The conventional medical model focuses on labeling sets of symptoms as specific conditions (diagnosing you with disease), and this diagnosis is viewed as the “root cause” of your illness, when in reality it’s just a name.
Although this approach can make it easier to talk about your symptoms or conditions, and may also deepen your understanding of what’s going wrong with your health, it’s also incredibly limiting.
Because there are two major scenarios when that approach falls short.
The first is when your particular set of symptoms don’t cause abnormal labs or match a known disease, so your doctor tells you they don’t know what’s wrong with you, or worse—that your symptoms are in your head.
And the second is when the treatment for your symptoms or condition isn’t really helping, or it’s causing side effects that you don’t want.
In both of these cases, having a deeper understanding of the root causes of chronic symptoms and conditions can be really helpful!
But even if you aren’t facing either of those difficult realities, knowing the underlying root causes of chronic illness can allow you to take your healing to a whole new level!
So what causes chronic disease?
It’s actually less complicated than you think! We may have a lot of words to describe different symptoms and conditions, but they all stem from 7 root causes, and once you understand this, you can take action and totally transform your health!
ROOT CAUSE #1: FOOD
As Ann Wigmore said, “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Yes, your food choices impact your health that much. (And if your doctor has told you that what you’re eating isn’t contributing to your chronic symptoms or conditions, my advice is to find a doctor who isn’t living under a rock!)
There are three main ways that food creates disease:
- Eating foods your body reacts to. This is called a food allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance—and there’s a difference (stay tuned for an article on that). But the bottom line is that eating foods your body reacts to causes inflammation and can lead to a LOT of different symptoms all over the body (not just gut dysfunction), as well as increase your chances for chronic immune system dysfunction AND chronic diseases.
- Consuming inflammatory junk filled with sugar and toxins. Fast food and most packaged foods and beverages fall into this category. Here’s the deal—foods that raise inflammation and include sugar and toxic ingredients totally undermine your health, interrupt how your body is designed to function, contribute to immune system imbalances, raise your toxic burden (which strains your liver and detox + drainage pathways), cause blood sugar dysregulation (hello weight gain and metabolic dysfunction!), disrupt your microbiome and compromise gut health, and increase your chances of all chronic diseases (yep—ALL).
- Not getting enough nutrients. You need adequate protein, healthy fats, quality carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. There’s no way around it, and no—multi-vitamins and protein powders don’t take the place of whole foods (even though high-quality options can serve as a helpful bridge when you need additional support and while you optimize your food choices).
If you want to transform your health, you have to feed your body foods that are nourishing AND avoid foods that are inflammatory and toxic. It’s just the way it is.
Your body cannot function properly or be healthy if you are feeding it chemical-laden junk. I don’t like using the analogy of a car because the body is NOT a machine, but it works here: you don’t put gasoline into a vehicle with a diesel engine, so don’t expect your body to function the way it’s supposed to when you’re using the wrong fuel!
Food is SO powerful, and food choices are a driving force in the development of ALL chronic symptoms and diseases. You cannot ignore this area and be healthy.
ROOT CAUSE #2: LIFESTYLE
How you live your life has the power to heal you or make you sick, and there are some non-negotiables here. I didn’t make the rules—I’m just telling you what they are.
You have to move your body on a daily basis, build strength, consistently get enough sleep, drink enough water, nourish your creativity, learn new things, pursue passions, spend time outside and in nature, and make time for joy and fun. You also can’t smoke or drink and expect for your health to not be impacted.
Your lifestyle has to be dialed in if you want to transform your health, age gracefully, and prevent chronic disease. Imbalances in the way you live your life are a MAJOR cause of chronic illness.
ROOT CAUSE #3: BUGS
When I say “bugs,” I’m talking about parasites, mold, yeast, bacteria, and Lyme and other tickborne illnesses. And while the terrain of the host (i.e., YOUR underlying health) determines how significantly these bugs will impact you, they can still be a root cause of chronic illness.
Almost every patient I work with needs help clearing one or more of these microbes from their body, as well as support for addressing the imbalances they’ve created while living there.
And it’s no coincidence that the gut is a major site where these bugs live AND that gut health is so central to overall health. As Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut,” and one of the most significant causes of gut dysfunction are disturbances and imbalances in the bugs living there, AKA the microbiome.
If you’ve got chronic symptoms or conditions, I can almost guarantee you that bugs are playing a role (yes, even if the testing your doctor has run hasn’t revealed anything).
ROOT CAUSE #4: TOXINS
Environmental toxins are probably one of the most prevalent and neglected issues when it comes to chronic symptoms and conditions. EVERYONE is dealing with a toxic load that is undermining their health to some extent, and that’s why detox is a big focus of mine with patients (and I’m not just talking about doing a cleanse—there’s a lot more to it than that, although cleanses can be helpful when done correctly).
We come into contact with these toxins through the environment, personal care products, beauty products, makeup, perfumes, nail polish, cleaning products, moldy and “sick” buildings or other indoor air contaminants, food, unfiltered tap or bottled water, junky beverages, medications, technology, nonstick cookware, synthetic materials, lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking alcohol, some occupations or hobbies, and more.
If you are suffering from chronic illness, you’re not going to be able to transform your health if you’re not supporting your body’s ability to detox (this happens primarily in the liver but also the gut) and then eliminate those toxins through bile, stool, urine, sweat, lymph, and exhalations.
(We can also be impacted by “energetic” toxins. Like people or relationship dynamics that are toxic to us; harmful messaging that can come from the fashion or entertainment industries; and negative information and fear-driven propaganda from the news, TV, and social media. In the case of energetic toxins, detox and elimination involves boundaries and avoidance).
