The words Inflammation, Pain, Chronic Stress, and Disease can almost be used interchangeably.
Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation and pain. Chronic inflammation leads to all chronic disease. Therefore, chronic stress is the cause of all chronic disease.
But what is chronic stress? Let’s explore this concept through a patient we’ll call John.
Defining Allostatic Stress
First off, chronic stress in medical terms is known as allostatic stress. Allostatic stress is defined as the cumulative wear and tear on the body when the body is exposed to chronic and repetitive stress1. Patients tell me daily that they’re overstressed and feel like their body is bucking under the effects. They’re reaching what is commonly referred to as “the breaking point.”
John is a 65-year-old man who’s been a business executive in the technology and insurance sector his entire life. He described his career to me as an uninterrupted string of stressful moments. Finally, at 62, when he couldn’t take any more, he retired.
Retirement was not at all what he had hoped for; he unwittingly exchanged his uninterrupted string of stressful moments for an uninterrupted string of health issues. By the time he came to me, he said he felt his body had been shutting down on him for several years.
The Downward Spiral
At 60, prior to retirement, John had already begun experiencing chronic pain. His doctor, as well as a thousand commercials that air during Jeopardy, told him to start taking Advil daily.
A short time after he started taking Advil he began to get acid reflux. His doctor prescribed Prilosec, a prescription anti-acid medication.
At 63 his knees were bothering him so much that he decided to go to an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed John with osteoarthritis and told him he needed knee surgery.
Immediately after the surgery, John began experiencing extreme exhaustion and was quickly diagnosed with a pituitary, adrenal and testicular deficiency (also known as a dysfunction of the HPA axis). Basically his endocrine system had begun to fail. Hormone failure is the clearest sign that a body has reached the breaking point.
In response to these new symptoms, John’s doctor put him on Hydrocortisone (an artificial steroid) to support his broken endocrine system.
The Hydrocortisone led to erectile dysfunction, shrinking testicles, and a poorly functioning immune system.
The final straw that compelled John to show up in my office was when he put on 30 pounds in one year and began to develop severe asthma, food allergies and autoimmune disease.
The Tipping Point
John knew stress was the cause of his disease. He also correctly understood that the medications he took and the surgery accelerated him to his current tipping point. This is also known as the “cascade effect” (more on this in a minute).
During his first visit to my office, he sincerely asked me: “Am I past the tipping point or am I going to be able to enjoy my retirement?”
This scenario is all too common in America. Our bodies let us know something is wrong in the form of symptoms, and most times this is pain and inflammation. Symptoms are the clearest message to our brains that something is wrong, and we need to pay attention.
When these symptoms show up, we have one of three choices:
- Ignore the pain. This is akin to ignoring the check engine light on your car. It might work . . . for a while.
- Block the inflammation and pain with a medication. More akin to putting tape over the check engine light of your car, or burying your head in the sand to ignore the issues.
- Address the symptoms, self-diagnose the cause and fix it. Too few doctors are willing to go through the proper steps to establish where the inflammation and pain is actually coming from.
To help you understand these issues, let’s dissect what happened to John.
The Three Types of Stress
The core problem was simple: John had STRESS. A lot of stress. And he had it for years – most of his life, in fact.
There are three types of stress in this world: physical, emotional and chemical. They are all cumulative, and John had an abundance of all three. His body had the ability to handle this stress for a long time – this ability is often known as your “health reserve.”
When under periods of high stress, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode to handle it. The body uses your reserves of minerals, nutrients and fat to fuel the stress glands. When the stress is gone, our bodies are supposed to drop back into a balanced state.
The problem with John was that he had all three stressors turned on for years. The stress never went away. So for years his body remained in fight-or-flight mode, constantly drawing from his reserves to handle the stress. To handle the stress he would often use sugar, coffee and nicotine, helping him to remain in this heightened state.
Then one day, as all limited commodities must, his reserves ran out. As a result, he began to suffer from chronic inflammation and pain, as detailed earlier. The process has been known and studied for years and is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome.
Phase 1 – Alarm: When the stress occurs and our body responds appropriately. “Fight or flight.”
