May 15, 2018

The Big 5: Underlying Causes Of Chronic Disease

Ozark Holistic Center

If you have read my other articles you may already be familiar with the Big 5. You also may be familiar with the rise of chronic disease. Diseases that were once rare in our parent’s or grandparent’s generation are now commonplace. It is a complex, multifactorial issue. My goal is to provide some understanding to the growing pandemic of chronic disease but more specifically showcase what we see in our office often. This is not meant to be the end-all, be-all for chronic disease, neither is it meant as medical advice.

Several years ago I had the privilege of living in South Africa. It is a nation full of amazing people. I love and miss them dearly. While there I learned about the Big 5. The Big 5 refer to some of Africa’s largest animals, the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo. South Africa has depictions of these animals on their currency. These are amazing animals and some of the most dangerous in Africa. So why am I talking about these dangerous animals? There is another Big 5 I would like to talk about.

Often most chronic diseases and other conditions are different manifestations of a similar cause. I wanted to write this article to talk more about the Big 5 and establish it well so that when you read our other articles you may refer back to this one. When it comes to those we see, we commonly see 5 causes to most conditions. Often, no matter who we see, it often comes back to these 5 culprits. The 5 causes are:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Infections
  • Heavy Metals
  • Environmental toxins
  • Stress from physical or emotional trauma

Other factors are involved as well such as intestinal permeability, hormone regulation, liver detoxification, and neurotransmitter health. However, issues with these are usually secondary to one of the Big 5. For example, someone with high estrogen could possibly be toxic with xenoestrogens from pesticides and plastics. Also, I cannot go without mentioning diet. Diet is crucial. Without a good diet you will not get the needed nutrients to run things properly or fight off infections. So I am going to breakdown each one of these a little more and hopefully help you grasp what is happening with chronic disease.

Food Sensitivities

Gluten-free is all the rage these days. But it is not without reason. Gluten is a general name given to proteins found within barley, rye, and wheat. It is probably the most well-researched of all the food sensitivities. Celiac disease is a chronic disease where the body has an inflammatory reaction to gluten wreaking havoc on the gut. But gluten sensitivity has now been linked with Hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis, gluten ataxia, migraines, and other chronic diseases. But we have been eating gluten for thousands of years? This has puzzled scientists and researchers too. Why are we reacting so strongly to gluten now? I believe it is multifactorial.

We no longer process wheat the same. We used to soak it, sprout it, and then ferment it with wild yeast. Now we skip them and use dry yeast. The process is a lot quicker and it can be done on a wide scale. However, the older process, the one our ancestor’s used, actually helps breakdown the gluten. Also, we have hybridized and changed the plant to increase yield and gluten levels. Lastly, and many researchers feel is the main culprit, is the way we grow and harvest it. We spray large amounts of pesticides on it, specifically glyphosate. This pesticide helps kill and dry the plant early for harvesting. This technique allows farmers to harvest two yields in a year instead of one. Glyphosate has additional effects on us. It is a known antibiotic killing off the microbes in the soil and in us, which is detrimental to our health. It also makes us more sensitive to gluten. So the theory is all of this combined has caused the growth of gluten sensitivity.

Another common one is nightshade sensitivity. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant belong to the nightshade family. For most of history many of these plants were not consumed by the majority of the world. Most of them originated in South America and were not available to most of the world until a few hundred years ago. Many thought they were poisonous and therefore, not edible. Now they are commonplace.

Nightshades contain solanine, a natural pesticide. It is a substance that is rather toxic to humans. Many handle them well, but for others it is destructive. One patient presented with fibromyalgia, widespread muscle pain. The culprit ended up being increased intestinal permeability and hypervigilant immune system caused by a nightshade sensitivity. Nightshades were eliminated from their diet leading to relief. Each person is different hence a thorough investigation must be done.

Other food sensitivities may be corn, soy, eggs, or dairy for instance. And commonly, many patients will have multiple issues going on as well. They may have one or more of the other Big 5.


I am sure we all are familiar with infections. Many of you have probably experienced a chest cold, a sinus infection, or maybe something more serious like Lyme. A lot of these we fight off and may never see again. Or it is a routine thing like getting a cold during winter. This often due to being indoors more often, poor diet, and lack of sunlight. But what happens when these infections become chronic? Odds are you may have an issue with a microbe or two. Dysbiosis, or imbalance in our gut microbes, is very common. The Standard American Diet is good at disrupting the gut microbes. But we are also exposed many of these pathogens on a daily basis.

Here in the Ozarks ticks are common. I grew up in Southwest Missouri and ticks are a normal part of life in the country. Playing in the woods and in our backyard as a child it was not uncommon to find at least 1 tick on me after coming indoors. One recent occasion, my brother-in-law was helping his grandfather mend his fence. He happened to step in a nest of ticks. He was covered with bites from his trunk to his toes. You can imagine how itchy that must have been.

