Health Triggers – Become Your Own Health Detective

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UPDATED: I first wrote this article in 2017, but it is worth readdressing after the last couple of years since new and unusually health triggers have been introduced.

Did you know that most diseases take an average of 8 to 12 years to develop? Autoimmune Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, MS. . . . and, yes, even cancer. Even chronic conditions like asthma, allergies, or histamine intolerance are often developed over time. 

Most people will have a hint that something is wrong long before a diagnosis. You may have insomnia for months or even years. You may have heartburn and/or indigestion when you eat certain foods. You may have constant diarrhea or constipation, or even gas and bloating after eating. You may have unexplainable skin issues or constant headaches or brain fog. You may have a nagging pain or feeling of anxiety that won’t go away.

These are just some of the signs that something is wrong. It is when these little things show up, when you find your life is out of balance, that you need to take notice. Your body is magnificently designed and it talks to you on a regular basis. Pay attention to it. And, pay attention to the health triggers in your life.

What Are Health Triggers?

A health trigger is anything that pushes you over the edge of being healthy one day and then not feeling well, either the next day or weeks or months later. Since each of us is unique, this trigger will be different for everyone.

There may be multiple triggers. Certain triggers, like toxins and EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies), can accumulate in the body over time. Then, suddenly, a new trigger is introduced that seems to “push you over the edge” into not feeling well.

Looking for health triggers in your life can be the difference between staying healthy and getting sick. The sooner you recognize a trigger and modify and/or remove it the better.

Health triggers can include any of the following:

  • Environmental Exposure – Environmental toxins include everything from natural plant pollen, air pollution, and mold to man-made fire retardants, chemicals, and gas fumes. New cars and car seats, new furniture, new houses, new clothes, and new toys, for instance, all contain a number of chemicals that can be breathed in and/or absorbed by your body. 
  • Bath and Body Products – Did you know that there are no regulations for what goes into bath and body products? And, not all ingredients are required to be labeled on the package. You are potentially exposed to many chemicals and toxins on a daily basis. (Learn more here.)
  • Cosmetics – There are no regulations for makeup either. For example, many women don’t know that the typical lipstick contains lead, even more natural brands.
  • Food Toxins – Common food toxins include preservatives and dyes, pesticides, genetically modified foods (GMOs), sugars, bad fats, etc. Other foods may act as toxins in your body and are more specific to you, such as gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, oxalates, lectins, etc.
  • Household Cleaners – Another product category with few industry regulations, very similar to bath and body products, is household cleaning products. In fact, “more natural” scent-free options often use additional chemicals to cover up the scent.
  • Dental Procedures and Materials – Amalgam (silver) fillings are 50% mercury with a combination of other metals like copper, silver, and cadmium. They are very toxic. Other dental materials can contain plastic and other toxins. Certain dental procedures can also eventually cause problems in other parts of the body, which you can read more about here.
  • Emotional Stress – Emotional stress can include a wide variety of factors such as chronic work stress, over exercising, death of a loved one, divorce, etc. PTSD is another big one. Each of us has different stress thresholds and many of us were pushed past our comfort zone during the last few years: lockdowns, social isolation, masks covering facial expressions, etc. (For more about stress and the adrenal glands, click here. Use this link to learn about getting PTSD from watching media.)
  • Physical Trauma – A broken limb, a head trauma, an unexpected loud sound are just a few examples of a physical trauma. A physical trauma can create an energy blockage that prevents your body from healing. A sudden trauma can also put the body into shock and put extra stress on it as you attempt to heal.
  • Medications and Injections – All pharmaceutical drugs have side effects, even over the counter medications like aspirin and (especially) Tylenol. Some effects are more severe than others and, depending on the person, can range from mild to drastic. Additional side effects can occur when more than one medication or injection is taken at the same time.
  • Substandard Supplements – Even natural supplements are not all created equal. Make sure you are not taking synthetic products. Many also have fillers and excipients that can cause stress on the body, especially if you are more sensitive. (Learn more about what to look for here.)
  • Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMFs) and Wireless Radiation – EMF exposures include electrical, magnetic and dirty electricity. The most common radiation sources include cell phones, wireless (wi-fi) devices, microwaves, smart meters, as well as anything that uses Bluetooth (wireless earbuds, speakers, keyless cars, etc.). (Learn more about EMFs here, smart meters here, and dirty electricity here.)
  • Infections – We all have pathogens in our bodies. In fact, the microbiome, which previously was used to describe the bacteria in our gut, is now thought to include viruses, fungi, parasites, etc. If we are healthy, these microbes live in harmony with us, but if we have a sudden over exposure or new exposure to a “bad” microbe during a time when our body is run down, they can create havoc. Think food poisoning, flu, shingles, mold exposure, etc.

