Arizona Advanced Medicine Clinic

What is healing?

Health is not simply the absence of disease, as it is defined in “allopathic” medicine. Health is a positive state of the body and mind, where organ systems are in balance and reserves of nutrients are adequate to meet the normal stresses of life which come down the line. Health is something which does not come as a right, but a privilege. It must be maintained and cherished, just like a relationship. If we give our bodies chemicals instead of food, or if we are exposed to excessive doses of toxic metals, or if we allow ourselves to perpetuate toxic emotions, in all likelihood we will become ill. It may take 40 or 50 years to become ill, but illness is inevitable. If we give our bodies good nourishing food throughout our lives, and if we are able to move past toxic emotions – by whatever means is necessary - then in all likelihood we will be healthy into our old age. So… we are at the point of “reality check”. It is never too late to engage in practices which will lead to health.

The symptoms and illnesses that we develop are our bodies’ best effort at maintaining homeostasis, or equilibrium, and maintaining survival of the body. We develop symptoms in different organ systems, depending on our genetic predisposition, and the epigenetic toxic load or how the genes are affected by their environment – the higher the load, the less our ability to detoxify that load, the earlier we develop symptoms.

Remember that all physical manifestations also have their resonance in the emotional and mental bodies. Physical symptoms can be considered a signpost, pointing to disturbances on the energetic level. That does not in any way discount the severity of the physical symptoms, nor the necessity of working with the physical body for healing. Do we really intend to have cancer? Surely not. But it does suggest that healing on the physical level often – indeed very often – also needs to occur on the emotional or mental level as well, in order for true healing to occur.

To give an extreme example, consider the Monday morning heart attack victim. We know that there is a markedly increased incidence of heart attacks on Monday morning, when we go back to work. We know that stress causes an increase in blood pressure, mainly through the mechanism of narrowing blood vessels due to a surge of norepinephrine (a stress neurotransmitter). We know that heart attacks are caused by a decrease in blood supply – whether due to a clot, or to sudden narrowing of an artery is immaterial to the heart muscle which is starving for oxygen. So we can stent the artery, modify the diet, lower the bad cholesterol, reduce the physical inflammation, but the patient him/herself still has to deal with the stress which caused the artery to narrow in the first place, or the condition will simply recur.

Our treatment plan is based on the following principles:

  • We need to figure out anything which might be contributing to the total body load of toxins, so that we can remove as many things as possible which are toxic to both body and brain function. This may include foods, chemicals, tumors, environmental agents like pollens or dust, heavy metals like mercury or lead.
  • We need to make sure that the intestinal tract is capable of absorbing the nutrients that are eaten.
  • If there are deficiencies of nutrients within the cells themselves, we need to correct those deficiencies, so that the cells all over the body (including the brain) may function at top capacity.
  • And above all, we need to make sure that the body’s bioelectric field is restored to health, on the physical, emotional and mental levels, so that illness does not simply pop out somewhere else.

The body is an incredibly complex system, each part influencing and being influenced by every other, as you can see from the following diagram of the matrix of the brain/body function.

Matrix of Functional Medicine

All living systems exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Think of a kid on a skateboard, or a tree growing in a forest. There is constant motion, and yet the organism stays upright, continues to move its parts, and has sufficient balance that a pebble, or a breeze, or a bump on the slope will not cause the organism to crash. Of course too big a perturbation will indeed cause the organism to crash. And a series of minor perturbations may cause the organism to falter, to be less steady on its feet, more susceptible to other perturbations. We are that organism. Our bodies are built to withstand lots of perturbations – poor food, toxicities, injuries, infections. But if we get too many of them, or any one of them is too overwhelming, then our systems will be disturbed, and we may reach a different point of balance – less healthy, more symptomatic.

Now, think a little more outside the box. Think dynamic. That means (in physics) pertaining to force related to motion. Dynamic equilibrium means a state of balance achieved by two (or more) forces in motion. We see this in our normal physiology all the time – neurotransmitters of opposite effect are in a state of equilibrium in the body such that we function appropriately, without having to think about it. Or not… in which case we realize that we are no longer in equilibrium.

Now a little further outside the box. Think about moving forward. You came to see a physician who is deeply into holistic medicine because you were tired of the equilibrium in which you found yourself. Perhaps you were tired of having your disease managed. Perhaps you felt yourself in a state of mild depression because nothing was changing, nothing was moving, despite your best efforts at helping yourself get out of the starting gate. You came because no matter what you did to help yourself, you found that you were unable to move forward, to get out of your disease state, to lose that weight, to lower that cholesterol or blood sugar, and you thought there must be another way.

