What Is… Chronic Illness?

Disabling fatigue. Inflammation. Digestive problems. Insomnia. Nervous system disruption.

‘Getting Sick’

Being sick is a normal, healthy adaptive response to facilitate recovery from injury or infection — which includes conserving energy to fight pathogens. Energy is conserved to focus on immune function.

Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is when the system lacks the energy to recover from one — or multiple — ailments.

Energy in the body is deeply depleted. This lack of energy resources allows disease to spread.

[Typical] sickness is a beneficial behavioral response that serves to enhance recovery, conserves energy and plays a role in the resolution of inflammation. 

…[So] while sickness behavior is a state of energy conservation (which plays a role in combating pathogens), ME/CFS is a chronic disease underpinned by a state of energy depletion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3751187/

1

How Does Chronic Illness Begin?

Factors In Chronic Illness

Chronic illness almost certainly begins with initial challenges that seem to accumulate.

The most common factors for health challenges appear to be:

  • infection
  • trauma
  • environmental toxicity
  • stress

The Initial Challenge Usually Expands

There is certainly an overlap between these causes, and we often see these causes stack up as a cascade of events. It’s very common for a combination of stress and poor environmental health — often leading to a suppressed immune system and infection.

This juxtaposition of harmful factors is incredibly common in chronic illness. The body can handle acute stress and challenges much better than it can chronic, compounding issues.

Example of chronic, compounding challenges:

A family moves across town and is newly exposed to environmental toxicity in the form of mold in the new home. If stress levels are also high (perhaps from a new job or school), the family could be looking at a swift-moving health challenge for one or more of its members. There may, at first, be sinus or throat irritation, walking pneumonia, or a GI infection. In a normal acute illness, this infection will run its course, and the body will develop immunity. When the issues are chronic (work stress and environmental toxocity), the body cannot develop full immunity. Chronic illness begins to set it.

Thus, an initial “health challenge” very commonly branches into multiple problems over time.

If the situation is not rectified, even more symptoms will begin to emerge: hypothyroidism, environmental sensitivities often become prevalent — all of which increase the difficulty of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery due to the mysterious, system-wide nature of the symptoms.

How Far Back Do My Health Problems Go?

Our health in adulthood often reflects our health as a child. After all, a newborn baby’s first weeks and months of life are critical for developing the immune system.

Infants are born with virtually non-existant gut microbiomes and thus depend on the mother’s milk (colostrum & breast milk) for days and months to provide potent immunoprotection while the baby’s immune system becomes functional. Babies are especially susceptible to infection and must, therefore, be protected from excessive exposure to pathogens. Children, too, are highly susceptible to infection as the immune system is developing.

Along with the genes of both parents, newborns inherit the gut microbiome of the mother, and within days, the microbiomes of the hospital and the home begin to populate an infant’s gut and bodily microbiome. Thus, a weakened immune system in the mother and poor building health directly affect the offspring.

Health challenges in the early stages of life can lead to increased susceptibility to challenges later in childhood or adulthood. Thus, a major infection or health problem in late childhood or adulthood could be more likely when circumstances are sub-optimal in the developmental years.


2

What Chronic Illness Looks Like

ME/CFS — Hypothyroidism — MCS — CIRS

A unique component of chronic illness is that the inflammatory state persists for long periods. These persistent, high levels of inflammation are a certain factor in debilitating fatigue.

(ME)/CFS — Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

“Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or ME/CFS, is a devastating multi-system disease that causes dysfunction of the neurological, immune, endocrine and energy metabolism systems.

[ME/CFS] often follows an infection and leaves 75% of those affected unable to work and 25% homebound are bedridden. An estimated 15-30 million people worldwide have ME.”

https://www.meaction.net/about/what-is-me/
  • Debilitating fatigue.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Unstable mood.

[ME/CFS] often follows an infection.

https://www.meaction.net/about/what-is-me/

Hypothyroidism

Thyroid hormone production slows to conserve energy and nutrients.

  • Mild to extreme fatigue.
  • Cold bodily temperature.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Hair loss.
  • Unstable mood.
  • Sluggish digestion.
  • Chronic inflammation.

Simply speeding the metabolism by taking thyroid hormones — or other substances, hormones, or restrictive diets — rarely address the root cause of this illness.

MCS — Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

MCS is classified as a physical illness by the World Health Organization.

This illness presents as a strong reaction to most strong chemicals, and some that aren’t strong.

Symptoms include:

Environmental exposure to chemicals seems to directly harm the thyroid. Folks with MCS almost certainly have symptoms of hypothyroidism, and vice versa.

CIRS – Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome

CIRS is almost entirely based on exposure to mold toxicity in water-damaged buildings, but can also apply to toxic algae blooms.

Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker has pioneered the movement in understanding what’s happening in CIRS.

Symptoms

13 “Clusters” of symptoms.