Being Your Own Detective

Once you realize that your body is not operating optimally, what do you do? You need to analyze your lifestyle to see what is out of balance. Also look back to see if you can pinpoint a certain event or other trigger. Use the list above and the questions below to help you get started.

  • Is there a new stressor in your life and when did it occur or start?
  • Have you ignored an old emotional trauma and need to finally deal with it?
  • Do you repeatedly watch local and/or world events on the news. reliving other people’s traumas?
  • Have you had a recent physical trauma like a car accident, surgery, or bad fall?
  • Were you recently exposed to a chemical like a cleaning product or pesticide?
  • Does your home have a moisture problem or a known mold problem?
  • Did you recently have some dental work done: root canal, amalgam filling removed, tooth pulled, etc.? Or have an older amalgam filling in your mouth?
  • Are you lacking specific nutrients as a result of bad eating habits, long-term exposure to EMFs, or taking medications?
  • What junk foods (or even “healthy” processed foods) do you need to eliminate from your diet?
  • Are you eating too much sugar? Fake sugars?
  • Are there “healthy” foods that are negatively affecting you?
  • What are the proven side effects of the medications you take or the vaccine you were given?
  • Are there fillers and preservatives in your natural supplements?
  • Did you recently start using a new wireless (or Bluetooth) device, install new smart TV or gaming system, or get a smart meter installed on your house?

Examples of Health Triggers

To help you understand how this works, from a holistic or functional medicine perspective, take a look at the examples below. Each health trigger example will help you look at your body differently and hopefully help you figure out some of your own trigger(s).

Food – Let’s use dairy as an example since it is a trigger food for a lot of people. It is hard to digest, especially for adults who have reduced digestive enzymes. Dairy is also mucus producing. You may have been fine eating it for years until something changed. You may have picked up a parasite and now it is proving more difficult to digest the yogurt or cheese. The manufacturer may have changed their source or recipe and now there is an additional ingredient that your body does not like. Suddenly, it seems like dairy does not agree with you.

Interestingly, this happens often with both dairy and gluten-based products. You don’t even notice that they are making you feel less than optimal. However, when you stop eating them, you feel better. Or, if you stop eating them for two weeks and eat them again, you can tell the difference. (For other possible symptoms related to food, click here.)

Pathogen – You vacation in South America and get exposed to tainted food which causes “Montezuma’s Revenge.” After a few days of being miserable, you seem to be okay again and everything is back to normal. However, when you get home you notice that you are more sensitive to perfumes and other scents. Or, certain foods you could eat before now seem to bother you. Even though the initial affects of the tainted food on your trip seem to be gone, the bacteria or parasite can still be hiding out in your body and/or creating a low grade infection you don’t notice.

Head Trauma – You may have fallen off a bike or swing and hit your head hard as a child or more recently been in a car accident where your head hit the windshield. These and other head traumas can actually affect your whole body. The trauma can turn on your immune system in such as way that it becomes overactive, thereby making you more sensitive to other things. In fact, newer research shows that all types of traumas, not just head traumas, can accumulate in the body and create inflammation in the brain. A classic example is breaking your arm as a child and getting unexplainable headaches as an adult.

Toxin Exposure – You recently decided to update your living room and purchased all new furniture. In fact, the sofa is so comfortable that you like to take naps on it. Yet, you find that you often feel worse after taking a nap. That is because new furniture is often full of chemicals. Tables can be made with substandard wood, glues, and finishes that all contain chemicals. Soft seating contains foam, fire retardants, fabric dyes and finishes, etc. that can potentially off-gas for months or years. And, the main ingredient in the stain resistant finish often added to sofas and chairs is Teflon, another toxic chemical. (New mattresses are also required by law to include fire retardants.) If you are healthy, your body may be able to eliminate these toxin on its own. If not, they can remain in the body and continue to accumulate, especially when you are exposed to many new items at once.