What is it that keeps us from moving forward? What are the blocks to healing? Is it genetics? Not much we can do to change that one. Is it epigenetics, i.e. what information our genes are given once we are born? Is it that loaf of bread that we just can’t do without? Is it genetically modified food? Government insistence on “fortifying” food, or putting fluoride in the water? Addiction to drugs or alcohol? Addiction to relationships? Fear of change? Is it that infection which we acquired as small children? Is it the world in which we grew up as small children? Were we abused, sexually, physically or emotionally? Did we feel helpless and hopeless as small children, or even as adults? Do we not see any way out of our current predicament? Do we feel that we do not deserve to be healthy or happy?

There are so many possible blocks to healing, it is difficult to explore them all. Some of them may not even be in our conscious minds. Sometimes we store particularly powerful experiences in different places in our bodies, if our minds are not able to handle those experiences at the time we have them. And when, later, we begin to have symptoms in those places of our bodies, this may be a signal that it is now time, and we are now able to handle the experience – if only we could remember it. Symptoms can be sign posts that something is out of balance.

I offer you the opportunity of spending some time looking at things in your life which may be acting as blocks to your healing, keeping you from moving forward. We have a CD which you can use to help you get into a meditative state so that you can more easily see if there are any areas that need to be investigated. You may also wish to schedule a session of guided imagery with Steven Swerdfeger, PhD, CH, to help you discover areas which seem to be resistant to change, and what you can do about it.

Toxicity is the major cause of chronic illness in our 21st century world. One out of every 6 women in the United States today is mercury toxic, according to data from the NHANES study in 2002. Infants are born with an average of over 200 toxic chemicals in their blood. In order to remove toxicity, it is necessary to clean up both the intestinal tract and the liver, so that they can function as the toxic filters and excretors they are meant to be. It is equally necessary to remove as many sources of toxicity as possible from the body, including self-administered toxins like nicotine, alcohol or “recreational” drugs, in such a way that the body does not suffer from too harsh a treatment.

Toxicity can involve physical substances – heavy metals, foods, chemicals, organic pesticides, etc. Toxicity can also involve the emotions – history of childhood traumas, battlefield trauma, ongoing difficult relationships. And the emotions, of course, have an effect on the physical body. The essence of all toxicity is the fact that it is retained within the body. If we could get rid of it, it would just be trash, and would no longer affect us. So… we will do our best to help you turn the toxicity into trash and unload it. Cleaning up the house goes a long way toward restoration of function. It may not be the only thing that has to be done, but it is certainly a necessary condition for health.

Inflammation is a major cause of chronic illness – whether it be joint pain, bowel discomfort, muscle aches, abnormalities of sugar metabolism, or brain fog. Inflammation causes chronic stress to the adrenal glands, resulting first in high cortisol levels (decreased resistance to infection, high blood sugar levels, memory loss) and later in low cortisol levels (chronic fatigue, panic attacks, brain fog). Inflammation is a major inciting cause of such chronic “diseases” as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s dementia … the list goes on. Inflammation is most definitely associated with cancer, as a causative factor.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic substances released into the environment, having adverse effects on health of ecosystems, wildlife, and people. They are stable chemical compounds and can last in the environment for many years. They accumulate up the food chain through algae, fish, birds, mammals and humans, and are further concentrated from human mothers into their unborn infants. They have been found in as remote locations as the Arctic Circle.

POPs fall into three broad categories:

  • Pesticides (DDT, chlordane, etc)
  • Industrial chemicals (benzene, PCBs)
  • Byproducts and contaminants (hexachlorobenzene, dioxins, furans)

Heavy metals are toxic metallic elements which have been linked to neurobehavioral abnormalities (lead), chronic kidney damage (cadmium) and sensory and neurologic impairments (mercury). The fetus is especially susceptible, because of the significantly neurotoxic effect of these metals on the developing brain.

Heavy metals are known to induce autoimmunity in mice. Mercury is neurotoxic in all forms, both organic (like the mercury preservative thimerosal which is in vaccines) and inorganic (like the mercury that used to be in thermometers, and which is still used in dental amalgams, “silver” fillings). Mercury has been shown to be related to autism, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease , autoimmunity and cancer . Arsenic, found in drinking water in much of the United States, poses a significant metabolic, hormonal and genetic toxicity at levels below 1 ppb (part per billion). Cadmium and nickel have similar toxic risks, being linked to heart disease and cancer. Lead has been linked to chronic kidney disease, as well as attentional difficulties in school children.

