There’s no doubt about it, modern life has many conveniences and advantages. Despite these modern conveniences, many of us already feel wiped out before the day even starts. Do you feel like you can’t keep up or focus because you’re tired? Fatigue is the most common complaint that I hear from my new patients. Did you know that your energy levels say a lot about your personal risk of cancer? In this article, I will explain the indirect, but critical link between your energy level and the development of cancer.
Why are the rates of certain types of disease, such as cancer, skyrocketing in our modern world? The numbers are sobering: 2 out of every 5 people in the U.S and Canada are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. One out of 4 is expected to die of cancer every year. Why are these statistics expected to rise despite the best that modern technology has to offer? The answer to these questions comes down to the very basics of life – the inability of your cells to make and use energy fast enough to meet the demands of modern life.
The human body is made of trillions of cells, each working specifically to perform its functions as part of a seamless whole. Within each cell, millions of chemical reactions occur daily in response to body requirements and environmental input. Cells work hard within their limited life span. All body function is derived from its cells, including the manufacturing of energy, hormones, enzymes, detoxification, and elimination of waste. Cells reproduce several times, die, and are replaced by new cells. When the body is functioning normally, the immune system responds to abnormal cells, including cancer, and kills them. We don’t have significant symptoms or diseases when the body is functioning properly.
This process is a delicate balance, however, and when the body experiences imbalance, the effects begin at the cellular level and create a ripple effect that can disrupt and negatively impact many different body systems. The macro-environment (the environment around us) exerts a strong impact on the cellular microenvironment of our bodies.
It has become increasingly clear that our macro-environment poses challenges to our internal systems due to both synthetic and natural chemicals (natural chemicals are those produced by our own bodies in response to stress). A number of almost unavoidable factors in our modern world have harmful effects, including overwhelming demands on our physical systems:
• the use of pesticides
• genetically modified foods
• processed and pasteurized foods
• the use of hormones and antibiotics in the food industry
• the overuse of antibiotics
• household toxins
• widespread production and use of plastics
• exposure to artificial light
• air pollution
Processing foods, for example, reduces the natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals in that food. Combined with the increased use of pesticides, processed foods wreak havoc on our gastrointestinal tract and fail to bring us the benefits normally associated with food because of the reduced nutritive value. Up to 20% of the U.S. population has a significant gastrointestinal problem, leading to poor absorption, weak immunity, inflammation, sleep disturbances, psychiatric disturbances, and even cancer. Lack of sleep is another reason why the demand on our cells outweighs supply. When we don’t sleep sufficiently, our bodies are “on” more than they should be. This creates increased demand. We have forced the body to compensate to the point where it runs out of gas, causing fatigue, chronic disease, and, frequently, cancer.
This negative ripple effect is a matter of resources. As explained in detail in my book, The Tao of Integrative Medicine, nature endowed our bodies with built-in mechanisms to self-correct. When the body is constantly waging a protective battle to self-correct, however, it begins to deplete its natural resources, such as proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, hormones, and enzymes. As a result, it redirects these resources to ensure the tissues and cells that are a top priority for survival have precedence to receive the supplies they need. This leaves those low-priority cells (hair follicles, skin, skeletal muscles and joints, immune system, ovaries, and other glands) drained and worn out. Eventually, we experience symptoms once these cells can’t perform their normal functions. As the body continues to run low on resources and has to short-change more and more cells and tissues, even the critical cells become deprived of the energy and oxygen necessary to function correctly.
At this point, “normal” life becomes a challenge due to fatigue, low energy, and other symptoms. I call this the gray zone. The gray zone is the zone where we know something is wrong, but conventional medicine can’t identify what it is, or finds a piece or two of the puzzle and treats them individually, missing the underlying cause. Many people seeking relief from these symptoms with conventional medicine fail to find it; blood work and other diagnostic tests come back normal because the standard tests do not reveal what their body needs. This is a critical point because if the body can get what it needs, these symptoms go away. This is the most critical point of intervention to successfully prevent cancer and many diseases. It turns out that the causes of fatigue are the same causes of cancer! This is the strategy that I employ at the Riobe Institute that has significantly reduced the risk of cancer and the risk of recurrence for patients with cancer in my patient population.
The answer to this challenge is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Traditional Chinese Medicine allows for diagnosis and treatment in the critical gray zone. This approach looks at the energy of the body (E = mc2) and finds patterns of imbalance, which we can correct, restoring the body’s relationship with itself and its environment. Energy-based medicine has a central role in disease prevention because it provides the ability to treat the underlying causes of symptoms and correct them before they progress to the stage of a disease. In other words, your fatigue is not solved just simply by getting more sleep – your body needs to stop operating in the gray zone so that your body can process the energy it absorbs efficiently and properly. According to TCM, cancer has several causes. The one thing almost all cancers have in common is a pattern called “spleen qi (pronounced chee) deficiency.” The “spleen” in TCM is the energy system responsible for making the body’s energy! Spleen qi deficiency is also a common pattern causing fatigue. If this fatigue is left untreated, it simply compounds over time leading to the risk of cancer.
Functional medicine is the second part of the answer, as it also allows for some diagnosis and treatment in that gray zone. While functional medicine is technically anatomical and deductive, it looks in the cells for answers and reveals significant dysfunction when blood work remains within normal parameters. Cellular-based testing alone, for instance, doesn’t answer all that is needed, but it’s a great addition to help complement what TCM reveals.
The triggers of fatigue and cancer begin at the cellular level, and it’s at the cellular level that the battle can be won – if the underlying issues are identified and addressed effectively. In my experience, a comprehensive evaluation based on both functional medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine is the best way to make an accurate and thorough diagnosis, with a treatment plan based on the principles of both modalities providing the way forward for a healthier life, unencumbered by a high risk of fatigue, cancer and other serious diseases.