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Which Breaks First?

by Mark Cammack    April 3, 2019

Picture of a barefoot man riding a clean bicycle with white frame and aqua blue wheels near the beach. He is wearing a white, blue, and burgundy colored Hawaiian shirt and black shorts

The bicycle wheels, gears and chain are a type of well-aligned machine. If a foreign object gets there, damage can happen because of a part that does not belong. We are also like that.

Picture a happy sunny day and we are out for a bicycle ride. It is lovely near the beach. While pedaling suddenly we hear a Klunk! and our bicycle comes to a stop. We look down to find that our bike chain is off. A metal wire picked up from the ground is wrapped around our gears. We have a disruptive item in our machine. By removing the wire and placing the chain back on the gears, we are joyfully on our way. Life is good again.

Let us consider that the bike quit working because the drive mechanism was affected. The sequence of events was wire picked up > gear & chain disruption > bike stopped. Any other order would not make sense.

We hear on occasion that a sedentary older person fell and broke their hip. What often happens is that their bones were weakened. Their hip broke and then they fell. It was not the fall that caused the initial breakage.

What may be helpful for us to look at is environmentally induced inflammation and oxidative inflammation. If we run, lift weights, or participate in sports, and soreness or aches occur afterwards, we tend to think it was the activity that caused the soreness. At times this is true, especially if things were overdone. However, there are other possibilities.

All disease processes involve inflammation is an axiom from physiology. We have to know what is causing the discomfort to accurately deal with it. A strong steel chain does not break easily. If it is damaged by an object, chemicals or rust it may come apart.

Suppose we go for another bicycle ride. This time we will be in our neighborhood. It has nice well-kept lawns, green trees and friendly people who wave at us as we go by. We do nothing unusual athletically and have plenty of water to stay hydrated. We return home with a low-level headache, some fatigue and minor joint aches. We feel it in our knees. What happened? What was different on this day than others?

As we think of our outing, the main difference was that we rode past a house with a pesticide truck parked out front. A masked worker was spraying the lawn. We remember breathing some of the fumes as they filled the air. The dogs that were normally outside in the yard were not present. The owner later says that the pet animals had to be taken inside and kept there because of the hazard. But wait a minute, what about us humans?

The body can react with inflammation to chemical change and exposure. The pesticide worker was wearing a mask for a reason. What they were spraying is toxic. When we exercise, our metabolism accelerates and we breathe faster and deeper. This can also increase the amount of a foreign chemical going into our body. The heart, lungs, liver and muscles will be metabolically active. The knees and muscles of the thighs and calves can also be stressed more than other parts of the body.

Oxidative inflammation can happen when we do not have enough antioxidants. While this is relatively common with endurance athletes who run, cycle, or swim longer distances, it is also about ratios. If we do not have enough antioxidants in our system such as Vitamins C & E, the mineral selenium, and detoxifier glutathione, inflammation may result.

Toxins can use up antioxidants such as Vitamin C and glutathione. This is how a happy bicycle ride can end up with discomfort not due to exercise alone. The exercise was healthy, the toxin was not.

If inflammation happens repeatedly over time or stays with us for an extended period, we may see undesirable effects. If it persists, this can lead to scar tissue which is often stiffer than what it replaces. We want to keep our muscles and blood vessels in their natural pliable state. This can be important for normal motion and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Is it possible that the brain, joints, liver, blood vessels or muscles could be damaged from an inflammatory toxin and lack of needed antioxidants?

When we are asking Which breaks first? we must understand the total person in the total environment. It is not enough to simply say that a person has weakened bones, sore knees and muscles, or a headache. We must know why.

It may be that we are experiencing chemically induced inflammation that leads to the breaking of body parts. If in one sense we are a molecular machine, we cannot afford to have hazardous items that do not fit being thrown into our systems. Like with the bicycle, we might find ourselves stopped on the roadside of life instead of enjoyably traveling down it.


Photo adapted by author from original work of Solé Bicycles of Venice Beach, California.

© Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.