Mold Exposure – Mold and the related mycotoxins that molds produce can be especially tricky. You may have been exposed to mold after a roof leak as a child, but thought nothing of it. Years later you end up working in a moldy office building or moving into a musty college dorm. This second exposure could happen when your immune system is run down (maybe from stress) or it could react with the old mold residue possibly still in your body from childhood, causing unusual symptoms that are not always easy to pinpoint. (Certain frequencies have been found to increase mold and mycotoxin production, which may explain why mold-related illnesses are on the rise.)

Latent Virus – You had mononucleosis in college. After a few weeks of acute symptoms and a few months of extreme tiredness, you recover and move on with your life. However, years later you are exposed to a high dose of paint fumes or drywall dust while building your new house and suddenly you are bedridden. All the symptoms of the mono (caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus) come back. The toxic exposure to these building materials lowered your immune system, creating an opening for the virus to come out of dormancy. Another common example is the Herpes Zoster Virus that causes chicken pox as a child and shingles as an adult.

Amalgam Filling Removal – You recently had a couple of amalgam (silver) fillings removed and replaced, after hearing about how bad they are for your body. You felt great afterwards, knowing that the mercury was out of your mouth, but over time you started not feeling well. The dentist used a dental dam during the procedure so you assumed you were protected from the metal dust created during the removal. However, the toxic dust can get into your body even if you have full protection and a heavy metal detox should always be done after the procedure (and usually before as well). Now, weeks or months later, you can tell something is not right. (Learn more about proper removal here.)

Lyme Disease – Many of us are infected with Lyme-related pathogens and don’t realize it. Lyme Disease actually consists of four main organisms, but there are also many other co-infections that can be occurring at the same time. If we are healthy, our bodies can manage the microbes without any noticeable symptoms. However, if we are exposed to extreme stress, either long-term stress or a one-time shock, the immune system becomes compromised and you could start feeling the effects of the pathogens. For example, many of my Lyme-related symptoms returned after my body went through the “trauma” of giving birth to my son. I also read about a woman who woke up with all the symptoms of full-blown Lyme Disease after being unexpectedly exposed to an extremely loud sound the day before.

EMF Exposure – Unknowingly, many of us are introducing new technology into our homes without realizing the consequences. Even a smart meter installed by the utility company that transmits information wirelessly long distance can cause health issues. For me, an electrical smart meter put stress on my body and brought back all my Lyme-related symptoms one more time until I learned how to limit my exposure (as explained here). For others, EMFs and/or wireless technology commonly cause insomnia, tinnitus, brain fog, anxiety, heart palpitations, among others.

Vaccines – You received a flu shot the end of last year. You remember getting a fever afterwards but did not think much of it at the time. However, now that you think about it, you have not felt quite right since. It could be a childhood vaccine, a flu shot, or other type of injection. If your body’s immune system is compromised due to a sickness or too many toxins already in the body, a vaccine could be your trigger. Studies of cord blood have proven that even babies are born with many toxins in their little bodies. The preservatives and other toxins found in vaccines add to that load and can sometimes be too much for your body.

Finding Your Health Triggers

As you can see in the examples above, sometimes finding the health trigger for yourself can be obvious. More often, it is a combination of events and/or exposures that, when put together, paint the bigger picture.

There are several tools that can help you find your health triggers: making a health timeline, starting a food journal, and strategically removing toxins using a toxin removal journal. Each is explained below. Use them to help you figure out your triggers. (Knowing how to self muscle test can also help narrow things down.)

Health Timeline – One of the best things you can do to help determine your health trigger(s) is to create a timeline. Think about all the major events in your life (or your child’s life) that may have contributed to your health issues. Use the lists and examples above and go as far back as you can remember.

