Want to know how your health works? Want a boosted immune system and a body that keeps itself at a healthy weight from the inside?
There are Four Pillars to human health. They are the foundation of our immunity, our resilience, and much of our experience with life.
If one is compromised, all four are compromised, and optimal health will be impossible.
Thankfully, they’re not very difficult to understand. We’ll go over each one in a moment, but here they are together:
Blood sugar stability
If all these areas are functioning optimally, you’ll most likely experience the robust, stubborn sort of health that others find enviable. It helps the body find its own ideal weight, and to build muscle without a ton of encouragement.
More often than not, the solution to a compromised system, no matter the symptoms, starts in the gut.
Guts in an animal are like roots under a plant.
The digestive tract is where we draw everything we need for life, and often, where we give ourselves the most problems.
The rest of the body is constantly waiting to see what comes through that gut lining, because whatever it is will either be the fuel and building materials to make the body stronger, or instead be a host of problems that make your systems weaker as they try to prevent the damage and, essentially, save your life.
The standard American diet is not helping you here. It’s full of toxins which weaken the body and damage the digestive tract itself.
If our intestinal lining is damaged, we develop what’s called leaky gut syndrome, a disorder found at the root of many modern chronic diseases. The name describes it well. The gut lining literally becomes leaky, allowing semi-digested particles into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation all around the body, elevated blood pressure, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and much more.
The immune system is so closely related to digestion that whenever I examine a patient with any autoimmune problem, I focus on restoring gut health and reducing inflammation. Often, a healthy guy is all that’s need to have a strong immune system.
With an optimal diet, not only can the gut heal itself and become strong once more, but so can the friendly bacteria that live in the gut. Probiotics are therefore an important part of this picture. Our ancestors used to get a lot of their probiotics by feasting on the intestines of their prey. If you’re willing to that, hat’s off to you, but there are some more palatable alternatives we can use instead.
With the root of the body on its way to recovery, repairing the other systems will be significantly easier.
Blood Sugar Stability
Feeling drained, weak, and desperately hungry at various times in the day may be due to unstable blood sugar levels.
That’s because blood sugar is not affected just by table sugar, but by all forms of carbohydrate, from the starch in your bread to the icing on your cake.
When blood sugar level rise, hormones are secreted to get it under control (notably insulin and glucagon). If these levels spike too high, too often, the effect of these hormones is numbed, and real chronic problems start to occur.
The energy peaks and crashes you experience throughout the day are what happen when your blood is flooded with too much sugar, and in a panic reaction is then brought down too low by the action of insulin. And where did insulin just put all that energy you were feeling a moment ago?
Into your fat cells.
If the body is healthy and given the best raw materials to work with, blood sugar levels will normalize, the body will use more fat for energy. That means your fat stores will actually be used for something – making you feel less hungry!
Cognitive function relies on the proper processing of glucose in the body, too. The brain is the most fiercely protected organ in the body, and its energy needs are huge for its size, just as a baseline requirement for maintenance. If glucose, its primary energy source, is not kept under control, cognitive impairment becomes a danger.
A diet comprised mostly of healthy fats and proteins is the best place to start when restoring blood sugar stability. Just like the gut, the systems that control glucose will need time without bombardment to heal.
We’re all told that we should eat a diet that’s higher in nutrients, but why bother? My burgers, bagels, pasta and pizza all fill me up, so what’s the problem?
Meals like this fill us up with calorific macronutrients (fat, protein, or carbs). It doesn’t matter that these macronutrients are in the form of refined carbohydrates and denatured fats, they’ll technically fill you up.
But they won’t nourish you.
Overeating can be a reaction to malnourishment. Your body stimulates your appetite to get more micronutrients into your system. In nature, macro and micro nutrition came hand in hand, so your hunger never evolved to help you cleanly distinguish between the two. And so, in this modern world, that same hunger simply pushes you to eat another filling yet nutritionally barren meal, which fills you up for a short while before your body cries out again for something else, (hopefully something healthy this time).
The cycle repeats.
Micronutrient deficiency usually leads to anemia, which can be defined as a compromised ability of the red blood cells to deliver adequate oxygen to body tissues.
