Are You Truly Resting?
Most of us measure our amount of rest or need for rest in hours of sleep. Although sleep is critical for recovery and repair from each day's challenges, true rest is far beyond just merely time spent in slumber. The Scripture talks often about rest outside of the context of sleep. This type of rest or "sabbath" is something most of us long for in our souls but don't really know how to experience.
Many who are driven in life and desire to help others and excel in whatever they do can easily fall into a very dangerous rut. This rut is characterized by often feeling guilty if we aren't doing something productive. In Wayne Muller's book, "Sabbath," he says, " While many of us are terribly weary, we have come to associate tremendous guilt and shame with taking time to rest. Sabbath gives us permission; it commands us to stop."
In another fantastic book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero describes it this way: "We listen to sermons and read books about slowing down and creating margin our lives. We read about the need to rest and recharge our batteries. Our workplaces offer seminars on increased productivity through replenishing ourselves. But we can't stop. And if we aren't busy, we feel guilty that we waste time and are not productive....It's like being addicted-- only it is not to drugs or alcohol but to tasks, to work, to doing. Any sense of rhythm in our daily, weekly, and yearly lives has been swallowed up in the blizzard of our lives."
So what? What's the danger of living without resting? I think most of us know this but don't want to face it. We miss life. We miss the beauty that's right in front of us. We live with short fuses and almost anything can cause us to get irritable, anxious, depressed, and angry. We do violence to our own lives and bodies and do violence to everyone that comes in contact with our disoriented life. We have no space in our lives for people to be human.
If this hits home with you, don't beat yourself up. We are already good at that and it only makes matters worse. Show yourself compassion. Dig into this. The 2 books mentioned above can literally save your life, restore your relationships, and return the joy back into your life, even when storms are all around. They can remind you that God sees you in your struggle and He loves you. He has given us several ropes to find our way back home. Grab hold and join me on this exciting, restful journey.
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.
When it comes to energy production in the body, the health of your mitochondria is among the most important thing. But how do you know if your mitochondria are healthy? What is a mitochondria anyway? And what would cause it not to be healthy? If it is unhealthy, how do I help it become healthy again? These would be great foundational questions in response to a blog about Mitochondrial Dysfunction but there are bigger things at stake than energy production alone. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a key player in almost every potential disease process. If its not the cause it is at the very least an area in which gives a great place to support healing while continuing to look for the root cause.
What is a Mitochondria?
Mitochondria is actually the plural word for mitochondrion. A mitochondrion is an organelle that is found in nearly every cell in the human body and is responsible for ATP production. ATP = Adenosine Triphosphate = the energy source that fuels almost everything that pertains to life inside our bodies. They have been described as the "powerhouse of the cell" and the "mighty mitochondria" as some of you may remember from elementary school drawing pictures of cells with muscles. They are actually pretty cool looking organelles if you do a few google searches. Mitochondria are highly condensed in certain parts of the body that have high demand for energy production like the brain, lungs, heart, muscle, liver, nerves and retina to name a few.
How Do They Make Energy?
Mitochondria produce energy in a very productive and efficient manner in what is called the Krebs or Citric Acid Cycle. It is an amazing process that is dependent on many nutrients and cofactors to function optimally. When it is functioning like it was created to, it is a beautiful thing but when the mitochondria get sick, bad things happen.
What Could Cause Sick Mitochondria?
An obvious cause from the picture above is a lack of essential nutrients for the cycle to run optimally. In other words, poor gut function (dysbiosis, intestinal permeability, SIBO, parasites, bacteria, viruses, yeast overgrowth, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency) or poor dietary intake. So we could be starving our mitochondria by just not eating enough nutrient dense foods. Heavy metals are another cause and I've seen elevation in heavy metals in the blood more frequently than not. This goes back to allostatic load and the false medical notion that small amounts of toxins are no worries even if they are chronic like mercury amalgams (i.e. silver fillings), aluminum from vaccines, or even lead from pipes and old paint. If our detox pathways are already hindered from whatever reason, then our allostatic load easily overflows leading to poisoned mitochondria and poor ATP (energy) production. Certain medications have been designated as "MitoToxic!" Check out this partial list of common prescription medications that can poison your mitochondria.
- anxiety medications
- cholesterol medications
- anti-inflammatories (aspirin, NSAIDS, tylenol...)
- Certain antibiotic classes
- cancer medications ( doxorubicine, cis-platinum, tamoxifen)
- beta blockers (blood pressure medication)
What Happens When Mitochondria Get Sick?
Energy production obviously goes down so fatigue can be an early indicator of poor mitochondrial function. However the snowball effect from sick mitochondia is significant. All of your body systems and processes that occur every second are dependent on ATP. If there is a decrease in production our immune system takes a dive as does the health of our cardiovascular and nervous system. There really isn't a place this doesn't affect your body. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated in some pretty significant disease processes like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington, ALS, blindness, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren's, Lupus, Diabetes and Autism. Again, this is a partial list. Focusing on mitochondrial restoration is even at the heart of some of the newest cutting edge cancer therapies focusing on ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting and nutraceutical support.
How Do I Know if My Mitochondria Are Sick?
Testing is a great way. If you are experiencing any of the disease processes above or just struggling with energy, focus, or any weird neurological issues, get tested. The test we use in clinical practice is a Comprehensive Organic Acids profile by Genova. Other labs do this test too but Genova has been consistently accurate and reliable. It shows much more than mitochondrial health but it is a great place to start to see if this may be an underlying issue for you. Most functional medicine providers will be pretty well versed in how to interpret these tests and what to do with the results. Here is an example of mitochondrial dysfunction proven in a young patient with early breast cancer.
How to Support Mitochondrial Health and ATP Production
If you have found this on a test you will want to work hand in hand with your functional medicine practitioner to discover all of the ways to bring your mitochondrial health back up to par. It may be removing toxins, killing pathogens, supporting HPA health, dietary changes, sleep habits or all of the above. In every mitochondrial support process it is wise to have a heavy hitting mitochondrial cocktail of nutrients that support the entire Kreb's cycle. One of the best products I have found is made by Orthomolecular Products called MitoCore. The clinical trial behind MitoCore's formulation is pretty phenomenal and showed that high doses of some key nutrients could improve CD4 counts in immune-suppressed HIV patients in as few as 6 weeks. Please email me if you'd like a link to that information. Very interesting. A potent supplement like MitoCore is a great addition to any mitochondrial dysfunction.
Can You Supplement Without Labs Showing Mitochondrial Issues?
Most of the time, yes. A few caveats are that these supplements combined have never been studied in pregnant or nursing mothers or kids as expected. Therefore they should be avoided in those cases. Otherwise, a month trial of a mitochondrial support product like MitoCore is a low risk option to see if energy is improved. It may point to a deeper cause and you really should get with a trusted functional medicine practitioner and get some testing done alongside your General Practitioner screenings. We carry MitoCore on our online store if you are interested in trying it out. Shipping should be free. Use the registration code SLW817-01 and give MitoCore a couple months to see how your body responds. Start with the recommended dose. Some people with significant mitochondrial dysfunction do end up taking twice the recommended dose. Email me with any questions about dosing.
- SLW Online Store (registration code SLW817-01
- Video Series on Dr Kaiser's clinical trial with HIV patients