Why Do We Get Sick? Genetics Vs. Environment
I was taught in medical school that your genetics are the greatest factor in determining whether or not you get sick. For many of us this is quite a depressing idea, as we ruminate about the illnesses that plague our family trees, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease. If that were true, we would be totally helpless to affect our own health, like being dealt a hand of cards that we couldn’t trade in.
Yet you probably know on some level that this is not true. Let’s look at Type II Diabetes as an example. Type II Diabetes is one of the most strongly genetically transmitted diseases we commonly see. It is not unusual to know an entire family where most people have this awful disease: grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles, etc.
Now imagine that one person in the family who prefers eating vegetables and salads, is slim and fit. Would you expect him to get diabetes along with his overweight siblings? Probably not. Why is that? It’s because we all know that diabetes usually develops after a person becomes obese. That means it has to be activated by the person’s continuously poor eating habits. That means that even strongly genetic diseases like Type II Diabetes need to be triggered. How do we trigger our genes for illness? By the environment of our body, which is created by what we eat. This is true not just for diabetes, but for most diseases killing people today, including autoimmune disease.
The greatest impact on whether our genes for illness get triggered is by what we put into our bodies – what we eat. Your cells are literally created out of the foods you put into your body. If you eat purely for taste and convenience, like many people do, you are likely eating nutrient-poor foods that cause damaged dysfunctional cells. When you learn to eat foods that nourish your body, your cells can repair themselves, and the new cells created will be high functioning healthy cells.
Unhealthy foods create chronic inflammation, a condition where the immune system is constantly activated, which can be destructive to the body. Inflammation is normally the body’s healthy response to injury or infection. However, when the inflammation becomes chronic, or continuous, such as due to constant assault on the gut by the wrong foods, the inflammation becomes the cause of destructive diseases, like Lupus, Scleroderma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Colitis, and many other chronic inflammatory diseases.
I Got My Life Back, You Can Too
Eliminating the most inflammatory, unhealthy foods from your diet can reverse your disease and save your life. Almost 13 years ago I discovered this lesson myself. I grew up eating an unhealthy vegetarian diet full of processed foods, cheeses and eggs. When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Nephritis, and was only months away from dialysis when aggressive chemotherapy was able to save my kidneys. Even with the chemotherapy and steroids, I still had abnormal kidney function, arthritis, migraines and rashes. By the time I was in medical school in my mid 20s, I started having mini-strokes from anti-phospholipid antibodies caused by the Lupus.
At 28 years old I changed from an egg and cheese-filled vegetarian diet to a hyper-nourishing plant-based diet and my body completely eliminated the disease that had almost killed me multiple times over the course of my life up until that point. When I changed to a hyper-nourishing plant-based diet, my symptoms rapidly fell away, and my blood tests all normalized within a matter of 4 months.
Almost 13 years later, I have had two healthy children and no sign or symptom of any disease at all, and normal labs.
I know what it is like to be devastatingly ill, and I know the joy and blessing of healing and getting to live a life I love without the fear of illness robbing me of my joy and even my life. That is why I am tirelessly devoted to helping my patients and anyone who can hear or read my words get their health back from disease, by learning how to eat to heal. I got my life back, you can too.
You are not just a victim to the genes you received from your parents’ shuffled deck, you have the power to keep your health, and if you are already ill, you have a choice to make, because you can trade in your cards and play out a better hand. There is hope, and you can take back your health.
Our bodies are constantly shedding old cells and creating new ones. Recall that you build your cells from the foods you eat. That means you can literally transform from a sick, tired, achy body to a healthy, strong and vibrant body one cell at a time, one bite at a time. You are building your next body by the mouthful!
You Can Get Healthy 1 Step at a Time
In my book Goodbye Lupus, I teach in detail how the “6 Steps to Reversing Autoimmune Disease with Supermarket Foods” saved my life. It truly is as simple as following 6 simple steps to change your diet to get yourself as healthy as you can possibly be.
If you are super motivated and prefer a sprint over long distance running, you can take on all 6 steps and change your diet all at once. If you have difficulty embracing too much change at once, you can take this one step at a time. Choose the path that will lead you to success, because being successful at this is what matters most. The worst thing that can happen is you feel like a failure and give up. You can do this; take it at your pace. A great place to start is by eliminating the foods that are causing your illness.
