trees with thick roots in forest

Chronic Disease and What it Means to Treat the Root Cause

As this is my first article, I thought it would be fitting to talk about root cause. This has been thrown around a lot lately. But what does it mean and does it mean what people are saying? This is the foundation for most practitioners but it can be impaired by our knowledge base philosophical view. Our philosophical view can be affected by our training, culture, upbringing, and what scientific studies you hold on to. That last part needs some explaining. As we all know oftentimes our current science textbook is obsolete by next year. Science changes rapidly. Some things hold true and they tend to be laws and theories, but even they can change. But what happens is new findings take a long time to trickle out for people to accept them.  I read one place that it can take up to around 15-20 years for new research to be accepted in the mainstream. Sometimes the new research gets disproven and the old view is back again. This very apparent in idea of fat being bad for you. I will write a future article on that topic. All this is to say our worldview can be and often is quite skewed from reality. This affects what we so lovingly tell our patients is the root cause of disease.

Why even talk about root cause?  Chronic disease is on the rise and has been for sometime. The top killers in the world are chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, and diabetes. According to the CDC, in 2012 about half of all US adults have some type of chronic health condition. Recently I discovered while writing a paper on Autoimmune diseases, diseases where your body attacks itself, it is estimated that over 50 million people have autoimmune disease in the US! These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. With these illnesses on the rise, there is an increasing need to understand why as well as a paradigm shift in how we handle and look at them.

For a long time, we thought we could just identify the problem by focusing in or reducing the problem down to its smallest components. This is called reductionism and it permeates the medical world. This works in many cases. Acute infections are easily treated by antibiotics depending on the situation. An appendicitis can often be successfully stopped before more damage is done through surgery. We hoped that the Human Genome Project would help us identify the causes of all disease but it is not that simple. So when we try to figure out what causes something, how to prevent future issues, or how this affects distant body systems reductionism has its limits. Hence, a systems approach has been emerging. Systems meaning the different body systems and how they work together and depend on each other. This can also be called a holistic approach. Holism is the idea of treating the body as a whole not in a single, small component unrelated to the rest of the body. A systems perspective requires an understanding of how body systems can affect each other for example when our gut is having problems we stop digesting properly. This can not only affect our energy levels but also can cause depression and other mental disorders. Thus when we apply our interventions we have to keep this in mind. I spoke earlier of antibiotics. They are miracle drugs but they do not come without their consequences. We are learning more and more about the human microbiome and when antibiotics are given it can alter the microbiome for almost a year if not longer if interventions are not put into place. The microbiome consists of friendly bacteria and microorganisms that live on and inside the human body. They actually help us digest, give us nutrients and protect us from harm. But when it is altered the consequences can be detrimental which I will talk about in future articles.

Asking why is vastly important in determining the root cause. Many are asking why a lot more. But often why and we arrive at answer and we think we found the root to the problem. However, we are far downstream from it. Dr. Rishi Manchanda gave an excellent Ted Talk on what he calls the upstream approach. In it he describes a group of people rescuing children from a roaring river. They devise different ways of getting the children out and try to get further upstream where the water is calmer to get the children out. However, no one asks the vitally important question of, “who or what is throwing these kids in the river?!” The upstream approach is just that but we often fail to ask the pertinent questions or worse we think we did ask. A paradigm shift is needed.

It is an interesting environment we live in today. Many are asking why today, both patients and practitioners. It is an amazing time to live in, but too many are suffering which saddens me. This suffering can lead to rash decisions or unfortunately, it can lead to people who like to prey on the downtrodden. As word of caution, many are told that such and such treats the root cause and you will feel better.  Often times they do feel better for a time but they have to take a supplement or a medication for the rest of their lives. This is rarely the root cause being treated. Others view certain diagnoses as causes. This is under the assumption that our bodies are subject to genetics, meaning that there is nothing that can be done other than long-term medicinal intervention. This approach theorizes that the root cause is a genetic anomaly that cannot be changed only altered to decrease symptoms. If you have to take something for the rest of your life, it is rarely treating the root cause. No doubt there are genetic diseases that exist (estimated between 2-5% off all conditions) and there are diseases that destroy certain glands such as the thyroid where medication or supplementation is a must. Don’t hear what I am not saying. But for the remaining ~95%, I am going to give some advice. This doesn’t mean you need to take it verbatim, but maybe it can be a light in a dark tunnel.

The holistic or natural approach has been growing rapidly. It is becoming the more common term for a systems approach. You can see it coming into the mainstream little by little like with functional medicine. Nevertheless, holistic practitioners use various diagnostic means including blood work and they are mindful about proper interventions. Many choose to use natural therapies such as supplements, diet and nutrition, herbal remedies, and exercises. Holistic or natural medicine practitioners include a wide variety of professions such as medical doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists. Another term that is becoming more and more common is functional medicine. They utilize a similar approach. In the end, find a doctor who is willing to go the distance and find the underlying cause.

During my chiropractic training, I was taught about the founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer. D.D. Palmer taught the cause of all disease comes from thoughts, trauma, or toxins. It is very simplistic but I love it. Our emotions, our injuries we accumulate whether big or small, and the things we are exposed or eat are, for the most part, the basis of all disease. The emerging science of epigenetics is investigating how the environment affects our genes. They are starting to see that everything is in the environment, whether surrounding our cells or our bodies. Natural medicine practitioners specialize in trying to find and treat with this viewpoint in mind. I know many of you have seen doctors and other healthcare providers aplenty. Check out this post for more information. If you take away anything from this post let it be that there is hope. Never give up.

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