What Is… Chronic Illness?
Disabling fatigue. Inflammation. Digestive problems. Insomnia. Nervous system disruption.
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 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.
1 — The Beginnings Of Chronic Illness
2 — What Chronic Illness Looks Like
3 — Chronic Illness Symptoms
4 — Organ Dysfunction
5 — Nutrient Deficiency
6 — Hypersensitivity To Environmental Toxins
7 — Gut Health Worsens
8 — Inflammation Rises, Chronically
9 — The Brain Can’t Calm Down
10 — Sleep Disappears
11 — Debilitation
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:
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.
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/
Thyroid hormone production slows to conserve energy and nutrients.
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.
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.
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
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:
- poor gut health
- unregulated circadian rhythms
- brain fog
Liver and kidney health is almost always affected in these illnesses (by toxicity, inflammation, and poor nutrient absorption).
Chronic Illness Symptoms
These symptoms can range from mild to extremely severe — with wild variation from day to day.
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.
& The Gut
& The Gut
“In addition, mycotoxins disrupt the gut microbiota balance, and thereby dysregulate intestinal functions and impair local immune response, which may eventually result in systemic toxicity that leads to chronic mycotoxicosis, HCC. The severity of HCC condition can be positively governed by restoration of gut microbiota balance and gut health via probiotics administration.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5834427/
& The Liver
The aflatoxins are toxic, immunosuppressive, mutogenic, teratogenic, and carcinogenic, and their main target is the liver. Most have been classified as type 1 carcinogens (172). AFB1 is probably the most potent liver carcinogen for a variety of species, including humanshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC145304/
& The Thyroid
Exposure to volatile organic compounds present in water-damaged buildings including metabolic products of toxigenic fungi and mold-derived inflammatory agents can lead to a deficiency or imbalance of many hormones, such as active T3 hormone.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545575/
Note: Most of the thyroid hormone T3 used by organs is converted in the organs themselves (from T4 produced in the thyroid.
& The Brain
& The Kidneys
“Environmental exposure to these chemicals during everyday life could have adverse consequences on renal function and might contribute to progressive cumulative renal injury over a lifetime. Regulatory efforts should be made to limit individual exposure to environmental chemicals in an attempt to reduce the incidence of cardiorenal disease.”https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279309259_The_effects_of_environmental_chemicals_on_renal_function
“Even in stage 2 classification we found 88% of CFS/ME patients were close to Chronic Kidney Disease.”https://forums.phoenixrising.me/threads/chronic-kidney-disease-and-me-cfs.9200/
In chronic illness, major organs are being attacked.
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-quality food results in low nutrient supply.
Imbalanced, restrictive diets fail to supply adequate nutrition, as well.
Poor Soil Quality
…results in poor nutrient content in all foods.
Poor Gut Health
…results in poor nutrient uptake (by the body), as well as endotoxicity.
…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.
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:
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.
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
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.
Endotoxin hits you after meals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.