by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last updated 10/20/16
People often think disease happens by chance—that it strikes suddenly for no apparent reason, and that it’s one of the inevitable risks we face as we go through life.
Unsure of what to do, they often turn to conventional medicine for answers. And typically, pharmaceutical therapy or surgery end up being the only options provided.
While these tools can reduce symptoms and slow the progression of disease, they offer limited ability to restore normal health. In addition, these therapies come with risks and often significant side effects.
The Law of Cause and Effect states simply that all things happen in the universe occur as a direct result of specific causes. It’s as absolute as dropping a ball and having it hit the floor or watching the sun set at the end of every day.
Disease and aging are not excluded from cause and effect; they are the result of specific causes.
With acute situations, such as a falling and breaking an arm or developing bronchitis after catching the latest bug going around, the underlying causes are obvious.
With chronic disease and aging, however, cause becomes less well defined. It’s not one thing, but lots of little things adding up over time. And they do add up, little by little, every minute of every day.
It all sneaks up on you. It starts with not having as much energy as you once did. This is followed by joint pain, general aches, dry skin, and new lines and creases on your face. Next thing you know, everything is falling apart and things get scary.
At this point, most people head for the doctor’s office. Labs generally confirm that things are changing in an undesirable direction, but solutions offered by conventional medicine are limited almost exclusively to pharmaceutical or surgical options.
These conventional options can calm symptoms, prevent catastrophic events (such as stroke or heart attack), artificially tighten things up, and artificially replace things, but they cannot restore you to normal health or slow the inevitable processes of aging. In fact, because of toxic effects associated with many commonly used drugs, drugs can actually speed up the aging process.
Drugs and surgery have limited capacity to address underlying causes. Only you can do that. But first you have to know what those causes are.
As surprising as it may sound, the origins of all diseases (acute and chronic) can be traced back to seven basic causative factors. Many diseases are possible because of the infinite variety of ways these factors can come together over a lifetime and the immense genetic diversity of the each individual.
Knowing this provides a unique opportunity. When exposure to these seven stress factors is reduced, the healing systems of the body flourish. The processes of aging can be slowed and risks of disease can be reduced profoundly!
What are the 7 Causes of Disease?
1. Nutritional Stress
Disease and nutrition are intimately linked. Our food supply has become saturated with processed foods that are largely foreign to the human body. Chiefly derived from wheat and corn, these abnormal foods are the driving force behind obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive problems, cancer, and most all other diseases.
2. Emotional Stress
A baseline of chronic stress is much more prevalent than most people realize. Chronic emotional stress robs the body of vital energy, suppresses immune function, and disrupts hormonal systems. The cumulative result can be devastating: elevated blood pressure, increased blood clotting, compromised digestive function, elevated blood sugar, chronic sleep disturbances, weight gain and especially suppressed immune function. Uncontrolled stress sets the stage for all diseases.
There are up to 200,000 man-made chemicals in the environment that were not present a hundred years ago. Most are petroleum derived. Everyone is exposed and trace amounts can be found in every living creature on earth. The role that toxins play in disease and cancer is hard to absolutely define, but it is certainly a factor. Because toxins can only enter the body by three different pathways (ingestion, breathing, and through the skin), limiting this risk factor is fairly simple.
4. Physical Stress
Three types of physical stress can affect your body—trauma (wear & tear), temperature, and pressure. Even everyday physical stress (minor trauma, being too cold or too hot, pressure changes) can aggravate established disease processes. For some people, extreme physical stress (severe trauma, severe hypothermia, severe hyperthermia, altitude sickness) can be the primary trigger for allowing disease processes to occur.
5. Free Radicals/Inflammation
Inside each of the trillions of cells that make up your body, free radicals are being continually generated as a byproduct of energy production. Free radicals can damage all parts of the cell, including DNA. It is the most significant factor in aging and contributes to all disease. Other sources of free radicals in the body include abnormal fats from processed foods and toxins. In addition, white blood cells actually generate free radicals to destroy foreign substances in the body; this is the root of inflammation in the body.
Like all living creatures, you are exposed to a certain level of background radiation from gamma rays, x-ray and UV radiation from the earth, sun and space. Though these forms of radiation are a force of disease and aging, exposure from natural sources has been relatively constant since humans began walking the earth. Of greater concern are the increased levels of radiation from artificial and unnatural sources (such as electronics).
The role that microbes play in acute disease is well understood. Diseases like strep throat, influenza, malaria, small pox, polio, and the plague cause acute illness in most people who are exposed. Collectively, these aggressive types of microbes (which include viruses, bacteria, fungi, & protozoa) can be referred to as high virulence microbes.
In chronic disease, however, a different sort of microbe plays a prominent role. You (and everyone around) are almost continually exposed to these types of microbes (also composed of viruses, bacteria, fungi, & protozoa, but different than above). They actually have a low potential to cause disease and most of the time, they pass by hardly noticed. However, if immune function is compromised by other factors, chronic low grade infection can occur.