The first 3 “Steps to Healing with Supermarket Foods” focus on the foods that cause chronic inflammation, which leads to chronic disease. These are the foods to be eliminated if you want to create maximal health. If you don’t eliminate these foods, you will continue to contribute to the cause of your illness, even if you eat more healing foods. These foods always cause damage when you eat them, but while eating these unhealthy foods on occasion when you are healthy causes damage, it is akin to getting a paper cut when you are healthy; it hurts but your body can rapidly heal it. If you eat them when you are already sick, it is like continuously pulling the scab off a healing wound. That is why these 3 food groups must be avoided during the healing process.
Another way to think about it is to compare it to cigarette smoking. A healthy non-smoker who decides to smoke some cigarettes at a party might cough, get a headache or feel some general malaise afterwards, but as long as he does not continue to smoke, his lungs will quickly heal the damage and he will not develop lung diseases like emphysema or cancer. Compare that to a chronic smoker who has lung cancer. The best way to help him recover is not just to have a healthier diet and medical care; he should quit smoking to give his lungs the chance to heal.
There are 3 steps to eliminating foods that cause chronic inflammation that leads to autoimmune diseases like Lupus, Scleroderma, Sjogren’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis and others. These same foods are known triggers for heart disease, diabetes and cancer as well, since they trigger our own personal deck of genes for illness.
The 6 Steps to Reversing Autoimmune Disease With Supermarket Foods, Steps 1 – 3
Step 1: Eliminate Animal Products
Animal Products include all types of meat like beef, pork, lamb, fish, and chicken. It also includes eggs and dairy products. The reason these foods must be avoided at all cost is because they cause massive amounts of inflammation in the body. Research has indicated animal-derived products are inflammatory in multiple different ways.
A recent study in Scientific American showed that when the gut is exposed to saturated fat, it causes the destruction of the healthy protective bacteria in the gut, inflammation of the gut wall, initiation of an immune response, tissue damage and even hemorrhage.
Meat and dairy also are a direct source of arachidonic acid and other omega-6 fatty acids. These compounds directly produce inflammatory immune mediators, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes, and go right to work creating inflammation in the body. The more meat and dairy you consume, the more inflammation you create.
You may have heard that omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that our bodies cannot make them. We must consume them in our foods to get our omega-6 needs met. This is true. The issue is that most foods people eat nowadays, such as meat, vegetable oils, and processed foods, are heavily laden with omega-6 fatty acids, but their balancing anti-inflammatory counterpart, omega-3s are largely absent.
The body uses omega-6 fatty acids to create inflammatory immune cells. Conversely, omega-3s are responsible for creating the anti-inflammatory immune cells. When we eat a healthy plant-based diet our body will have a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, where our immune system can make inflammation when necessary, and eliminate it when appropriate. Unfortunately, most people are inundated with omega-6 from meat, dairy, eggs, oils and processed foods, but they rarely, if ever, consume any omega-3 rich foods like chia seeds or flaxseeds. The result is that most people are suffering from massive amounts of chronic inflammation, which leads to chronic inflammatory diseases like autoimmune disease.
One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology did a meta-analysis of 9 prospective studies that showed that eating animal products increases the risk of all-cause mortality, meaning it raises your risk of dying from any disease. Most folks are familiar with the idea that eating meat increases their risk of heart disease, but don’t realize that eating meat increases their risk of death from all causes.
Our society consumes enormous amounts of dairy products in the form of milk, cheese, yogurts, and ice cream. Dairy not only causes massive amounts of inflammation, which can trigger and sustain autoimmune disease, but it also causes a whole host of other diseases such as cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. I was a vegetarian from the age of 12, and ate dairy products every day, and I developed Lupus at the age of 16 that only went away when I eliminated dairy and embraced a nourishing plant-based diet.
When I teach this information to my clients, their first concern is, “how do I get my calcium?” They fear that without dairy products they will weaken their bones. Research has shown that dairy products actually cause bone loss, explaining why countries that have the highest rates of dairy consumption like the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand, also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. The lowest rates are among people who eat the fewest animal-derived foods like natives of rural Asia and rural Africa. These people also have lower calcium intake overall than dairy-consuming cultures do. Calcium is abundant and easy to absorb from green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli, without the risks that come with consuming dairy products.
Animal products are highly addictive and it can seem impossible to give up these foods, but the less of them you consume, the better you will feel. You need to eliminate them completely to have the best chance to heal. I always tell people I am now way more addicted to feeling healthy than I ever was to cheese, and as a former cheesetarian that had cheese at every meal – and sometimes ate a block of cheese as a meal in itself – that speaks volumes!