  • If a patient has symptoms present in 6 or more clusters, biotoxin illness is possible and “further testing and evaluation must be done.”
  • Symptoms in 8 or more clusters denotes likely biotoxin illness
Symptomology in 8 or more clusters indicates high likelihood of CIRS.

These Illnesses Are In The Beginning Stages Of Scientific Understanding

The further one studies these illnesses, the more overlap becomes evident.

Each of these illnesses is linked to:

  • toxicity
  • poor gut health
  • unregulated circadian rhythms
  • brain fog
  • fatigue
  • inflammation.

Liver and kidney health is almost always affected in these illnesses (by toxicity, inflammation, and poor nutrient absorption).

When severe enough, chronic illness can resemble near- or fully-debilitating impairment of a person’s energy, bodily health, mental faculties, and ability to function in the world.


3

Chronic Illness Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Gut health problems
  • Thyroid & metabolism issues
  • Insomnia, non-restorative sleep
  • Weak muscles
  • Nervous system excitation, restless limbs, can’t relax
  • Cardiovascular system issues
  • Weight problems
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty breathing deeply
  • Pin-prick sensations (neuropathy)
  • Bodily stiffness
  • Stiff neck
  • Anxiety 
  • Allergies
  • Auto-immune disease
  • Emotional instability
  • Learning/memory difficulties
  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Difficulty maintaining a fever
  • Chronic ear, nose, and throat irritation/infection
  • …and more.

These symptoms can range from mild to extremely severe — with wild variation from day to day.


4

Organs Are Affected

Chronic illness can involve (and worsen) impairment of any biological function, but especially the major organs: the gut, the thyroid, the liver, the kidneys, the brain, and even the skin.  

Stress

& The Gut

Mold Toxins

& The Gut

Mycotoxins

& The Liver

Mycotoxins

& The Thyroid

Mold

& The Brain

Environmental Toxins

& The Kidneys

In chronic illness, major organs are being attacked.


5

Chronic Illness Involves Nutrient Deficiency

Each of these factors causes nutrient depletion.

Nutrient deficiency is common in chronic illness.

While certain nutrients are more depleted than others, it appears that most sufferers are somewhat deficient in nearly every nutrient.

Low Food Quality
Low Food Quality

Low-quality food results in low nutrient supply.

Imbalanced, restrictive diets fail to supply adequate nutrition, as well.

Poor Soil Quality
Poor Soil Quality

…results in poor nutrient content in all foods.

Poor Gut Health
Poor Gut Health

…results in poor nutrient uptake (by the body), as well as endotoxicity.

Staying Indoors
Staying Indoors

…results in Vitamin D deficiency and harms digestive function.

Lack of sunlight also directly harms the gut microbiome, independant of Vitamin D status.

Bodily Toxicity “Wastes” Nutrients

High toxicity — from environmental exposure or endotoxin from poor gut health — leads to an increased usage of nutrients.

This is a dastardly component of chronic illness, made much worse because an inflamed gut is not able to absorb nutrients adequately to keep up with excessive nutritional demands. It’s clear how chronic illness becomes a disease of energy depletion.

Getting small, manageable doses of broad-spectrum nutrients is critical in chronic illness. So is taking powerful steps to restore gut function so nutrients can be properly absorbed again.


6

Hypersensitivity To Environmental Toxins

Highly Toxic VOC’s

VOC’s are reactive chemicals found throughout nature and in industrial and beauty products.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released by:
  • Industrial Cleaning Chemicals
  • Mold
  • Flame Retardants
  • Synthetic Fragrances

These compounds are inhaled and absorbed into the body.  These toxins can overburden the liver, and become stored in bodily tissues.  

Burning fat can become a risky process: When fat stores are burned, their contents (toxins) spill into the bloodstream.

When toxins begin to overwhelm the body’s detoxification abilities, toxins become stored in fat cells where they will do the least damage.

Elevated Detoxification Requires Extra Nutrients

Accelerated levels of detoxification can use up — churn through, even — the body’s nutrients quickly.  

Minerals and B-vitamins are especially used up in heavy detoxification.  

As gut health begins to suffer, the endogenous production of B-vitamins in the gut will wane.

This can bring on chronic nutrient deficiency rather swiftly.

You Don’t Need To Worry About Detox Because You Have A Liver?

While many “detox protocols” are surely more marketing than science, the popular notion that “you don’t need to worry about toxins because you have a liver” is hardly an informed one. In chronic illness, compromised gut health leads to copious endotoxin, which is readily absorbed into the body via a “leaky gut” — while the liver and kidneys are typically sluggish and underperforming. All of this leaves the sufferer less able to cope with excessive environmental toxic exposure — which is also on the rise.

Wasting nutrients + poor nutrient absorption
= Chronic deficiencies


7

Gut Health Worsens

Chronic toxicity and subsequent elevated detoxification activity, causes the gut flora to become less and less healthy.  

