cardiovascular disease. Ancel Keys’s research in the Seven Country’s study found that when we ingest LDL cholesterol, its presence increases in our blood, which, over time, leads to coronary heart disease. As this appeared to yield a simple fix, doctors used this information to treat their patients – yet declines in this disease were not as predicted. Later research demonstrated that Keys’ findings had been manipulated and had therefore not yielded the true root cause; the most prevalent research, however, showed that inflammation was.
So, What Contributes to Inflammation?
Inflammation is caused by internal and/or external stressors. Examples of internal stressors are running thoughts, negative self-talk, and viral or bacterial infection, while external stressors are nutrition, environment, sleep, a sedentary lifestyle and relationships. Through chronic stress from any of these examples, chronic inflammation can take hold, leading over time to chronic illness.
At first glance, this might be overwhelming to hear, but once you flip the coin, this also provides you with multiple avenues for tackling the chronic illness that you may be struggling with. These multiple avenues can cure the whole system, rather just one individual sign or symptom. For this reason, alternative modalities are becoming more popular. Modalities such as the use of herbs, teas and micronutrient supplementation, acupuncture, breath work, mindful movement such as yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition, infrared saunas, and many more. The foundation of these modalities originates in mind-body medicine. The attraction lies in its effects on the autonomic nervous system, in other words our physiological stress response – the regulator of stressors. The use of these modalities has shown that our bodies move from a state of ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ a.k.a. our natural healing state. For example, have you ever found yourself – pre-yoga class – with running thoughts, stressed shoulders and a heavy feeling, while afterwards you felt calm and light and with relaxed shoulders? You have just felt your body move from a ‘fight or flight’ state to ‘rest and digest’. The more you can get yourself into a ‘rest and digest’ state, the more you will be able to support your body as it heals from the chronic illness you are struggling with. The empowering element within these modalities is that we, the patients, have full control over getting our bodies into this healing state. The mind-body medicine practitioners are simply there to guide us towards finding the tools that work best for us, as individuals.
BRING YOUR BODY INTO A HEALING STATE
'Appreciate conventional medicine for its acute care expertise while otherwise taking responsibility for your long-term health into your own hands'
Where Can YOU Start Today?
Start with reconnecting with your body. Take a second to breathe and bring your focus to touch, smell and sound. What does your body find appetizing? What does your body repel? Notice how your body increasingly relaxes as you create awareness of your breath and your senses. The more frequently you do this, the more you will notice what feels good and what does not. Trust this guidance. This will guide you into making choices about what food to eat, what movement to implement or what modality will most likely work best for you, to consistently bring your body into a healing state and overtime heal chronic illness.
All in all, conventional medicine has specialized in acute care, but when it comes to chronic illness, it simply does not suffice. Our bodies do have the capabilities to heal themselves. For this reason, you can appreciate conventional medicine for its acute care expertise while otherwise taking responsibility for your long-term health into your own hands. The time has come for us to recognize and make this shift towards trusting and having confidence in the fact that our bodies can be our own doctors.