Functional Medicine has shown huge promise in our world of chronic disease and numerous inflammatory disease processes. Most people think of anything with the name "medicine" in it is for "sick" people. However, Functional Medicine is best incorporated into a life well before any symptoms are present by addressing any underlying abnormalities that will prevent the body from functioning optimally. Anything that makes the body stronger and less prone to disease and inflammation will give athletes an advantage in injury prevention and recovery time. How I wish I would have stumbled onto a Functional Medicine provider when I was a young athlete before I slowly destroyed my body without even knowing it!
What Causes A Body To Break Down?
After an intense workout the body is fighting to build and recover. The goal in training is to get stronger, faster, bigger or more skilled. Therefore being able to practice long hours and recover and do it better the next time is critical to any athlete. There is a delicate balance of catabolic (breaking down) and anabolic (building up) processes that should be occurring in all bodies during and after workouts. These processes are dependent on healthy hormones and healthy nutrient levels inside the body. If the balance of the body is too catabolic then muscle breakdown will not fully recover and sarcopenia (muscle loss) will start to set in. Sarcopenia is part of the normal aging process as we get older but this should not be thought of as normal for any young and active human being. Muscle loss should only be occurring in those who are sedentary or malnourished or have some sort of wasting disease.
Of course, this blog is not intended to address poor form or poor workout routines as the cause of anatomical issues but that is an important topic as well. When it comes to troubleshooting form, I highly recommend visiting www.mobilitywod.com and search for someone in your area who can work with you on a deeper level.
Common Causes of Athletic Decline
The most common causes of athletic decline are malnutrition, toxic burden, and hormonal imbalances. The potential root cause of each of these is numerous. The downstream health of your mitochondria will be affected and mitochondria fuel almost every anabolic process in the body. Chronic stress is also a common driver in these processes and will be discussed in further detail.
Malnutrition is not typically from under-eating in the athlete but more of a lack of nutrient density. Even in the professional baseball world our diet was horrendous. Genetics, hard work and raw talent can only take someone so far. A diet full of nutrient-robbing processed foods is a sure way to lead the body down a path of catabolic breakdown. Another cause of malnutrition is digestive disturbance. In other words, the intake of nutrients may be fine but the body's ability to breakdown and assimilate them into the blood stream and use them for repair and building purposes has been hindered. This can come in the form of stress induced low stomach acid that lead to poor digestive enzyme production and therefore poor breakdown of foods. Another cause could be a digestive pathogen. Bacterial infections such as H.Pylori are very common. Parasitic infections like Blastocystis Hominis are also very common and will rob the body of nutrients. Candida (yeast) overgrowth or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) are a couple other causes of malnutrition in the athlete.
The scary part about digestive pathogens is that they are often times asymptomatic. Actually up to 50% of people with a bug invading their gastrointestinal tract have ZERO digestive symptoms to alert them of a problem. You don't have to travel to Mexico to get a parasite. These can be caught right in the comforts of the United States of America and start wreaking havoc on your body without you even knowing it. Find a Functional Medicine provider who will do a comprehensive stool test that will identify problematic pathogens or other compromised areas of your digestive tract and have them run an Organic Acid test to see if you have developed any significant nutrient deficiencies. The hub of your immune system lives in your GI tract. Don't think that just because you don't have any pain or diarrhea that everything is 100%.
Here is a topic that is only growing by the day. We live in a different world than even our parents and grandparents did. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. We can get expert advice with a few clicks of the mouse but from that same screen we can disrupt our circadian rhythms with the blue light emitted from our screens that leads to a cascade of hormonal imbalances. This is just an example. Wifi on the other hand does have some significant concerns being raised as we live in its crosshairs all day everyday unless we intentionally remove ourselves from it. Time will tell how harmful this continuous exposure will be to our bodies. Do yourself a favor and considering shutting down the wifi in the house at night or at least turning all cell phones to airplane mode or keeping them away from your head.
Do you know that the toxin exposure kids are growing up in grows by the day? For decades the CDC's stance was that low level exposures were no big deal because the body could get rid of them. Science has caught up with this presumed false notion and proven that low chronic exposures can be even more harmful than large acute exposures! These toxins can disrupt almost any normal functioning pathway in the body and many of them are proven neuro-toxins slowly poisoning our brain! They can trigger autoimmune diseases and lead to cancer by promoting oxidative stress and free radicals that the body can't keep up with. An Organic Acid test from Genova diagnostics is one of the most helpful tests available to see how well your body is handling everything it is being exposed to.
Hormonal imbalances are not only occurring in middle aged men and women. When the body is under too much stress and not getting enough recovery/rest hormones will suffer. This is the all too common case of a young gymnast who is pushing her body too hard and does not start having menstrual cycles at the normal age. The physical and possibly emotional stress is disrupting a delicate feedback mechanism in the body and brain that tells the rest of the endocrine organs how much hormone to produce. In women it often leads to an underproduction of sex hormones and a relative estrogen dominance leading to symptoms related to abnormal cycles such as fatigue, monthly migraines, PMS, and mood swings. Men typically will start to have lower levels of testosterone and get irritable and crabby. It will also put men and women at risk for estrogen driven cancers due to the relative estrogen dominance because of how the progesterone tends to get depleted faster than the estrogen does.
Though physical stress is a common cause of the mechanism, it can also occur solely from mental and emotional stress. A gut check for parents here. Are you putting unnecessary pressure on your kids to succeed in their sports? From a biblical worldview, do your kids know that sports and athletics are a gift from God and they are meant to be enjoyed and used to honor and glorify Him? I won't belabor this point but even for those without kids, keeping your priorities and mindset about your sport in a good place is critical for your hormonal and neurological health. Motivation and drive is a good thing but motivate yourself or your kids with the correct perspective. We need to foster a healthy relationship with sports/athletics to provide good long term health.
Chronic stress (in whatever form) will also drive the body to be more catabolic. Catabolic = breaking down. It can create a cascade of inflammation in the body and brain followed by a release of neurotransmitters to help calm the inflammation. The neurotransmitters can then get depleted and cause depression, anxiety, trouble focusing, ADD/ADHD, and sleep disturbances. The Organic Acid test mentioned above will also look for this process starting to occur and it is all too common in the athletic world. And the Adrenal Stress Profile can help identify this process occurring as well by showing a poor catabolic stress response.