Blood levels of heavy metals are not representative of tissue levels, and frequently fail to identify significantly toxic tissue levels. Blood will reflect recent exposure to toxic heavy metals, before the body has had a chance to sequester these heavy metals in brain, soft tissues or bone. The most valid test for heavy metals is the provoked urine and stool test, where both urine and stool, and sometimes hair, are collected and analyzed after administration of an anionic surfactant agent which complexes with heavy metals, allowing their excretion from the body.

How do we know if we need detoxification?

If we are ill, and are unable to find an easily fixable cause – e.g. acute pneumonia, treat with antibiotics – then we should consider that our bodies may be so full of pollutants that they cannot remain healthy. We are all exposed to increasingly large loads of toxins – they are in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the food we eat, and in the chemicals with which we cover our skin. Some of these compounds are extremely useful, in their place (e.g. formaldehyde makes fabrics look strong and beautiful, gasoline makes automobiles run, aluminum hydroxide makes our sweat glands stop functioning). However, when they get into the body, they can slow down or completely stop many important cellular processes, leading to fatigue, symptomatic illness, and even to autoimmune disease.

Some signs that detoxification is needed:

  • Diagnosis of autism
  • Diagnosis of attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder
  • Diagnosis of any chronic disease
  • Unexplained pain – headaches, back pain, etc
  • Arthritis
  • Poor or failing memory
  • Lack of energy, mild depression (or even severe depression)
  • Brittle nails and hair
  • Abnormal body odor, coated tongue, bad breath
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Psoriasis, other skin diseases
  • Allergies
  • Chronic hormone use, chronic steroid use

How does the body detoxify itself?

Detoxification proceeds in two basic processes. First, in Phase I detoxification, the compound is made water-soluble. In this state it is occasionally more toxic than the parent compound.

Next, in Phase II the water-soluble compound is attached to some molecule which renders the compound harmless. It is then eliminated from the body, either in urine or stool (and sometimes in the sweat). As long as there is sufficient water in the system, the compounds can be safely eliminated. If water is lacking, the compounds can precipitate in the kidneys (causing kidney stones or even kidney failure), or in the gall bladder (causing gallstones).

The production of energy within the cell comes at the expense of producing oxygen free radicals, which then must be detoxified. If the body has sufficient materials with which to detoxify, then all is well. If, for some reason, these substances are missing from the body, toxicity is the result.

Some people have a genetic problem with detoxification – they lack the protein enzymes required to carry out the required processes – and are therefore much more easily damaged by levels of toxins which would not affect another person whose detoxification system was intact.

An example of genetic predisposition to development of toxicity is those autistic children who have problems with their methylation or sulfation pathways. They are the ones who clearly developed their disease after vaccination – the addition of a viral load AND toxicity in the form of mercury in the thimerosal was enough to overwhelm their detoxification systems, and the result was the development of autism. Obviously not every child develops autism after vaccination. But some children clearly do, because their systems are unable to detoxify those particular chemicals and viruses.

Sometimes the system is simply overwhelmed by an excessive body burden, not of one toxin, but of the layering of toxins. For example, severe stress for several months or years, combined with chronic exposure to airborne chemical like formaldehyde, may eventually result in toxicity manifesting as chronic fatigue syndrome or, in the worst case scenario, inability to live in the world because of symptoms like syncope, Reynaud’s disease, wheezing, brain fog or other physical manifestations.

Once a sensitivity has developed, it becomes much easier for the body to react to other compounds as well. Eventually a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity may develop. If the detoxification system is addressed, the sensitivities may well diminish and even disappear, as the body heals.

How can we help the body with detoxification?

Which exact treatments we use depends on the heavy metals involved, and the response of the person who is being treated. Nutritional status is extremely important. At the same time, increased levels of heavy metals and organophosphates may be part of the cause of poor nutritional status. Frequency of treatment depends upon the nutritional status as well – the less healthy, the more unstable the patient, the less frequent the treatment, and the less the dose of medication used. Liver enzymes and kidney function are monitored periodically, and levels of heavy metals are tested every two months to monitor progress. Minerals like zinc, magnesium and calcium are replaced, since they too are removed in the process of treatment.

Treatment ends when clinical progress is made, the patient feels better, and levels of heavy metals in collected samples are at low levels or near zero.

