An important discussion of athletic overtraining

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!

We need to restore humanity to the workplace

I completely agree with the author of this piece in the New York Times. The author describes the recent trend toward ever-higher productivity expectations, 24/ 7 work contact, and shrinking workforces. I have been appalled by this trend for several years as I witness the stories my patients tell me about life at their workplaces. Where is the humanity of a 60 hour work week? How can it be called a vacation if you are both expected to respond to phone calls and e-mails AND no one covers for you while you are away? This has got to stop. 

Overwork in Chinese medicine damages the Spleen and eventually the Kidney, which can lead to a host of ills such as depression, insomnia, digestive upset, muscle tension, hormone imbalances, and more. I can treat those conditions with Chinese medicine, but what I wish I could do is give my patients a job transplant. I wish I could get them jobs that respect their humanity, that understand we are here not only to work, but also to play, be with family, and grow as human beings. 

I hope we are in an era that soon in the future will be regarded as the sweatshop era of the 19th century - a shocking system of human mistreatment and exploitation. If you have sick days available, take them. Vacation available? Take it. Life is too short. Clock out and live.

Post-partum depression

Buzzfeed today had a great cartoon about postpartum depression, or PPD. PPD can be a very debilitating condition for new mothers, and is treatable! Women still do not speak to each other enough about PPD, I think, and they do not share enough about the traumas they experience in the birth process. It's time to bring this out in the open, so women and families can get help and feel better. Treatment for PPD will be unique for each woman, but acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be helpful. 

Sugar may lower cortisol, which explains a lot

From the New York Times, a small study suggests sugar may lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is an important indicator of health. Cortisol needs to be neither too high, nor too low, and must also cycle according to time of day. If any of that is thrown off, we don't feel our best, and if it's way off, we feel terrible. 

When we are under stress, our adrenal glands secrete cortisol, and cortisol levels in the blood rise. In this small study, researchers found that people put under stress had lower rises in cortisol if they were drinking sugary drinks. This may suggest a physiological reason why so many of us reach for sugar when we are under stress. 

This doesn't mean sugar is a good treatment for stress! Overconsumption of sugar is tied to a host of chronic ailments, such as obesity, type two diabetes, and in sensitive people can cause mood swings and other undesirable effects. I am glad, though, to have a glimpse into the physiology driving that well-known reach for the sugar. Other options for lowering cortisol? Acupuncture, of course, mild to moderate exercise like walking or yoga, meditation, and some medicinals like ginseng. 

Women's rights during childbirth

The St James Ethics Center published a two part article from Australia giving contrasting opinions about women's rights to refuse medical interventions during their birth experience. In part one, a student doctor gives her pro-intervention viewpoint, and in the second a doctor gives her pro-choice perspective. It was very instructive to me to read these. I think the first part is very revealing about the thinking that drives high-intervention birth - the idea that the "how" doesn't matter nearly so much as the outcomes. Clearly this student doctor is coming from a place of wanting the best outcomes. Yet as the writer of part two states very effectively, this perspective is inconsistent with the experience of women giving birth. I think pat two raises an excellent question: rather than asking why do women refuse interventions, why don't we offer them care they don't want to refuse? Worth a read if you are planning or expecting a baby.

A busy life, a full life, stress and calm

This short piece from Huffington Post makes a good point about modern life. Everyone is so busy! People's lives are filled with work, drive time, classes, workouts, kids' activities, and so on. Many of my patients complain about a lack of downtime. Scott Dannemiller makes a good point about the busyness that is in our control, versus that which is not. He also makes a good point about how we frame that busyness for ourselves with our words and thoughts. I've reflected before that the excessive busyness that plagues many Americans is a product of wealth. You go to your workout because you can afford a gym membership. You drive your children to dance, music and sports because you can pay for all that. You have money to go to yoga four times a week, or take that ceramics class or weekend fishing trip. (Dannemiller points out that poor people suffer from the busyness of three jobs, which is not in their control, but our focus here is things over which we have control.)

Given that these things are in our control, how can we change them to make ourselves happy and peaceful? Dannemiller adjusted his words and thoughts. He opts to say, "Life is full" rather than "crazy busy". Living a full life sounds like much more fun to me than living a crazy busy one! How would your outlook change if instead of saying "busy", you said "full"? I think that is a stroke of genius, and I tip my hat to Mr Dannemiller.

Another option is to do less. Just do less. I have tried suggesting this course of action in the past, and patients tick off reason after reason why this, that, and the other activity can't be culled from the weekly schedule. Those reasons are 80% enjoyment, and 20% obligation, usually. And that is how we circle back to "full" rather than "busy". If 80% of the things that make us "crazy busy" are making our lives richer and more enjoyable, why do we talk like they are making us unhappy? 

As people with enough money living in a free society, we have the ability to change our lives. If you want more down time, make more downtime. If on reflection, all that stuff you do really does make your life better, then talk about it that way! We live in a city of amazing opportunity! No one could ever exhaust all the things there are to do, see and learn in Portland, Oregon. Take what you want, enjoy it for yourself and your family, and be happy!