• Gavin Guard, Medical Director

How to improve your health one cell at a time

Updated: Apr 14


Key Takeaways

  • our medical system needs more wisdom, not more information

  • our body is made up of organs, tissues, and cells

  • cells are the basic unit of life

  • healthy cells are required for a healthy body

  • multiple factors impact the health of our cells

  • I include a self-assessment tool to see what may be affecting your cellular health


Intro


We are constantly being bombarded with information overload. Books are being published left and right. Each one is somehow claiming to be the “answer you’ve been looking for”. Just recently, a few books have been published discussing the dangers of plants. Not too long ago, another book claimed that meat would give you cancer. Is there a right answer? Or perhaps, are we are looking for the wrong thing to solve our health problems?


Wisdom is required to solve our chronic health problems


We are in an “age of information”. With that said, we are not lacking in information. Many times, the answer to health problems is not finding more information, but rather the right information. This requires discernment and wisdom.


Wisdom is the ability to think crucially and objectively about a question at hand. Some think wisdom means experience, but I believe wisdom comes from a mindset of being able to humbly examine a topic or question. Wisdom is being able to consider all pertinent factors in play and then use the latest evidence to support an intervention or treatment.


My mentor, Dr Bryan Walsh says it best,

"Wisdom comes from the body and understanding how it works, and then taking the time to evaluate the latest literature to develop a working model from which we can try to help others."

This is all the more true in functional medicine and medicine at large. Your health care provider might specialize in a certain organ system. For example, let’s say you see a gastroenterologist. They are looking at your health with a lens of focusing just on your gut health. But do they understand how your gut health impacts your nervous system or vice versa? Many times, a treatment is made for one organ system (e.g. the gut) without acknowledging how it might impact another organ system.


A better model for medicine includes looking at what impacts the health of our cells


A model that I’ve used to successfully understand complex cases and help my patients out is called the “cellular theory of health”. This is a term coined by Dr. Walsh and other great scientists like Dr. Bruce Ames.


The basic premise revolves around how our bodies are organized. Here’s how it works;

  • The most basic unit of measurement is an atom. This includes things like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and anything else on the period table.

  • Atoms make up things called molecules which include ATP (energy), sugar, vitamins, and fatty acids

  • Molecules put together make up macromolecules (protein, fat, starches)

  • After macromolecules comes organelles. Organelles are the tiny structures of our cells that have a specific duty. For example, the nucleus of our cells houses the DNA and genetic material to produce proteins.

  • Finally, comes the cell. The cell is the basic unit of life as long as it has 3 things;

-the ability to make energy

-the ability to protect itself from harmful things (infections, toxins, inflammation)

-the right environment to perform basic processes


Cells are the basic unit of life. We need healthy cells to have a healthy body.
  • Cells then make up tissues (e.g. neural tissue) which make up organs (e.g. brain) and then organ systems (e.g. nervous system)

  • We then come to the organism which is you and me!

  • But organisms don’t live in isolation. Rather, we live in populations and communities. This is important to note since recent research points to the fact that our communities and social connectedness (or lack thereof) affects our health at the level of the cell



Cells are the basic unit of life

This might be a little confusing, but the basic premise is simple;


Cells are the basic unit of life. Therefore, we need healthy cells to have healthy tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms (bodies), and communities.

Cells need 3 things to be healthy


Again, let’s dive back into what I said healthy cells need; ability to make energy, ability to protect themselves, and the right environment. We can further go into detail of each of these sections.



PROVIDE


The first thing a cell needs is to be able to provide energy. What the cell does with this energy is dependent on what type of cell it is. For example, a brain cell is going to fire synapses and release neurotransmitters whereas a liver cell is going to make bile and detoxify toxins and medications. Cells need a couple basic things in order to make energy.

  • A steady supply of oxygen. Things like anemia and sleep apnea are going to negatively impact this.

  • Nutrients/vitamins/minerals in order to make red blood cells which carry the oxygen and also to carry out basic processes like turning food into energy

  • The right amount and kind of food (fat, protein, carbohydrate) to burn for energy. Either too much, too little, or the wrong ratios for your given situation can cause imbalances and decrease energy production. In addition, we also need to make sure that our bodies are regulating blood sugar correctly. Either too high or too low of blood sugar swings can cause issues.

