It was Hippocrates who was said to have coined the popular phrase “all disease begins in the gut”. While that may have applied in Hippocrates day we now have better information on how our genome, our body and our gut respond to our “conditions of existence” from our environment. In light of new science of epigenetics and the knowledge that our environment has massive control over how genetic strengths and weaknesses are influenced I’m going to suggest that the notion that disease beginning in the gut is outdated.
What occurs in our gut is without a doubt very important to our overall health. It’s where we consume, breakdown and absorb our food and one of the ways we rid ourselves of metabolic waste. There is no doubt what happens in our GI has so much influence on every other system “downstream”. But I’d like to point out that it’s outside inputs from the environment that are the primary driver of our health, our gut is merely a respondent. These inputs include things like air, water, light, sound, electromagnetic fields, food and interpersonal relationships and even trauma. It is in our environment where disease first begins, not the gut. Some of these were non-factors in Hippocrates day, and he had no knowledge on the epigenetic effects of our environment…so he gets a pass. Let’s break each of them down.
It’s tough to argue that breathing clean air is a foundational thing for our health, it’s a no brainer. Despite this, it’s often overlooked and completely ignored. Air quality in many urban environments is a known issue due to automobile emissions and industrial activities among other sources. If you were to measure the air quality of most indoor environments you can find detectable levels of particulates, volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. These are a result of poor air purification, circulation and off gassing of various chemicals from building materials, carpets and furniture.
Unless you’ve properly tested municipal water you really have no idea what’s in it. Certain municipalities do have better sources of water and more advanced treatment facilities but you can still have left-over residues from treatment like chlorine, fluoride as well as toxic metals, microbes and pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately the filters on most pitchers and refrigerators do not cover you for all of these.
With the use of digital devices and energy efficient lighting, many people today have disrupted circadian rhythms. This shows up as poor sleep, hormone problems, immune dysregulation and contributes to metabolic issues such as insulin resistance and obesity. This is due to incorrect light signalling outside of normal daylight hours. Screens, LEDs and fluorescent lighting emit a large proportion of blue light which when exposed to during darkness, causes phase-shifting in our normal rhythms. With light pollution we are living in a perpetual state of daylight, we rarely experience full darkness. To add to this, the spectrum emitted by these light sources signal the brain in a completely different way than sunlight.
The world health organization has set decibel limits for noise pollution in our environment, but most people are unaware of this. Constant low end frequency sound from compressors, air conditioners or even wind turbines can lead to something known as “vibroacoustic disease” and it can also contribute to heart and respiratory disease as well. Noise pollution is just another stimuli your brain has to process and this requires energy. I tell my patients they have to make some time for complete silence everyday, even for 5 minutes.
I think of electromagnetic fields in three different categories. These are magnetic, electric and radiofrequency fields. You can be exposed to these different EMF’s from your indoor wiring, powerlines, appliances, smart utility meters, cellphones, cell towers, bluetooth devices, fitness trackers and baby monitors. Levels and sources of exposure are ever-increasing. Despite this being a controversial topic there is data suggesting harm to our biology. Fortunately, there are multiple ways people can measure and mitigate their risks with EMF.
This one is obvious and clearly the most closely tied to our gut. Nutrition is always controversial and there are proponents of every dietary template you can imagine, most of which have data and studies to back their position. The key is determining the approach that works best for the individual. There’s no shortage of people telling you how to eat and giving you recommendations without knowing a thing about your status as an individual; so keep this in mind when determining a way of eating that works for you. There are certain lab assessments that allow us to individualize your diet based on oxidative type, nutrient deficiencies, mitochondrial function, allergens, cell membrane composition, activity level, even your geographic location.
So I hope this article served to show you that health really does begin outside the gut and that disease really starts from outside inputs that our body has to respond and adapt to. We can think of most non-genetic disease as our body’s best adaptation to our conditions of existence.