Remember that metals and persistent organic pollutants are only part of the story. We also need to treat the gut, since many unhelpful or even actively harmful bacteria can take up residence there, when the normal gut flora have been eliminated by the antibiotics which we may have been forced to ingest to preserve our lives. These harmful bacteria can produce toxins which we then absorb, and which can cause significant disruption of normal metabolic processes – irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, allergies like skin rashes, and asthma, immune disorders, arthritis. Some of the antibodies which we produce against these bacteria may cross react with our own body structure, leading to auto-immune diseases like thyroiditis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis.

Much of the therapy is dietary. Fruits and vegetables have tremendous amounts of fiber which promotes the excretion of toxic bacteria from the GI tract. We can also replace the toxic bacteria with helpful ones, using probiotics. Adequate amounts of water help the kidneys eliminate toxins through the urine.

When the body is functioning poorly, the brain suffers as well. Deficiency of neurotransmitters, destruction of neural pathways by exposure to mercury or other heavy metals, deficiency of nutrients because of poor gut function – all these affect the function of the brain. Neurotherapy, in conjunction with the metabolic work, is extremely helpful in re-establishment of neural pathways, helping the brain’s nerves to heal themselves. Several studies have shown improvements in brain function after EEG neurofeedback. Most recently, results have been presented of a study using the most technologically advanced form of brain imaging - functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - in order to assess changes in brain function after EEG neurofeedback. This study showed that EEG neurofeedback with children with ADHD resulted in normalization of brain activation levels in the frontal circuits in the brain that are involved in attention. As shown in pre- and post-neurofeedback fMRI studies, blood oxygenation levels of 24 ADHD participants normalized with EEG neurofeedback training, with increased blood oxygenation in the prefrontal cortex bilaterally, and in the anterior portion of the cingulate gyrus. No such changes were seen in non-treatment controls.

Principles of detoxification

  • Remove – through adequate emptying of the large intestine, adequate production of urine, elimination of all unhealthy “foods” – sugar, refined flours, food colorings, food additives, chemicals. Treatment with EDTA, DMPS, ozone, etc may be required at this stage. Exercise is helpful, as soon as it is possible, to eliminate toxins from the skin, and to increase circulation to all the organs. Even breathing exercises will help, if more active physical exercise is not possible. If constipation is an issue, and bowel movements are not daily, regular and easy, then colon hydrotherapy can be very effective.
  • Replace – that which has been removed by antibiotics and unhealthy GI function, including digestive enzymes, bile salts, even hydrochloric acid if the stomach is unable to produce it. Antioxidants are used during this phase, to replace those which have been depleted from the body, to repair DNA damage and to help the body produce the cellular energy required for its metabolic processes.
  • Reinoculate – with probiotics, to push out the toxic or unhelpful organisms currently residing in the gut
  • Repair – through, dietary fiber, consumption of adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables from organic sources. Silymarin, dandelion and chamomile are herbal supplements used to help repair the liver. Phosphatidylcholine is another supplement, soy derived, which has remarkable liver regenerative powers.

Food, environmental and chemical allergies – many children with frequent vomiting, colic, or early ear infections or strep throats are allergic either to their formula (whether it be cow’s milk or soy) or, if they are breast feeding, to something which their mother is eating which is passed through the breast milk. As the children get older, they may “outgrow” the ear infection phase, only to enter a tonsillitis phase, and eventually either a lung irritability phase (with wheezing, pneumonia, asthma) or an intestinal irritability phase (with stomach aches, diarrhea, constipation) or a brain irritability phase (with severe behavior problems, like irritability, rage, inattention, lack of focus). Even if there are never any physical symptoms, foods can still have a marked impact on behavior and performance. Any allergen has the potential for causing behavioral issues in susceptible children. These may include inhaled pollens, grasses, weeds, or molds, as well as animals (especially dog and cat) and dust mites. Chronic allergic response sets up a climate of irritability in the entire system, which can affect many different organs in the body, starting with the adrenal glands, and progressing through the intestinal tract, the lungs, the skin, the detoxification system, and the brain.

In the adult, allergy tends to express itself with “deficient” symptoms like plugged sinuses, wheezing, chronic fatigue, headache, arthritis or depression, whereas in children, allergy tends to express itself in hyperactivity, irritability or uncontrollable bad behavior. Allergy or sensitivity in the adult may also express itself as chronic arthritis (osteo- or rheumatoid), irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea and other bowel complaints, memory loss, adult onset asthma, and many other medically defined illnesses.