Ticks are parasites that feed of the blood of animals. They also carry pathogens which lead to tick borne illnesses, which can be terrible chronic diseases. The CDC has a decent list of these illnesses. Most commonly are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There is a long list of symptoms associated with tick borne diseases. Fatigue is one of the most common. If someone tests positive, usually a course of antibiotics is given and then they are rechecked. However, researchers are finding that many of these bacteria can change their shape or go into a protective mode creating a structure that will help them escape the notice of our immune system. This leads to chronic infection. Many have been treated only to find out later that they still have the infection. They can be difficult to treat and can lead to further complications such as autoimmune disease.

Lyme disease is just one example of a plethora of conditions with chronic infections. Further complicating it is many patients have co-infections. Meaning they have infections from other bacteria, parasites, etc.

Heavy Metals

This is not about music. Many are exposed to heavy metals on a daily basis, maybe it is at their home in their pipes or it could be at work. Another common exposure is the environment around us such as factories that are nearby. Heavy metals include aluminum, arsenic, lead, mercury, many others. For example, one individual I have read about worked in an area where fluorescent lights were used and often broke.These light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. His constant exposure caused him to develop mercury toxicity.

Others have been exposed to different metals. Some of these are quite toxic to our brain resulting in numerous symptoms. Often patients report brain fog, anxiety, depression, and trouble focusing. These are highly inflammatory and can lead to chronic diseases such as autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, headaches, and other issues.

Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins are numerous and varied. Our water is filled with pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and many other things. We filter out a lot but not all especially not what I just mentioned. You can buy at home filters that will remove those, however. But our environment is getting more and more toxic. Factories, vehicles, power plants, farms, etc. are polluting the world around us. I am not advocating for any political agenda. Please do not take it that way. This is a fact of our current life and it is not just our water. It is our home and work environments too. It is where we live.

The amount of pharmaceuticals being dumped into the water supply especially birth control and other endocrine disruptors has taken its effect on our wildlife. There are reports and studies done on male fish and alligators being exposed changing into females or having low testosterone and other effects! (1,2,3)We are exposed to these substances on a daily basis. Just think of what it is doing to you. We see it all the time in our office. Many walk in with too much estrogen in their bodies. They are overweight, fatigued, and can’t figure out why no matter what they do they can’t lose the weight.

And this was just one example. There are numerous other examples of people people getting sick because of the environment around them. The exposure can lead to hormone disruption, as mentioned above, but also chronic inflammation, autoimmune disease such as scleroderma, mental illness, and gastrointestinal issues.

Stress from Physical and Emotional Trauma

This is a fairly broad and all-encompassing topic. We will all be injured physically, it is a fact of life. We run, we play, we exercise, we work, but inevitably we will get hurt. But those injuries often didn’t start the moment the pain started. Often times they have been progressing over years, a pattern of injury takes place. Maybe we stepped of the curb funny, or we sit for long periods of time, or wear ill-fitted shoes, or an old injury that we never healed from, whatever it is, it creates a pattern of compensations. Our bodies are great at compensating. Our goal is to be able to move and our bodies will make that happen until they cannot. There are limitations. Just like the straw that broke the camel’s back, your body can only handle so much. When that happens is usually when the pain starts.

We get patients like this in our office all the time. Multiple injuries and compensations must be corrected for proper movement to be restored, pain to be relieved, and stress to be decreased. Of course, injuries can happen suddenly and all at once such as a football player getting blindsided or a person in a car accident. The point is the physical trauma whether it happened over time or all at once leads to increasing amounts of stress. Stress leads to increase levels of cortisol and other hormones to help us cope and live. Those hormones are very good and needed. For example, if you happened to come across a mama bear in the woods. It would be good to be in control of your faculties at that moment and respond well. Cortisol helps with that. But too much cortisol from physical trauma or any of the others leads to chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation leads to a dampened immune system, poor digestion, fatigue, and many other symptoms. Which means you get sick more often and you are prone to developing other conditions. High cortisol also negatively affects the hippocampus in the brain leading to poor memory and emotional issues. Which brings me to my next point, stress from emotional trauma.

Emotional trauma can take place because of a dysfunctional home life, or maybe your job is very cumbersome, but it also takes place because of things that have happened in the past. We have seen people who have experienced terrible abuse growing up that they were still hanging on to or maybe they have something like PTSD, a very traumatic event that happened in their life. Another example we have seen are addictions. Addictions lead to a host of emotional issues creating distrust, loneliness, and losing control. These traumas lead to copious amounts of stress. And like physical trauma, high stress means high cortisol leading to all the above mentioned things.


So what can be done with each of the Big 5 and help chronic disease? So much. Do not worry, there is hope. These are things we see on a daily basis and support our patients with. It is difficult and trying at times but there are solutions. Just as there is a myriad of ailments that can take place, there is a myriad of ways to help. Through evaluating the biochemistry and physiology of the body and blood tests we are able to accurately diagnose what is going and what is needed. Through nutrition, lifestyle modification, and myofascial release we are able to effectively and efficiently to support our patients and help their body’s heal.

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