In the July issue of Outside magazine, there is a very important article about athletic overtraining syndrome. The author describes endurance runners, those running marathons or ultramarathons. suffering from a sudden decline in performance, a breakdown of body systems, insomnia, and lack of recovery despite rest. While medical science may still be confused, in Chinese medicine the answer is obvious. It is an exhaustion of the (Chinese medicine) Kidney system.
I love my athlete patients. If any of them are reading this, they will recognize my standard reply, "Well, I am a couch potato, but I get it that you need to do your sport to be happy." Thing is, I have always worried for my patients who are endurance runners, or even who seem to be showing signs of injuries and still refuse to rest. For many runners, telling them not to run can be the same as telling them they must never have fun or feel good again. I would feel the same if someone told me I must never have another pastry. I get it!
Running increases cortisol. Walking, cycling, and other forms of exercise do not, or the effect is much less. There is something about running that stimulates the secretion of this stress hormone. Cortisol is made by the adrenal glands, a component of the Kidney system. Endurance runners are taxing that system. When it reaches the point of breaking down, cortisol goes haywire, the Kidney collapses, and you see the complex of symptoms documented in the article.
It is critical for dedicated athletes to respect the limits of their bodies. Recovery from adrenal exhaustion is complicated, protracted, and symptoms can persist for years. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are a great asset to that recovery. Ideally, though, you will take a rest and get treatment before it reaches that point. Stay healthy, everyone!