Blood Sugar Control: The body attempts to keep its blood sugar levels within a fairly narrow range, so that the tissues (including the brain) will have a constant source of energy to support their metabolic activity. When the blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly, both the adrenals and the pancreas are called into play. Under conditions of high stress, the adrenals produce both epinephrine and cortisol, which both serve to increase blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar falls at night, and epinephrine is called into play, there may be awakening with sensation of panic attack, because of the physiologic response of the body to the epinephrine. The pancreas then produces insulin to get the blood sugar into the cells, where it is turned into energy. Eventually the adrenals become exhausted, and can no longer produce enough cortisol to stabilize the blood sugar levels. With continued stress and continued high carbohydrate intake, the pancreas becomes exhausted, and cannot produce enough insulin to get the sugar into the cells. At this point, we can make a diagnosis of diabetes. However, the functional disturbance of metabolism has been in play for many years before a “diagnosis” of a disease can be made.

Insulin resistance is caused by prolonged and excessive requirement for insulin release, as can happen with years of high carbohydrate meals in a person who is predisposed genetically to carbohydrate intolerance. Eventually the cells become less responsive to insulin, because of the prolonged high levels (this is called down-regulation of receptor sites), leading to production of insulin in higher and higher amounts, to overcome the resistance. High insulin levels lead to alteration in fat metabolism and elevation of cholesterol and triglycerides. We still do not have diabetes, but at this point we can make a “diagnosis” of high cholesterol, or high triglycerides.

When the pancreas can no longer produce sufficient insulin to maintain blood sugar levels within normal limits, blood sugar rises, and we can then finally make a diagnosis of diabetes.

Intervention at stage 1, decreasing the body’s intake of carbohydrate and improving the diet, can prevent the development of most cases of high cholesterol and type 2 adult onset diabetes.

Issues with blood sugar control can start as early as childhood. Falling blood sugar levels can be associated with temper tantrums or other emotional instability, usually about 2 hours after the last intake of food. Insufficient intake of protein causes a decrease in the production of enzymes which are required to maintain normal energy production within the cells. Insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals has a similar impact on those enzymes, resulting in poor nourishment of the cell, poor energy production in the body, and poor processing of information in the brain.

Metabolic syndrome is related to both the genetic predisposition and the diet. The components of metabolic syndrome are abdominal weight gain, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high cholesterol, leading eventually to type II diabetes and to cardiovascular disease. People with predisposition to metabolic syndrome do not tolerate carbohydrate well, but they tend to crave the carbohydrates. Ingestion of a high carbohydrate load causes a surge of insulin in the blood stream. At the same time, there is increased transportation of tryptophan from the intestinal tract, leading to increased synthesis of serotonin in the brain – thus explaining why carbohydrates are “feel-good” food. Unfortunately, the carbohydrates lead to big metabolic problems in later years. Fortunately, when we modify the diet and decrease the carbohydrate load, most of the signs of metabolic syndrome go away, and health is restored.

The child who eats the classic “American diet” – high simple carbohydrate, high saturated fat –will, in all likelihood, suffer from the classic “American” metabolic syndrome as he/she gets older – diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are the three most likely physical results. Why do some of us preferentially eat that way, while others are perfectly happy on a diet of meat, vegetables and fruits?

The intestinal tract is a prime player in this scenario. Tryptophan, the amino acid which is crucial for the production of serotonin has to compete with several other similar amino acids, both to get across the intestinal lining, and to get across the blood-brain barrier, where it can then be turned in to serotonin. If there are problems getting tryptophan across the intestinal lining, then the production of serotonin will be decreased, and our neural processing will automatically slow down. We can increase the transportation of tryptophan by raising our insulin levels (i.e. eating a high carbohydrate meal), so if we have low serotonin levels, the body’s automatic response would be to eat lots of carbohydrate, raise the insulin levels, increase tryptophan transport, and then manufacture more serotonin. Unfortunately, like most emergency responses, this is a two-edged sword, because pretty soon we develop insulin resistance and need to maintain higher glucose levels in the blood in order to get the same effect. High glucose levels on a sustained basis will exhaust the pancreas, leading to decreased insulin production and the development of diabetes. Of course, it generally takes several years for this situation to develop, so it’s hard to see the immediate connection.

So which comes first, the low serotonin? the poor intestinal barrier function? the high carbohydrate diet? It’s hard to tell. We do know, however, that if we change the diet, we can change intestinal function and support the pancreas without having to take drugs to control the blood sugar. So… it seems only reasonable to work on the diet at an early age, so that diabetes does not occur at a later age.