Step 2: Eliminate Added Oils
In step 1, I already discussed the dangers of saturated fat from meat and dairy products. The omega-6 fatty acids, which create the inflammatory immune cells, can also be found in high levels in vegetable oils so they must also be avoided.
One of the fastest ways to minimize inflammation and jump-start the healing process is to eliminate the excess sources of omega-6 fatty acids. As I mentioned earlier, animal products are a source of omega-6 fatty acids. Even more so are all of the vegetable oils, with the exception of olive oil.
The flooding of our bodies with these omega-6 fatty acids just drives the body to create more and more inflammation, which creates more illness and impairs your body’s ability to heal.
I’ve had a handful of clients who were already vegan who came to me for chronic inflammatory health issues, perplexed as to why they were sick. The continued eating of processed foods and vegetable oils is usually the culprit, and when we correct their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, they feel better quickly.
I did mention that olive oil is not a big source of omega-6, so it isn’t inflammatory like the other oils and won’t drive the chronic inflammation that fuels autoimmune disease. However, too much of any oil will disturb the fluidity of your blood in your blood vessels and the responsiveness of your cells to the signals they need to receive. It basically gums up the system while it’s in your body. Oils, even olive oil, raise blood triglycerides (fats) immediately after eating them and decreased the function of the precious lining of the blood vessels, so while it isn’t inflammatory, it is by no means healthy and should be avoided as well, especially if you have heart disease.
If you want to use some olive oil, I suggest getting a spray bottle and spraying the pan with a couple squirts to keep it nonstick. You can also investigate the numerous cooking methods available for oil-free cooking by simply using Google to search for “oil free cooking recipes” which is a far better choice.
Now, when I talk about avoiding fats, I am not talking about avoiding whole plant foods that are fatty, like avocados and coconuts. I have seen many well-meaning health coaches misinterpret this data to mean that people should limit naturally fatty plant foods like avocados, raw nuts and seeds. Understand that fat in whole plant foods is easily recognized and processed by the body. I myself eat 2-3 avocados a day most days; they are filling, creamy, and delicious! When I healed myself of Lupus I ate a lot of guacamole every day and I reversed all of my symptoms in a matter of weeks. So in general, don’t worry about the fat content in fresh whole plant foods, just avoid adding oils to your food. If you are going into an aggressive healing phase, you do want to limit raw nuts and seeds to about a ½ cup a day only because these nutrient-rich foods are also rich in omega-6, so while you are trying to reverse inflammation keep them lower. You won’t have to worry much about measuring them out once you are healthy.
The more you avoid added oils, the better your cells, organs, and immune system will function.
Step 3: Eliminate Processed Foods
Processed foods are products that you can buy that contain ingredients that do not occur in nature. People call them foods, but they’re more like synthesized edible products. So what exactly are processed foods? One quick way to find out is to grab a can or box from your kitchen and read the label. If it has a long list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce or it cannot be produced without a lab, it is processed.
It is common in many households to reach for a box or a can when preparing a meal, or to grab something from the freezer and stick it in the microwave. Eating this way is convenient, and often cheap, but it does not provide optimal nourishment to the body. The real reason we are supposed to eat is to nourish ourselves, not just avoid hunger.
Processed foods are not only lacking in nourishment, they have been shown to cause inflammation in the body shortly after consuming them. This includes processed sugars as well as refined grains such as processed breads, cereals, pizzas, and tortillas, which have been shown to increase inflammation markers in the bloodstream and directly increase rates of diabetes and heart disease. Processed Foods are also normally bogged down with oils, making them just another contributor to the flood of omega-6 fatty acids most people consume on a daily basis.
Eating to Heal
When you are trying to heal your body, all foods that increase inflammation must be avoided.
If you can eliminate animal products, excess oils, and processed foods from your diet, then you will immediately cause a decrease in the inflammation in your body, and you will start feeling better very quickly.
If the idea of getting rid of all three at once is a bit intimidating, start with step 1 and work your way down. This doesn’t have to be a race to the finish line. Do it in a way that you know will be sustainable to you. If you start with just those items mentioned in steps 1, 2 and 3, then you are getting a good head start on improving your health.
Our bodies were not, and are not, meant to digest any of these foods – yet they have become the main sources of food for many people today. That is why people are so sick. If you are one of those people who eat mainly meat, dairy, oils and processed foods, then take this as good news, because there is hope!
The body can recover if you get out of its way by stopping the constant assault on it with these dangerous foods. You can make a difference in your health just by changing your shopping list.