Looking from the outside, the chronic diseases humans have look like very different things. Diabetes looks nothing like arthritis. Osteoporosis looks nothing like heart disease or Alzheimer’s. But if we switch our perspective, to that from inside the body, things change.
The pharmaceutical paradigm is built on a research paradigm that looks for ways of affecting one pathway in one disease. This makes sense as seen from the outside looking in; so we have a drug for osteoporosis that looks nothing like a drug for heart disease.
But if we are looking from the inside, from the fundamental interactions that don’t occur and end up causing disease (both genetic and nutritional interactions), we realize that the problems are the same problem, the causes of disease, on multiple levels, the same.
All of these issues fall broadly under the term “metabolic disease”, and this broad classification is not wrong. But at a much more detailed level than is generally discussed or understood, the sameness continues.
I’ll start at the bottom. Fundamentally our bodies function between two poles in a dynamic – that of building vs. clearing, creation vs. destruction. We need to build new cells every day. We build enzymes, we build our skin and our whole bodies once every seven years. This is the generative, creation side of the dynamic, and it is generally managed by what is called mTor. You may have heard of this if you are into longevity – mTor is a gene, and the product of that gene a catalyst that regulates, among other things, protein creation and cell growth. Decreasing the activity of mTor (through dietary restriction for example) extends lifespan in animals, while over-activation contributes to the initiation of tumors and cancer. Malfunction is also implicated in the development of diabetes, obesity and depression.
On the other end of the cycle is the clearance mechanism, autophagy. This is where the body dismantles and recycles old used cells. These cells are not dead but are no longer active, and are damaging to our tissues. A build up of these cells appears to be one of the main factors in aging. Unfortunately this mechanism often slows down as we age, exacerbating the issue; we age further, and faster.
Alongside these mechanisms there is another of great importance to our development of chronic disease, the ability of our bodies to fight oxidative stress. In theories of aging there is the Free Radical theory of Aging, and this falls here. Eating well, avoiding toxins in our food and environment are all good things. But sometimes it is not enough. The overwhelming amount of toxins our bodies are required to handle now is far beyond what they were built for. If we cannot keep up with neutralizing the radicals, which most of us cannot, they begin to damage not only our tissues but our telomeres.
These fundamental mechanisms are all coded genetically, each involving multiple genes. All of us are born with alterations in our genes, and essentially all of us have some alterations in these fundamental mechanisms. These alterations can cause some level of malfunction, and in essentially all of us, this happens. This malfunction may be small enough to be invisible for the first part of your life, and after enough time has passed where damage has accrued, the results of the malfunction begin to show. They show in different ways in different people, depending on a slew of factors including which conditions they have predisposition for. Some might get diabetes. Some might get heart disease. Some cancer.
So at the very bottom of our genetic code sit the quiet little alterations that affect everything about how our bodies function. These alterations can be known and understood, and in many cases compensated for. This is the new medicine, combined with nutrition, and these two factors ultimately decide whether or not we succumb to chronic disease, by any name.
To be continued.