What Is Chronic Illness?

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

This Isn’t Just ‘Being 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.

This Is Chronic Illness

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

Energy in the body is deeply and continually depleted. The lack of system energy allows disease to spread.

[Normal] 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.


How Does Chronic Illness Begin?

Chronic illness usually begins with one or more health challenges.

  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Environmental toxicity
  • Stress

One Challenge Becomes Multiple

We often see these causes stack up as a cascade of events.

The combination of A) stress and B) poor environmental health often leads to C) a suppressed immune system and D) infectious activity within the body’s microbiomes.

This accumulation of multiple harmful factors is nearly ubiquitous in chronic illness. The body can handle acute stress and challenges it struggles greatly with chronic, compounding issues.

Thus, an initial health challenge can branch into multiple problems over time — and become much more difficult to overcome.

As challenges add up, symptoms of chronic illness begin to emerge — hypothyroidism, environmental sensitivities, insomnia, digestive challenges, and fatigue.

This symptomology makes for a difficult diagnostic, treatment, and recovery process due to the mysterious, system-wide nature of the symptoms.

How Far Back Do Your Health Problems Go?

Our health in adulthood often reflects our health in earlier years.

A newborn baby’s first months of life are critical for developing the immune system.

Humans have virtually zero gut microbiome at birth 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 growing their immune system and are prone to illness.

Newborns inherit the genes of both parents, the gut microbiome of the mother, and within days, the microbiomes of the hospital and the home around them. Thus, a mother’s immune system and building health in the first years of life directly affect the health of offspring.

Chronic health problems in adulthood are more likely when developmental years include traumatic experiences.


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.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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.”

  • Debilitating fatigue.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Unstable mood.

[ME/CFS] often follows an infection.



Thyroid hormone production slows to conserve energy and nutrients.

Hypothyroidism is present in nearly every chronic illness.

  • 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.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

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

This illness presents as a strong immune, allergic, or nuerological reaction to most strong chemicals, even low levels of exposure.

Symptoms include:

Environmental exposure to chemicals appears to directly harm the thyroid.

Folks with MCS almost certainly have symptoms of hypothyroidism, and vice versa.

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 – giving hope and attention to folks who were previously uncared for and hopeless in the conventional medical system.


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.

Chronic Illnesses Are In Their Scientific Infancy

The further we explore these various 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.


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 severe — with variation, day-to-day.


Organs Are Affected

Chronic illness can impair any biological function, but especially impacted are the major organs:

  • The gut
  • The thyroid
  • The liver
  • The kidneys
  • The brain
  • The skin


& The Gut

Mold Toxins

& The Gut


& The Liver


& The Thyroid


& The Brain

Environmental Toxins

& The Kidneys

In chronic illness, major organs are often suffering.


Nutrient Deficiency

Nutrient deficiency is common in chronic illness.

It appears that most sufferers chronic illnesses 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

High toxicity — from environmental exposure or endotoxin in 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.

Read more.


Hypersensitivity To Environmental Toxins

Toxic VOC’s

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

Sources of VOC’s:
  • 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.  

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

As gut health begins to suffer, the endogenous production of B-vitamins by microbes will wane — and nutrients in food will be poorly absorbed.

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.”

Chronic inflammation is a staple of ongoing illness, and directly impairs liver function.

All of this leaves the sufferer less able to cope with excessive environmental toxic exposure, even as levels of toxins in the indoor and outdoor environments rise each year.

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.

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 Is Produced In The Gut after meals.


Inflammation Rises — Chronically

Inflammation is 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.”


The Brain Doesn’t Work

Inflammation destabilizes blood sugar and impairs cognition. Inconsistent sleep results in long-term mood instability.

It’s common to feel irritable when chronically ill. Frustration about a lack of progress is typical.

The trauma of feeling awful, undergoing medical procedures, being truly helpless and, perhaps worst of all, facing the reality that friends and family don’t understand or believe how severe the illness is — all this adds up to powerful storms of emotions that may go unresolved for years.

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). It also prevents the brain from calming itself.  

Gut immunity slacks off, hormones aren’t produced, glutamate rises, GABA production is reduced. Nutrients become more scarce.

Brain function will suffer until consistent sleep is restored.

READ MORE: Battling Deep Insomnia

Extended periods of nonrestorative nights and poor gut health leave the brain unable to calm down.  The effects of a single night of poor sleep pale when compared to 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 feels fried.

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


Sleep Disappears

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

Quality sleep depends on hormone production, stable blood sugar, and low inflammation.

Gut health directly impacts sleep, too, by controlling all the aforementioned variables, as well as removing toxins and supplying the nutrients.

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

When sleep begins to improve, 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].”


Each night of poor sleep is another day the body can’t make progress. Therefore, the circadian rhythm must be a primary focus during & after recovery.


Ultimately, Debilitation

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.  

Small Challenges Feel Large

Even the smallest tasks become daunting, difficult and exhausting.

Onlookers will be tempted to think the whole situation is the result of depression. Perhaps it’s “all in the head” — or worse, that it’s “an act.”

Social Isolation

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

These experiences can even become a new source of trauma for the chronically ill.

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, more-supportive communities there.

Unfortunately, most social media groups hyper-focus on only a few problems and narrow solutions.

Bouncing around from group to group, looking for “the fix” is very much the norm. Wild careening from one approach to the next is many folks’ experience.

Putting all the pieces together can be a challenge. Most hyper-narrow paradigms do not put all the pieces together.

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.


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.

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