By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I would like to share a perspective on your health that can be extremely helpful to return to, especially when chronic illness begins, or a new confusing symptom shows up apparently out of nowhere.
Is your glass overflowing?
Our bodies are generally able to hold a fair amount of stress – emotional and physical, but this ability to carry more and more things will eventually tip over and overflow. Imagine that you have a glass that fills up with each stressor on your system. Everything is important here – how you sleep, whether you exercise, exposure to infections, gut health, your genetics and your relationships just to name a few. When these things are out of balance, they keep stacking up, and growing unless you take steps to address them.
When the glass begins to overflow, this is when you activate a health issue that you may have a genetic predisposition for, or a system that has been under the most stress will flare-up. For example, if your genetics predispose you to autoimmune disease, this is where Hashimoto’s thyroiditis my show up, or if you have been carrying a parasite and candida issues for years, persistent acid reflux may show up. This tipping point is where illness shows up.
One condition – multiple points to address
Following along the same idea, what this means is that when an illness begins, we can’t just address the one issue that overflowed your glass. If we only treat this one thing, you may temporarily improve, but will live in a fairly precarious place with a high likelihood of relapse.
Here is a concrete example: Let’s say you moved into a new home, and began to feel quite ill within a few months of moving in. At first you thought it was your job stress, and then there was a flu that was hard to recover from, and your sinuses have been congested for months now. You’re exhausted, dizzy, have a hard time focusing, have irritated eyes, and feel achy all over. Through careful assessment, we determine that the issue creating your symptoms is mold exposure in this new home that is causing immune and inflammatory stress and creating illness. Of course the first step is to remove the mold or even better move out of the house. But it is equally important to address the underlying layers that predisposed you to this issue, otherwise you will remain to be extremely sensitive to mold in other environments too. The other layers could include: ongoing work stress with a long commute; chronic irritable bowel syndrome; over-doing alcohol with work events with your job and travel; low vitamin D levels after a long winter indoors; and poor eating habits because you’ve been too tired to cook properly.
With most illnesses, we can find a trigger or a tipping point. The event, stress, medication, virus or hormone shift that immediately preceded it. It is important though to thoroughly look at all of the other imbalances that created the susceptibility. For most chronic illness, multiple pathways are involved simultaneously, making it unlikely that a single treatment will prove sufficiently effective.
7 Key Areas to Examine
To thoroughly treat an illness or major health symptom, here are some important areas to examine and address. Remember that by taking a thorough, multi-system approach, we are aiming to remove the susceptibility to illness, not just treat the symptom.
1. Optimize nutrition – food is medicine! An anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar balancing, personalized nutrition plan is key to everyone’s health and wellbeing.
2. Balance hormones – this includes reproductive hormones, blood sugar regulation, thyroid hormones and adrenal stress hormones.
3. Reduce inflammation – inflammation can be internally driven, from dietary choices, or caused by infections or toxins, and is the driver of most chronic illness.
4. Address digestion – the gut is absolutely key to most conditions, here we are removing irritating foods, rebalancing the microbiome, replenishing probiotics, repairing the gut lining, and optimizing overall GI function.
5. Support detoxification – we are exposed to toxins every day through pesticides, personal care products, plastics, city air, and also internally to biotoxins from infections and mold exposure. Optimizing detoxification has become an essential part of healing.
6. Assess energy metabolism – this applies to blood sugar metabolism, mitochondria function and also thyroid function – your energy levels are impacted by all of the above systems too.
7. Calm the mind – it’s important to remember the impact of stress, and the value of a daily relaxation practice. Chronic high stress levels will prevent the body from healing.
Where you can start right now
The most important thing to recognize is that the base of your health is build on simple self-care practices – the basics are the most important. These include:
- balanced nutrition
- enough hours of good quality sleep
- a regular stress-reduction practice
- daily activity and regular exercise; and
- healthy social interactions
We often think of health as being extremely complex, but the simplest way to stop your glass from overflowing is to begin with the basics, and create a sustainable commitment to taking care of your body better. There is no supplement that replaces 7 hours of sleep, and no special treatment that replaces regular exercise.
If you are interested looking at all of the layers that are causing your glass to overflow, my top suggestion is to book an appointment so we can go through a Functional Medicine Assessment. Through a very detailed look at your health history, mapping out a health timeline, and carefully looking at each system, we can prioritize a sustainable health plan that not only addresses your current health issues, but also prevents future illness from developing.
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