Here are a few more questions to help you get started:

  • Do you know if your birth (or your time in utero) was a traumatic one?
  • Did you break an arm as a child or fall off a swing and hit your head?
  • Did any other traumatic events or stressors occur in your childhood?
  • Were you extremely sick as a child and/or sensitive to certain foods?
  • Do you have any metal pins, screws, or plates in your body?
  • Did you have your wisdom teeth pulled as a teenager?
  • Do you have any root canals and/or tooth implants?
  • Do you get cold sores and, if so, when did they start?
  • Did you have mono, herpes, or other type of infection in college?
  • When did you start drinking alcohol or start/stop smoking?
  • Did you recently have a baby and how did your body react afterwards?
  • Did you recently switch to a new laundry detergent or makeup?
  • Where have you lived and when did you move?
  • Have you lived in an older home with water or electrical issues or a brand new home that off-gasses?
  • When did you install a wireless router in your house or add any other wireless devices such as a security camera, smart speaker, etc.
  • When did a smart meter get installed on your house – electric, gas or water?
  • Did you recently start using a Bluetooth device?
  • How new is your car and how many wireless systems does it have?
  • Did you or your neighbor recently spray pesticides in the yard?
  • When did you start a new supplement or medication?

Your timeline can also include important happy moments and events in your life. It can be interesting to see how these positive events also fit into the overall “health picture.”

Food Journal – If you are looking for food triggers, a food journal or diary can be a great tool. Write down everything you eat for 7 to 14 days and keep track of how you feel each day. Food reactions do not necessarily show up as an immediate histamine reaction. You might notice extreme fatigue or other symptom later in the day, the next day, or even 3 to 7 days later.

A good comprehensive food diary will contain the four categories shown below. (I explain food diaries in more detail here.)

  • Foods eaten (include all meals and snacks as well as beverages)
  • Emotional reaction (any change in mood)
  • Status of bowel movements (click here for more detail)
  • Brain reactions (such as easier/harder to think or recall, more/less brain fog, etc.)

For instance, I know that when I eat gluten by accident or GMO corn, I am extremely tired the next day. If I eat too many deep fried foods (like potato chips or French fries), my face breaks out three days later.

Toxin Removal Journal – To help you find other toxic triggers, I would like to introduce you to a new type of journal: a toxin removal journal. We are exposed to a wide variety of toxins on a daily basis. However, many of them are within our control. The goal is to remove as many as possible.

As you analyze your life and your surroundings and become more aware of the toxins in your daily life, start to make changes. Examples include:

  • Replace at least one body product with a more natural option (or stop using one all together). Use this article to help you.
  • Stop using toxic dryer sheets and replace your liquid dish detergent with something more natural.
  • Eliminate all toxic air fresheners from your house and car. (You can use organic essential oils instead.)
  • Stop eating at least one processed food that you know contains preservatives or GMOs, especially one you eat (or drink) most often. MSG is another nasty ingredient you can learn about here.
  • Replace farmed fish with wild caught fish.
  • Stop using Teflon cookware and limit your microwave use. (It is helpful to remove the microwave from the kitchen or use it for storage.) 
  • Start replacing your plastic food storage containers with glass (or use stainless steel containers when on the go).
  • Turn off your home wi-fi system at night before you go to sleep. Learn other tips here.
  • Wear a protective mask and gloves if you are going to use chemicals or sand/paint something.

Look at the lists and links above to help you take additional steps. Take one step at a time, make a note of what you changed in your journal and record how you react physically, mentally and/or emotionally once the toxin is removed. It may take a few days for you to notice a difference after you make the change.

How to Move Forward

Once you have the timeline and journals in place, you will be surprised at the patterns you start to see. If you need help deciphering the result, please contact me for help. Let me be a detective with you as it is often important to address the triggers and resulting symptoms in the correct order.

In the mean time you can continue to replace your not-so-healthy foods, body products, cleaning products, etc. with more natural ones. As noted in the links above, I have written several articles to help you. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) website is also a great resource, especially when comparing your body products and cleaning products to other healthier options. You can also check out their “Clean 15″ and “Dirty Dozen” lists.

When I work with someone, I typically help them figure out their health triggers so that they can help their body to truly heal. Sometimes we need to work on more immediate issues like a recent exposure to salmonella, a congested liver, or a head trauma. Over time, we can go deeper, find the underlying issues, and work to eliminate the toxins/triggers from the body. The goal is to heal at a deep level for lasting relief.

No two people are the same. As you “peal back the layers” and look at your health history, your personal health triggers will start to reveal themselves.

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website. Including additional suggested resources (books and articles) by topic, a pantry list that is gluten-free, dairy free and GMO-free, and a healing foods list.

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