These microbes are very stealthy—difficult to diagnose and hard to eradicate once established, and they hide inside cells and scavenge resources from the body. They have sophisticated mechanisms of bypassing and compromising immune function. And unlike more deadly microbes, killing you is not their goal; they want you alive for the valuable resources you provide. These opportunists play a major (but often invisible) role in many chronic diseases and certain cancers.
*Note: Genetics are the deciding factor. Because we all have genes that are unique, exposure to the same sets of risk factors results in different diseases for different individuals.
How My Medicine Practice Evolved
For the early part of my career, I practiced medicine conventionally. I would listen to patients’ symptoms, diagnose them with the proper medical code, and compassionately write out prescriptions to relieve their suffering. Sometimes it worked. Often, however, patients would experience significant side effects, they would stop taking their medications altogether, or they would just become more ill.
As my practice evolved, I found myself asking patients about what they ate and how they managed stress levels. I constructed a questionnaire to help provide a more holistic picture of the patient’s overall health and lifestyle. This process also helped engage the person to become more active in their own healing process. For a motivated individual, lifestyle and dietary changes can, and should be, the first line of therapy. Over time, this process became as important to me as handing out a prescription.
Pharmaceuticals can play an important role in alleviating symptoms. However, I firmly believe that healing shouldn’t be limited to conventional drugs alone. Appropriate combinations of natural supplements are extraordinarily valuable for counteracting forces of disease. When used properly, they can be as effective as drug therapy, but with a much lower potential for toxicity. Meditation, stretching, physical therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture have also stood the test of time as valuable healing methods.
As I began to develop a reputation for offering a more natural approach to healing, new patients began approaching me in search of alternative options. Often frustrated and dissatisfied, these patients tended to be highly motivated to try whatever I recommended. Sarah was one of these patients.
Sarah: A Patient Case Study
Sarah had been waiting for a diagnosis for over six weeks. She had visited three different physicians, but no one had been able to give her clear direction. Her health issues started a year earlier, when she began experiencing acid reflux and anxiety. Her primary care provider wrote prescriptions for drugs to stop acid production in her stomach and to calm her nerves. In the short term, the medications worked and Sarah was able to continue with life, but her symptoms soon returned, along with side effects.
The burning in her throat was only kept at bay if she took the medication every day. Gas, bloating, and abdominal cramping, which previously had been only minor annoyances, were now becoming major concerns. An evaluation by a gastroenterologist included a CT scan, colonoscopy, and other tests. Other than mild esophageal irritation and early signs of an ulcer, all the tests came back negative and she was told to continue the antacid medication, with the addition of an anti-spasm medication.
Her ability to handle day-to-day stress slowly began to deteriorate. Worsening anxiety often left her agitated by the end of the day. Her first panic attack was a real shock. Under the advice of her primary care provider, she increased her anti-anxiety medication to several times each day (and now she wasn’t able to sleep without it). An anti-hypertensive drug was added to manage rising blood pressure. Routine blood tests discovered mildly elevated fasting blood sugar levels, suggesting the onset of adult diabetes.
With each week she became more fatigued, often to the point that working a full day felt impossible. Sarah also began seeing a neurologist for tingling and numbness in her hands and feet associated with muscle pain and spasm. At this point, she feared that she may develop a condition such as multiple sclerosis, and she underwent another battery of tests.
By the time Sarah approached me, she was taking six different medications and felt worse than ever. At age 43, she was unhappy with life and feared that she had some terrible illness (that was yet to be diagnosed).
Before I could help Sarah make the changes she would need to make to restore her health, I needed her to understand the basic causes and effects of disease processes. Even when an absolute diagnosis seems elusive, identifying causative factors can open an avenue toward healing. I’ve found that even just a basic understanding of these factors answers many questions that patients have about illness. Gaining this type of knowledge offers the patient control and alleviates fear.
Together with Sarah, we devised a plan to strengthen her healing systems with standardized herbal therapy and a whole foods diet, to reduce anxiety through medication and physical activity, and to gradually wean off dependence on her medications. It required multiple visits for accountability and support, but within three months, Sarah began feeling less anxious and able to function as a normal person. Within six months, she had halved her medications and was feeling hopeful that she could enjoy life again.
A prerequisite for using this approach to health restoration is recognizing that chronic diseases involve the whole body. A condition as seemingly simple as a fungal infection of the toe is actually a red flag that the entire immune system is not functioning properly. Treating only the toe and not addressing widespread Chronic Immune Dysfunction is an open door for other chronic conditions to inevitably show up.
Once you understand that chronic disease is a reflection of dysfunction in the body’s healing systems, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many individuals suffer from more than one chronic disease process. For example, chronic sinusitis and gastrointestinal problems often show up together; as do hypertension, arthritis, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels. This fact alone should suggest the common origins of chronic disease.
Understanding the basics about the causes and effects of disease is absolutely necessary for improving your health. Just as it would be unwise to enter a battle without obtaining intelligence information about the enemy, it would be unwise to try to improve your health without understanding the forces working in opposition to your goal.