This ties back directly to gut health, as a poor community of gut bacteria are common causes of these deficiencies.
If a patient has anemia, it’s important that we sort out that problem first, because when the blood cannot provide well for the cells of the body, healing is going to be difficult. The blood has to be working optimally before the rest of the body can benefit from it and catch up.
Every crevice of a malnourished body needs to be filled back up with micronutrients to eliminate any trace of deficiency, and it also starts with the diet. The nutrient to calorie ratio must be high, meaning the food delivers a lot nourishment with each calorie. Anti-nutrients (found in most processed consumable products) make it more difficult for the body to access the nutrition it needs, even if it eats it, so they have to be cut down on as much as possible. And finally, supplementation is usually necessary to complete the picture.
If our digestive system is our roots, then our cardiovascular system (blood-systems) are our stems, transporting at the new fuel and building material to where it needs to go.
This is why, in cases of severe anemia, nutritional deficiencies can be the most urgent thing to fix.
Normally, they are in balance. Energy is moved, stored, removed, burned. The brain’s told to be hungry, then it’s given the signal to feel full. An external stress triggers an increase in heart rate, and then some warm laughter suggests that it can relax again.
It’s a constant dance of increase and decrease, oscillating around the center line.
So what about when it’s out of balance?
Adrenal and thyroid fatigue are probably terms you’ve heard. The adrenal glands sit above your kidneys, and your thyroid is wrapped around your inner throat, right now, just sitting there regulating things.
Adrenal fatigue as a large number of possible symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, allergies, asthma, gastric ulcers, bloatedness, even blurred vision. Sleep is incredibly important in helping adrenal problems, which usually occur in the first place as a result of chronic (constant) stress, which leads to elevated levels of the hormones adrenaline (there’s a clue it the name!), cortisol, and norepinephrine. All three have a lot to do with how we respond to stress and urgency, and all are crucial in their place, but chronic stress is not the natural way to live, and it shows itself in these disorders.
Hypothyroidism is the technical term for an under active thyroid, and manifests itself in low energy levels, depression, weight gain, cold hands and feet, and other autoimmune disorders. Dieting can be a cause of this particular issue, but only if your diets force you into a caloric deficit. That is, if you try to stay slim by eating less and exercising more, and you manage to keep that up for a long time, your body will do the smart thing – protect your vital functions by slowing down metabolism and thyroid activity. This conserves energy (which is scarce and valuable in a caloric deficit), and keeps you alive, but at a cost. Try taking your temperature as soon as you wake up for three days in a row. If you’re consistently below 97.8ºF, you might want to talk to your doctor about hypothyroidism.
Allergies, depression, weight gain, even cold extremities; essentially anything to do with our brain or body can be pushed out of its natural balance by a broken signaling system.
To take an earlier example, insulin has other purposes that aren’t much to do with food. It also aromatizes testosterone to estrogen. This is a useful way to influence attitude and behavior of the conscious mind during the rigors of life, but if insulin is pushed up unnaturally high too often (i.e. thanks to a high-glycemic diet) the body will find itself with too much estrogen. On top of that, obese individuals have estrogen being produced by their fat cells in quantities that our hormonal systems aren’t used to.
Everything is regulated by hormones. Your mood, your energy, your temperature, your sleep, your healing, your muscle growth, your fat storage – everything.
The Strength of Health
The good news is your body’s default state is robust health, is for all the Four Pillars to be functioning properly. When they do, they support each other and make the entire system difficult to corrupt.
The bad news is that we live in a situation where both our diets and our lifestyles are constantly encouraged to be antagonistic to these foundations of health.
It often takes many years of trying to finally dislodge a healthy system and turn it diseased, and once it does, it can take a bit of work to get it back to healthy again, but it is ultimately where the body will be trying to get back to.
Understanding is where it all starts.
Once you know something about the problems you’re facing, they stop seeming so powerful. You start to see them for what they are. Simple problems with simple solutions.
Dive into your topic. The answer is at your fingertips. Be discerning of what you read, and the solution will reveal itself. (Hint: It’s all about optimizing diet and lifestyle).
Have you any experiences in building better health that you would like to share? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below!