Phase 2 – Resistance: When we are in a continued heightened state to try to handle the stress.
Phase 3 – Exhaustion: When our health reserves run out and our body breaks down. “The Tipping Point.”
John was suggested Advil as a way of blocking the inflammatory response. Advil is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID). Other common examples of NSAID drugs are Ibuprofen, Motrin, Aspirin, Naproxen and Aleve, and Americans are taking a TON of these drugs; according to WebMD, 30 million Americans are taking these types of drugs daily2.
The Inherent Problem with NSAID Drugs
What NSAID drugs do is block your inflammatory hormones, called your COX 1 and COX 2 enzymes, that are necessary for inflammation. You got inflammation, I got a way of blocking it . . . problem solved, right?
Wrong. The problem with this approach is that our body’s cells are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. This scheduled death process is called apoptosis, and is essential to our survival. We need inflammation as part of this natural breakdown and repair cycle, and blocking inflammatory hormones interferes with this critical process.
Twenty years ago the American Journal of Medicine stated, “. . . conservative calculations estimate that 107,000 people are hospitalized annually for NSAID GI complications and 16,500 NSAID–related deaths occur each year among arthritis patients alone.”3
So how many people are being sickened or killed by NSAID drugs? The numbers are staggering. And it takes only one to cause lasting damage. Taking one tablet of an NSAID drug negatively affects your body’s healing mechanisms and adds to your cumulative allostatic stress, thus quickening just how quickly you’re going to reach the tipping point.
The Effect of Prescription Cascading
Back to John. One of the most common problems with taking something like Aleve is gastrointestinal problems4, and within six months John began getting acid reflux. “No problem,” his doctor said, “I have another drug for that.” Whipping out his magical prescription pad, John’s doctor prescribed him Prilosec.
When Prilosec is taken it reduces your digestive juices, which are absolutely required for absorbing nutrients and minerals. Nutrients and minerals determine cellular function. Pretty critical, right?
Now, because he had gastrointestinal damage in addition to chronic inflammation, John began to get a leaky bowel and then osteoarthritis. More than 50% of Americans over 65 have osteoarthritis as a result of chronic inflammation.
Increased intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut) is a root cause of many autoimmune reactions. This means that foreign substances from inside the gut can more easily pass into the bloodstream and activate the immune system, triggering a plethora of bone and joint problems5.
Before I go any further, it’s important that you understand the concept of prescription cascading. This concept refers to side effects from a prescription leading to another problem and another prescription, and then further side effects, and so on and so forth. This also applies to surgical procedures.6
When someone gets a spinal surgery, they have a 50% likelihood of needing a second surgery. When they get a second surgery, they have a 75% likelihood of eventually needing a third.
The more medication you’re on and the more surgeries you receive, the more you’re likely to need.
Where does it end?
The reason for this cascading effect is actually quite simple: Procedures and medications don’t address the true cause of stress. In fact, they increase the stress in the body, making it more likely something else will break down. This goes back to putting a piece of tape over the check engine light. It just doesn’t work.
In John’s case, his stress glands actually failed because of all the cumulative stress. He was then put on life support with, you guessed it, more medications – this time in the form of steroids.
A Different Approach
So I talked to John and we decided to take a drastically different approach than his M.D. We decided to address the cause of his cumulative inflammation, pain, and now disease. This new approach takes much more work, as it doesn’t follow the “you got a symptom, I got a drug” method of modern allopathic medicine.
Here are the medical tests we had John go through to determine where his inflammation and health issues were actually coming from:
C-reactive Protein Test – Tests a protein in the blood serum that is indicative of chronic inflammation. This is a definitive test of elevated inflammation in the body. John showed high levels of inflammation.
Leaky Gut Test – An intestinal permeability test we performed showed “leaking” of the bowels. This is created by microscopic holes in the balloon known as the small intestine. This was most likely caused by the Advil he was taking and resulted in his osteoarthrosis, asthma and autoimmune disease.
Stool Analysis with Food Allergy Test – The stool analysis confirmed an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the colon. A condition known as dysbiosis was caused by too much sugar in his diet, as well as many of the medications he was taking. In addition, he had developed an allergy to grains.