The immune system is a key player in the health of the body. This system tells our bodies what is healthy for us, and what is not. The Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) comprises easily over half the lymphoid tissue in the body. It is not surprising that the gut is the earliest and primary arbiter of what is OK for the body to ingest, and what is not OK. Our bodies learn to distinguish “friend” from “foe” from the earliest age. Depending on what we are exposed to in our earliest years, we may develop a predisposition to specific organ inflammation, or to generalized inflammation. Unfortunately, if there is a great deal of irritability in the GI tract from whatever cause, our bodies sometimes over-react, and begin producing antibodies to things which normally should not give us a reaction. In the worst case scenario, we produce antibodies to our own tissues, and develop the so-called “auto-immune” diseases, which include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, thyroiditis, the demyelinating diseases (like multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease), and many others. GI irritability is generally due to abnormal bacteria and yeasts in the intestinal tract. These abnormal and unhelpful GI flora can take hold in susceptible people when they are given frequent courses of antibiotics.

The digestive (GI) system is a major player in many people’s medical problems, and most particularly in children with ADD/ADHD, or in adults with chronic stress-related illness. The GI system is the last system to develop, and the most easily injured after birth, by food, antibiotics, chemicals, and anything else which an infant ingests. If the intestinal lining is injured, in most people it heals without any problem. However, in some susceptible people, the intestinal lining fails to heal, and continues to cause problems long after the initial insult is history.

Susceptibility may be a genetic factor, due to a lack of specific enzymes required to digest certain kinds of food, or a lack of enzymes required to manufacture certain proteins, glycoproteins or neurotransmitters. Susceptibility may also be a matter of toxicity, either from specific foods, or from heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium. These metals can be absorbed by breathing our polluted air, by eating our foods grown in polluted soil, or by drinking our mother’s milk which becomes contaminated by breathing and eating in our 21st century world. Susceptibility may have been induced by early exposure to antibiotics, with subsequent overgrowth of more pathogenic bacteria (ones which can injure the gut lining).

The patient may have an inherent sensitivity to certain foods. If the patient ingests these foods for a prolonged time, the GI tract becomes irritated, and more susceptible to colonization or infection by unhelpful organisms, like candida yeast, or pathogenic bacteria. Initially the symptoms are more characteristic of so-called “irritable bowel”, with pain and chronic diarrhea/constipation. In any case, the sensitivity causes inflammatory changes in the bowel, which affect the rest of the body. There is often “failure to thrive”, or delayed growth. Over a more prolonged time, the patient may even develop colitis, ileitis or Crohn’s disease. They may also develop symptoms in the skin (as with severe acne) or in the lungs (as with asthma).

Pharmaceutical medication can be a cause of GI distress.

If the GI tract is not absorbing and processing food correctly, it cannot manufacture the neurotransmitters which nerve require in order to communicate with each other and with the organs of the body.

If the GI tract becomes leaky because of the prolonged irritation, it may allow large molecules to leak through into the blood stream. The body makes antibodies to these molecules, because it recognizes them as “foreign”, not belonging in the blood stream. However, sometimes the molecules are very similar to the body’s own tissues, and the body begins to manufacture antibodies against its own tissues. This may well be the origin of the auto-immune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and even multiple sclerosis. Sometimes the body is so sensitive to foods it takes in, that it reacts very badly to them, with immediate symptoms (e.g. anaphylactic shock from peanuts or shellfish) or with slightly more delayed symptoms (hives or vomiting). Some children even react with central nervous system symptoms (poor attention, poor concentration, irritability, anger, defiance).

When large molecules leak into the blood stream, this puts an extra burden on both the immune system (which has to make antibodies to these molecules) and on the liver (which has to detoxify them), as well as on the large intestine and kidneys (which have to excrete or get rid of them). So, the GI tract dysfunction works its way into all the other body systems, causing problems and symptoms in areas which seem very remote from the GI tract itself.

Nerve impulse conduction depends largely upon the state of the membranes, and is controlled by the amount of essential fatty acids and phospholipids which are present at the synaptic junction (where two nerves meet).

If the GI tract cannot absorb the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), or if for some reason the correct fatty acids are not eaten, then the body is unable to manufacture cell membranes of the correct structure and fluidity.

Essential fatty acids come from vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, soy, corn) and from flax seed or fish oils. Most of us eat vegetable oils every day, without realizing that if those oils are heated (as in fried foods), their structure changes, and they are no longer flexible. The body still uses the fatty acids, but because of the lack of flexibility in the oils, the membranes which are manufactured are also no longer flexible. All the cells still have membranes, but they are stiff, and do not easily allow passage of nutrients and wastes.