ROOT CAUSE #5: STRESS + EMOTIONS
In Chinese medicine, all chronic illness is rooted in excessive disturbances of the seven emotions, and each emotion is associated with a particular organ system:
- Anger (liver)
- Sadness and grief (lungs)
- Worry (digestion)
- Pensiveness, or excessive thinking/working/studying (digestion)
- Fear (kidneys)
- Joy, which is better described in this context as “mania” and translates to excessive enthusiasm, excitement or desire (heart)
- Shock or a sudden fright (kidneys + heart)
There’s more to this discussion, but my point is that your emotions impact your physical body, and when your emotions are out of balance (i.e., when they are excessive, or when you’re stuck in a particular emotion), your physical body will be out of balance too.
One example of this mind-body connection that is recognized by conventional medicine is the strong association of stress and anxiety with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. (And if you’ve ever gotten a “nervous stomach,” you know what I’m talking about!)
Your stress levels and emotional landscape impact your physical health in a very real way, and they can be a significant root cause of chronic symptoms and disease. This area cannot be overlooked if you want to transform your health!
ROOT CAUSE #6: TRAUMA
No one makes it through life without experiencing trauma, but some trauma can stay with you and make you sick.
This can be especially true when it comes to trauma that occurs in childhood, when we are so much more susceptible and sensitive to our experiences and don’t yet have the skills to process emotions and stressful or scary scenarios in a healthy way.
Many of us also grew up in environments where healthy emotional processing was not modeled to us, and this adds to the difficulty of processing and healing traumatic experiences in a productive way. (This doesn’t mean our parents/guardians didn’t do the best they could; it just means they don’t always have it figured out and can dump their own baggage or dysfunctional emotional processing onto us.)
Where can this trauma come from? Anywhere. Home; school; social media; societal structures that perpetuate racial discrepancies; social expectations and pressures; the fashion and entertainment industries; government and legal systems; local, national and global events; religious or spiritual figures; and so on. (Not to complicate things, but trauma can also be inherited…)
And when I say “trauma,” this doesn’t have to be capital-T-Trauma, such as physical abuse or sexual assault. It doesn’t even have to be an experience that other people would consider traumatic for it to be a valid trauma for YOU.
Feelings are energy, and we are energetic beings, so the reality is that feelings buried alive never die. Emotional energy has to go somewhere. And if it’s not processed and released, then “somewhere” ends up being our own bodies. Unprocessed and unresolved trauma can be a significant root cause of chronic symptoms and illness.
ROOT CAUSE #7: DISCONNECTION
True health requires that you are connected to Source, your Higher Self, nature, and community. Disconnection from any of those vital elements can drive chronic symptoms and disease.
When I say Source, I mean your version of a Higher Power. God, Creator, Great Spirit, the Universe, etc.
I’m talking about the very essence that breathes life into your bones.
That vital animating force that permeates everything in the natural world and is the difference between something that’s dead or nonliving and something that’s alive.
The force that’s behind a cut on your finger healing and a wound on a plant healing.
The force that made Earth a hospitable environment—not only for life to exist but to thrive.
The force behind the rhythm of the tides and the impact of the moon on a woman’s cycle.
The force that keeps your heart beating and your lungs breathing without your conscious involvement.
If you aren’t making time to connect with and honor Source—the very thing that sustains you—you can develop chronic symptoms that are rooted in that disconnection, and you will not achieve the level of healing and wellbeing that you’re capable of.
Your Soul. Your wise, intuitive self. The part of you that is Source. The Spirit within, the God within. Who you are at your core. The observer behind your thoughts. What continues after your body dies.
Disconnection from your Higher Self does not allow for true presence, authentic expression, or unconditional love—all of which are necessary components of being healthy and vital.
That disconnection also increases the likelihood that the way you’re living your life is not in alignment with your Higher Self or your Soul’s purpose and mission, which can create a LOT of unhappiness, as well as other mental, emotional and physical disturbances.
Humans are part of the natural world, therefore we ARE nature itself. And although we have been intimately connected to nature throughout human evolution, that has drastically changed over the last few centuries.
We spend hours inside. We live in concrete jungles. Most days, our skin doesn’t even make contact with the Earth, which is NOT how we evolved (it really should be no surprise that there are some MAJOR health benefits to touching the Earth).
In order to be healthy, you NEED regular exposure to the colors, foliage, landscapes, and designs that only nature can create.
Humans are social creatures! It may take a village to raise a child, but I would argue it takes a village to get through life!
Even animals and plants depend on community! (Yes, plants! The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book!) And not just for nourishment or protection. They also rally together to care for one of their own that is sick and struggling.
No human is an island, and no one can get all their needs met on their own. To be healthy, we need to have a tribe! We need to be connected to like-minded individuals. We need to be part of a community so that we have the resources and support necessary to get through the challenges that come with living—especially in this “upside down” that we call the modern world.
Heal the Root, Resolve Your Symptoms
If you’re new to thinking outside the conventional medicine box, some of this may sound a bit woowoo to you, and that’s okay. Take what resonates with you, and leave the rest.
But here’s the truth as I know it based on 16 years of studying alternative medicine, the additional training I’ve received in yoga and Reiki, my own spiritual journey and healing path, and my experience working with hundreds of patients: when it comes down to it, all chronic symptoms and conditions stem from some combination of these 7 root causes.
Which is actually a really beautiful thing because it means YOU have SO MUCH POWER to change your current health reality!
Learn how my approach and guidance can help you address these root causes and the various ways they are impacting your health here.