Fat Soluble Vitamins – His B12 and Vitamin D were very low in the blood. These are necessary for nerve function and the absorption of minerals, among many other crucial functions.
Omega 6/3 Ratio – The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids should be 2:1. John’s ratio was a 20:1, indicating an excess of vegetable fats in the diet and an enormous lack of Omega 3’s.
Mineral Analysis – Hair mineral analysis revealed his body was dangerously low in minerals, confirming his adrenal fatigue.
Among these medical tests we performed, we also assisted John with some easy tests that anybody can perform on themselves at home. These self-tests are compiled here >
Extreme Tenderness over Stomach – Palpation of the stomach revealed extreme tenderness. This is most likely caused by a hiatal hernia, which ended up being the true cause of John’s acid reflux.
pH of Saliva and Urine – The pH of his saliva and urine upon waking was around 5.5 on a daily basis. This was created by excess acid in the body and not enough minerals to buffer the acids. This can be tested with the use of pH strips found in the test kit.
Ragland’s Blood Pressure Test – When John went from a lying position to standing, his blood pressure dropped by 20 points. This is a sign of adrenal fatigue.
Tongue Examination – John had a swollen tongue, which is a sign of a B12 deficiency.
Body Composition and Waist/Hip Ratio – By measuring your percentage of fat and your waist-to-hip ratio, you can understand endocrine dysfunction and the likelihood of chronic disease and death.
John’s Journey to Whole Body Health
After we determined that John was acidic due to a lack of nutrients and minerals coupled with too much sugar in the diet, we immediately started him on The DNA reset.
For 21 days John eliminated all sugar and grains from his diet. Sugar is the largest cause of chemical stress in the body.
For the next two months we focused on repairing the damage to his digestive system. We did this by giving him enzymes, stomach acid, probiotics and bone broth daily. We also had him follow a very simple diet of cooked vegetables, soups and meat. He eliminated all grains, raw vegetables, sugar, coffee, alcohol and milk.
After Month One he showed a 50% decrease in pain, said his asthma had reduced by 60% and his energy was beginning to come back. He also said that his acid reflux had disappeared.
After Month Two he was ready to start steps four and five of the I,Doctor Formula. We began to supplement with minerals, fats and nutrients as his digestive system was now ready to begin to absorb them all. His energy was much better and he was able to get off his blood pressure medication and steroids (with his doctor’s help), along with the NSAID drugs.
After Month Four the pH of his saliva and urine returned to normal (saliva was at 7.0 and urine was at 6.8) and the swelling in his tongue was completely gone. We also measured his sex hormones and cortisol with salivary hormone panels. Because his hormone levels were low, we used glandular supplements to feed his hormone system and increased the Omega 3 fats and cholesterol in his diet.
After Month Six his pain was completely gone, he had lost 40 pounds (mostly from his waist), and he was able to get an erection without taking a medication. His C-reactive protein had returned to normal. On re-testing his bowels he showed no leaky gut and his asthma was completely gone. He said he felt like his life was his own again, and that he finally had a chance to enjoy his retirement.
If you are among the 30 million Americans taking NSAIDS daily, or among the 100 million experiencing chronic pain 7, you have a choice to make: Do you want to ignore the issues and block your body’s warning systems? Or would you rather fix the issue?
The choice is yours.
If you choose to fix the issue, you are going to have to take an active role in your health.
1 Jane Ogden (2004). Health Psychology: A textbook, 3rd edition. Open University Press – McGraw-Hill Education. p. 259. ISBN 0335214711.
3 Wolfe M. MD, Lichtenstein D. MD, and Singh Gurkirpal, MD, “Gastrointestinal Toxicity of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs”, The New England Journal of Medicine, June 17, 1999, Vol. 340, No. 24, pp. 1888-1889
5 Erik Goldman – Vol. 14, No. 1. Spring, 2013, Holistic Primary Care
6 Hunt, L.M.; Kreiner, M.; Brody, H. (2012). “The changing face of chronic illness management in primary care: a qualitative study of underlying influences and unintended outcomes” (PDF). Annals of Family Medicine 10 (5): 1–4.