Instead of good microbes digesting food and releasing nutrients, bad microbes digest food and release what’s known as endotoxin into the bloodstream.

This only increases the body’s toxic load.

Endo- vs Exo-Toxins

  • OUTSIDE THE BODY — Toxicity that originates in the environment are known as exogenous toxins.
  • INSIDE THE BODY — Toxicity that comes from microbes inside the body is known as endotoxin. Endotoxin is produced when food is maldigested.

Toxicity that comes from inside the body is known as endotoxin.

Endotoxin is produced when food is maldigested by bad microbes in the gut.

Endotoxin hits you after meals.

8

Inflammation Rises — Chronically

Inflammation will be chronically higher in chronic illness.

Inflammation especially rises after eating — due to endotoxin — as well as after exposure to environmental irritants.   The body’s immune response kicks in — and stays on 24/7.

High inflammation & toxicity tend to cause blood sugar to plummet.  Unstable blood sugar destroys sleep.  

Inflammation keeps blood glucose and nutrients from entering cells — so the body is perpetually starved for energy and nutrition.

Each passing day with worsening sleep leaves one further and further from healing and recovery.

“Independent of the cause and location, inflammation – even when minimal – has clear effects on gastrointestinal morphology and function. These result in altered digestion, absorption and barrier function.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835780/

9

The Brain Can’t Calm Down

Inflammation (with its effect on falling blood sugar) and lack of sleep also result in a chronic bad mood:  angry emotions and frequent lashing out at people who may or may not deserve it.  

Cortisol (hormone of stress) rises in response to falling blood sugar.  Exposure to toxins can send cortisol/adrenaline even higher — possibly encouraging the body to leave a filthy area. Endotoxins from digestion can do this, too.

Lack of sleep prevents the brain from resetting and cleansing itself of toxic metabolites (waste).

Lack of deep sleep prevents the brain from calming itself.  Gut immunity falls, hormones aren’t produced, glutamate rises, GABA production is reduced. Nutrients become more scarce.

Brain function will suffer until consistent sleep is restored.

Months and years of unrestful nights and chronic stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) leave the brain unable to calm down.  There’s a big difference in a single night of poor sleep and dozens and dozens (or hundreds) in a row.

Nutrient and caloric deficiency (from poor digestion) also lead to chronically elevated stress hormones.

What happens after months (or years) of elevated stress hormones, falling blood sugar, poor sleep, and nutrient deficiency? The chronic illness brain will feel fried.

If you don’t know why this is happening, you may think you’re beginning to lose your mind.


10

Sleep Disappears

One of the first signs of chronic illness is the collapse of restorative sleep.

Quality sleep depends on proper hormone production and balance, stable blood sugar, low inflammation, and proper stress hormone balance. Gut health directly impacts sleep, too, by controlling all the aforementioned variables.

Each night of poor sleep is another day the body can’t make progress.

It can take weeks or, sometimes, months of solid sleep to recover from long-term disrupted sleep cycles.

“Non-restorative sleep despite sufficient or extended total sleep time is one of the major clinical diagnostic criteria [of CFS/ME].”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501671/

Each night of poor sleep is another day the body can’t make progress.


11

Ultimately, Debilitation

Small Challenges Feel Large

If symptoms progress, a chronic illness sufferer may not be able to eat, sleep, exercise, concentrate, socialize, or even find enjoyment in life-long favorite activities.  

Even the smallest tasks become dauntingly difficult and exhausting.

Outsiders who don’t understand will be tempted to think these difficulties are the result of depression. Perhaps it’s “all in your head” — or worse, that it’s “an act.”

It’s certainly not an act.

Social Isolation

Negative opinions from others can increase stress, feelings of rejection, and helplessness.

These feelings can even become a new source of trauma for the chronically ill. Not only might they feel helpless, but they often see few solutions and dwindling support among skeptical friends and family. Many turn to social media health groups, looking for advice from others with similar experiences — and find new, supportive communities there.

Unfortunately, most health groups on social media suffer from an excessive focus on only a few problems and narrow solutions. Putting all the pieces together can be a challenge, seeing that this epidemic of chronic illness is so new. Many people bounce around from group to group, looking for “the fix.”

Without the confidence that meals will digest, or that sleep will come at night, the only guarantee is that tomorrow probably won’t be much better.


12

The Process Of Recovery

Maybe there is an easy fix.

Maybe there’s one pill or natural substance (or drug) that fixes everything in the body and mind.

Or, perhaps, recovery of our health requires a larger shift in the way we live. A way that nourishes each aspect of our biology and mind.

Perhaps we need to build ourselves up, reduce toxic load and exposure, boost our immunity, and find our peace.

Maybe it all — everything — matters.

We might need the help of doctors and specialists. We might not. In either situation, finding what we can do ourselves is critical to maximize our recovery.

No matter the path taken or steps followed, the following steps will be important along the way.

This completes the Introduction.
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