The membrane of every cell in the body is composed of two layers of lipids, 3.5 microns (nanometers) thick. It would take about 10,000 membranes layered upon each other to make up the thickness of a piece of paper. The membranes control how nutrients get into the cells, and how wastes are expelled. If the membranes function poorly, then the body is unable to either nourish or detoxify itself properly. All cellular processes slow down, including the function of the brain and the nervous system.

The function of the membrane depends largely on how the lipids are aligned. Lipids in the cell walls are comprised of both structural lipids (oleic, stearic, palmitic acids and cholesterol) and of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are called Essential Fatty Acids because they cannot be manufactured by the body, they must be ingested (eaten). Symptoms of fatty acid deficiency include skin rash, dry hair, dandruff, brittle nails, excessive thirst, poor mental processing, and fatty liver.

Various proteins and glycoproteins are also part of the cell membrane, forming the receptors to which molecules attach, and cellular gates through which ions and other molecules pass. All the organelles within the cell are encased in a membrane of approximately the same thickness and composition as the cell wall. Vitamins and minerals are also important in the construction of the cell membranes. For instance, biotin deficiency is associated with accumulations of odd-chain fatty acids, useful only as fuel, not good for membrane function.

The brain is about 60% lipid. Nerve cell processes (dendrites and synapses) are up to 80% lipid. It is clear that lipids are extremely important in the regulation of body functions, and particularly in the proper functioning of the brain. When the lipid balance of the body is corrected, brain function is improved markedly.

If the cell membrane becomes stiff, because it is made up of the wrong kinds of fatty acids, then the fluidity is lost, cellular metabolism is no longer as efficient, detoxification slows or stops, and the cells themselves become stiff. The red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues, may become too stiff to get through the tiny capillaries, resulting in tissue starvation (hypoxia). If this happens over a large enough area, for instance in the legs, it is called “claudication” – the person is unable to walk without severe pain, because the muscles cannot get enough oxygen to function correctly. If it happens in the brain of older people, it is called “dementia”. In young children, it is often called “ADD” or “ADHD”, and sometimes “developmental delay”. In the intestinal tract, it is called “irritable bowel” or “leaky gut”.

Brain dysfunction, fatigue, and ineffective neural processing can occur because of any one of several reasons. In addition to incomplete development of neural pathways, there can also be metabolic insufficiencies, or traumatic injury. The major issue with all these conditions (aside from the obvious structural issue) is one of nourishment to the brain. If, for any reason, the brain does not have sufficient fuel for cellular processing, it cannot function at top capacity, nor can it function for long periods of time.

Nutritional fuel may be lacking because of a metabolic abnormality. It may be lacking because of a congenital abnormality of sugar metabolism. There may be a lack of vitamin or cofactor necessary for energy production, either because of insufficient intake or because of poor absorption through the intestines.

The cells may be unresponsive to insulin, for whatever reason. Insulin is required in order for glucose to get across the cell membrane. If the body becomes resistant to insulin, as happens with metabolic syndrome, Syndrome X, then it cannot utilize the glucose which it ingests. High cortisol causes insulin resistance; low cortisol causes lack of energy.

Neurotransmitters may be out of balance, or simply lacking, because of dietary or genetic issues (incomplete absorption of nutrients, lack of proper receptor sites). Serotonin is the body’s master neurotransmitter. When serotonin is low, there is nothing to counteract the effect of the neurotransmitters secreted under stress – the catecholamines – and the result is a person who is depressed and anxious or irritable at the same time.

Serotonin is manufactured from an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan must be eaten; our bodies cannot manufacture it from any other nutrients. It is transported across the blood brain barrier, and turned into serotonin through a two-step process, dependent on specific enzymes and vitamins (B3 and B6). Unfortunately, tryptophan competes with five other amino acids, all of which are in greater supply in the normal diet, for transportation across the blood brain barrier, so eating more protein does not necessarily equate to getting more serotonin in the brain. Under conditions of high stress, elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol will cause an increase in break-down of serotonin in the liver – being mellow is not what the body needs, if under severe stress, so the mechanism makes sense in the short run. However, in the long run, if the stressful conditions continue, cortisol remains high, serotonin levels fall to very low levels, and clinical depression is the result.