  • Enough healthy machinery to make energy. Parts of the cells called mitochondria produce the vast amount of energy in our cells. Factors like toxins, infections, and many types of medications can impair mitochondria function.


PROTECT


All types of cells also need the basic ability to protect themselves much like how a city hundreds of years ago needed a strong city boundary and guards to protect its citizens. Here are a few things that our cells need to protect themselves from;

  • Immune system activation. Anything that causes inflammation, or an immune system response is going to end up being harmful for our cells.

  • Infections. This includes viral, parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infections ranging from gut infections, sinus infections, to infections inside the cells themselves.

  • Toxins. It’s amazing how much toxins are downplayed in the conventional medical community. While I can see why this might be (e.g., “juice cleanses” and “ionic foot baths”), there is a great deal of research suggesting how important this might be to our health (or lack thereof).

  • Reactive oxygen species. I explain this to my patients as “rusting” inside our bodies. It’s practically another form of inflammation and can be triggered by things like anemia, infections, toxins, and lack of key antioxidants.


PROMOTE

Finally, our cells need a conducive environment to “conduct business”. Imagine that you were an author and you wanted to do some writing. Would you go to a Seahawks game to write the next chapter of your book? Or would you go to a quiet coffee shop? I’m sure you would pick the latter. In the same way, our cells need to be “bathed” in the right environment in order to promote its functions. Here’s what that entails:

  • The right acidity. Factors like diet, kidney function, and liver function all act together to balance out acidity in our bodies.

  • Hydration. I can’t tell you how many patients I see that don’t drink enough water and have lab evidence of dehydration. Given that water is necessary for pretty much everything to function, it’s a safe bet to make sure you’re getting enough of it. * Note: as a general rule of thumb, it’s usually not a good idea to solely rely on thirst to drink water. It’s better to get a set amount in throughout the day and track it. *

  • A sense of purpose and community. Some pretty interesting research suggests that inflammation can go up under situations of social isolation. The impact of sense of purpose and presence of community impacts our body’s health at the level of our cells. Some other research is pointing to how autoimmunity is associated with poor self-esteem. In other words, if you don’t like yourself, you’re more likely to trigger your immune system to attack itself.

  • Proper cell-to-cell communication and stimulation. This encompasses hormone and neurotransmitter balance, and the right amount of exercise/rest, work/play.



OTHER FACTORS

There are certainly other factors that impact all of these factors stated above that coincide to affect cellular health. This includes our gut health, our genetics, and our environment (e.g., where we grew up, our parents, early childhood, air pollution, etc.).


Our gut health has a dramatic impact on our overall health.

A better way to practice medicine


As you can see, this is a pretty comprehensive model of how to start addressing your health problems. You can take any symptom or disease and plug it into this model and get an idea of what to do next based off your history and lab results.


People ask me all the time, “so do you do holistic stuff…?” To me, this brings up notions of incense, voodoo dolls, and magic spells. My answer is usually, “Not really…” The thing is that I’m a conventionally trained health care provider. This means that I learned the complex anatomy and physiology of the human body. But instead of using that knowledge in a way to hand out a drug or two, I’ve tried to implement it into this “integrative” model that tries to understand what’s going on at the deepest level of health.



My goal is to treat symptoms as “upstream” as possible. In other words, your symptoms are a manifestation of a deeper underlying problem. For example, your joint pain might be from high levels of inflammation and immune system imbalance caused by toxic overload and poor gut health. We treat the gut and toxic load, and the joint pain resolves. To me, this seems like the more effective and ethical thing to do instead of prescribing more and more pain medications.



How to assess the health of your cells


This is the comprehensive model that I use in my practice. I find that it allows me to address the root cause of one's health problem rather than masking their symptoms. You can book a 15-minute free appointment with me to get an idea of what may be the underlying problems of your own health concerns.


Book free 15-minute appointment here


I hope you found this information useful and helpful in your journey back to a healthier and happier life.


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