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I first learned about Toxin Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) from Dr John Cline, Matthew’s Functional Medicine Doctor.

TILT made sense because it describes a tipping point: how toxins accumulate in our bodies until our tolerance is compromised and we tip from an equilibrium of health into an equilibrium of illness.

As Dr Cline explains, “when our bodies accumulate enough toxins, often in combination with stressful life events, a tilt occurs, and our health then deteriorates rapidly in many ways”.

The idea behind TILT is that many chronic illnesses, as well as environmental sensitivities, originate in an accumulation of toxins in our bodies over time. At some point in this accumulation, susceptible individuals tip over into poor health.

Interestingly, toxins can include both synthetic organic chemicals and the natural toxins that our bodies create in response to chemical overload and stress. In addition to manufactured chemicals and heavy metals in our indoor and outdoor environments, triggers include internally-generated toxins generated through chronic inflammation in the body, chronic infections and food allergies.

Exposure to mold is an additional contributor to TILT.

According to Dr Cline, toxic load can be further exacerbated by electromagnetic sensitivity, toxic relationships, genetic problems that result in impaired detoxification, and nutritional deficiencies.

A New Theory of Disease

Dr Claudia Miller is the originator of the TILT theory. She refers to it as a new theory of disease.

Dr Miller reminds us that “the causative agents for the germ theory and the immune theory [of disease] have been with us since humankind began”, but the synthetic organic chemicals that TILT theory is built on have been with us for less than a hundred years.

According to Dr Miller, we need a new theory of disease to explain the current epidemic of ill-health and chronic disease that is spreading around the globe.

Dr Miller outlines three stages to disease progression through TILT:

  1. An initial contact with toxins which reduces tolerance to future exposure in susceptible individuals;
  2. This results in increased sensitivity, in which symptoms can be triggered by exposure to common foods as well as low-level exposure to chemicals, drugs and other toxins; and
  3. A phenomenon Dr Miller refers to as ‘masking’, in which the the relationship between exposures to toxins and illness is obscured due to the complex and cascading relationships between triggers and symptoms.

Hidden Causes

TILT can be hard to discern because of its accumulative nature: there is often a time-delay between cause and effect.

According to Dr Miller, masking “results from the multiple overlapping reactions that occur to many different chemicals, foods and drugs (including alcoholic and caffeinated beverages that were formerly tolerated) and normal habituation associated with chronic exposures”. She explains that “once an individual’s reactions have spread to many diverse exposures and that person is masked, it is difficult to identify specific food or environmental  triggers.”

In extreme cases, the only way to begin to discern cause and effect, according to Dr Miller, is through isolation in an environmentally controlled hospital unit.

Dr Miller has developed a screening tool for TILT called the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI) which you can find on her website.

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TILT Theory for Healing

Though it is true that we live in an increasing toxic world, TILT is not a life sentence. In fact, can be a blueprint for healing.

If an accumulation of toxins can cause sensitivity and provoke a tipping point into poor health, likewise, the reducing toxic exposure can turn the TILT process around.

The TILT healing strategy includes two phases:

  1. Decreasing exposure to toxins; and
  2. Safely removing the toxins already in the body.

Though Dr Miller proposes complete isolation in an environmentally controlled hospital unit as a way to discern cause and effect when TILT is very advanced, that is not practical for most of us.

A good place to start is by cleaning your internal laboratory, through ensuring that everything that is consumed is low-toxin and anti-inflammatory for a period of time, and reducing toxicity in the environment outside of the body as well. 

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