In Chinese medicine, the Liver is the organ in charge not only of detoxification (on both physical and emotional levels), but also of creativity and movement. If someone is stuck in a place where they do not wish to be, the Liver is affected, because “stuckness” creates friction, which creates heat, which injures the organs. Other manifestations of energy stuck in this organ may include irritability, depression, hepatitis, gall stones, abdominal pain, inability to stay focused, hyperactivity. These factors operate on all levels, not just the physical level. Acupuncture treats the system at the interface between the physical and the energetic (or electrical) levels, and so can have a major effect. It is important to realize, however, that it takes a good deal more input to affect the physical level, and so we often use other more physical modalities as well – herbal preparations, vitamins and other supplements – to strengthen the physical organism, so that the acupuncture may work more quickly and effectively.

Brain pathways may simply never have developed, or may have developed incompletely, because of the influences of childhood ear infections, leading to auditory processing disorders, poor vestibular function, poor rhythm and balance, and diminished capacity for cognitive and planning tasks (executive function).

The detoxification system is made up of the liver and gall bladder. Liver manufactures bile, which is stored in the gall bladder for use in digesting fats. The liver also is a major player in detoxification of chemicals which enter our bodies. Examples are heavy metals – mercury, cadmium, antimony, arsenic, etc – pesticides (which we spray on our lawns and in our houses) – pharmaceutical medications (aspirin, Tylenol, antibiotics, high blood pressure medicines, etc) – and chemical substances (alcohol, polysorbate 80, all the chemicals which are put into processed foods). Poisoning with some of these heavy metals can cause acne-like symptoms, as a manifestation of toxicity.

The liver detoxifies in three stages. First, the substance is made water-soluble, through chemical reactions. Sometimes the resulting compound is even more toxic than the parent compound. Second , the substance is combined with other molecules in the body, to form a complex which can be safely circulated and excreted in the stool or the urine. Glutathione is a major player in this step. Third, the chemical is excreted from the body, either by mixing with bile and going into the intestinal tract, or by going into the bloodstream, being filtered by the kidneys, and excreted in the urine.

All three phases must work correctly, in order for toxic compounds to be excreted from the body. Phase II molecules are easily depleted by chronic stress, exposure to toxic substances, or any chronic illness. Often we see a genetic deficiency of certain of the enzymes used in the detoxification pathways – mostly those involved with methylation and sulfation – such that large amounts of specific vitamins and cofactors may be required, so that the weak or deficient enzymes can function at their maximum capacity. Not everyone has a genetic issue, but for those who do have this problem, sometimes the large doses of vitamins etc can make the different between function and non-function.

Oxidative stress is caused by accumulation of toxic products of metabolism (reactive oxygen species) which are not cleared by the body because of insufficient supply of reducing agents like glutathione, ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, lipoic acid or cysteine, or because the required enzymes are blocked by toxins. Symptoms of oxidative stress may include destruction of cell membranes (membrane lipids), dysfunction in many different organs, extreme fatigue and destruction of nerve cells (as in Parkinson’s Disease). Oxidative stress particularly affects the mitochondria, those organelles within the cell which are responsible for energy production. Several different nutrients are required to relieve oxidative stress. These include specific cofactors and antioxidants required for proper function of the energy-producing cycle within the cell.

The adrenal glands are two small glands which sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenals are responsible for secreting epinephrine (the “flight or fight” hormone) to help the body deal with acute stress, and cortisol, to help the body deal with more prolonged stress. Epinephrine is what is secreted when we see a needle approaching our arm to draw blood. Cortisol is secreted within a few hours of being hospitalized with lots of needles in our arms. In the acute case, epinephrine raises our blood pressure, stops the functioning of the GI tract, empties our bladder and bowels, and puts us into a state of high alert. Cortisol’s effects are not as dramatic, but they are more lasting, and enable us to sustain high levels of concentration over a period of a few hours to days. With chronic stress, however, resulting in high levels of cortisol over a period of weeks or months, many metabolic changes can take place. The blood pressure goes up, triglycerides and cholesterol increase, blood sugar goes up, insulin resistance goes up. The intestinal (GI) tract becomes symptomatic with things like irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, peptic ulcer disease, heartburn, bloating, diarrhea. The bones eventually begin to lose their calcium, and osteoporosis develops. Eventually the adrenals fatigue, and can no longer maintain the high levels of cortisol. Then the body attempts to shunt its normal hormone production into cortisol, and levels of sex hormones decrease. The end result is fatigue, loss of sex drive, and brain fog.

And so the spiral goes, circling the drain… Or rises out of illness into health… It all depends on our interventions, and your ability to heal and to grow. We are here, both for investigation and for support, to be your companion and guide on your journey toward health.

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