Dr. Lam's Adrenal Line
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For fast reading, scan through the topic headings in BOLD BLACK, important conclusions in BOLD BLUE, and "Must Know" in BOLD RED. To jump to specific sections in this article, click on the respective in the Table of Contents.
Information presented here is for general educational purposes only. Each one of us is biochemically and metabolically different. If you have a specific health concern and wish my personalized nutritional recommendation, write to me by clicking here.
Most people think of exercise as jogging or muscle building. While these are beneficial to general good health and promotes circulation and muscle strength, it is not the best solution when it comes to Adrenal Fatigue. In fact, wrong exercises may make Adrenal Fatigue worse and can trigger adrenal crashes easily.
Let us examine this deeper. The common misconception is that Adrenal Fatigue equates to low energy. A state of low energy can be the cause of the body's inability to overcome stress whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. Because all functions of the body require energy, the most prominent outcome in those with Adrenal Fatigue is low energy.
At the root level, however, it is much more complicated. The loss of energy is due to the uncontrolled state of the body. Think of a car that is running low on gas, has a steering wheel problem, a sticky gas pedal that continues to accelerate at will, and a brake pedal that malfunctions intermittently. In other words, many of the systems that ensure a smoothly running vehicle are broken. The car is no longer under control, and unable to get you where you want to go. It is also a sure recipe for an accident. If you can correspond that to your body, then you are not far away from Adrenal Fatigue.
Our body, like a car, needs to run smoothly for us to feel well. This involves perfect synchronization of numerous organs and systems. In Adrenal Fatigue, the body is drained and low on energy, like a car running low on gas. Concurrently there are numerous imbalances. Many hormones are dysregulated, and as a result, in addition to having low energy, the body suffers from hypoglycemia (too little gasoline in the gas tank), feelings of being "wired" (sticky gas pedal that stays down), foggy thinking (driver who texts while driving), and depression (brake pedal is burned out). The internal thermostat of the body is broken and it is no wonder that the adrenals crash with each little stressor.
The key to a successful Adrenal Recovery Exercise Program involves a well thought-out strategy that helps you regain control of the core functions of the body. In the analogy of the car, it is not only about putting more gasoline in the tank. You can have fuel in the car and still be unable to get to where you want to go if the steering system is not functioning. The goal is a complete rebalancing of the internal systems, so that they can operate smoothly together to get you where you want to go hassle-free. This involves a total mind-body approach incorporating lifestyle, diet, mental, nutritional, and physical components. Exercise is an important part of the total recovery plan. If done properly, it helps the adrenals boost their function, and thus the energy state.
Those in early Adrenal Fatigue (Stages 1 and 2) may only feel tired intermittently and tend to recover from any low energy state quickly, Those in advanced Adrenal Fatigue (Stage 3 and 4) are characterized by a constant low energy state and fatigue, only to worsen over time. Because the total energy in the body is finite, it is important to custom tailor an exercise program for the best use of limited energy resource for those with advance weakness. Over utilization of energy for exercise, even if it is good for circulation and has other health benefits, may trigger adrenal crashes. The right intensity, amount, and frequency is paramount. Many are drained of energy after exercise. The tendency is to avoid it. Total absence is also undesirable except during an adrenal crash. Others would do the opposite, forcing themselves to do more, and thinking that it is beneficial. Both approaches can be wrong. The key is not to avoid exercise totally, but to have a personalized program designed specifically for the level of adrenal function.
It is important to provide and have a consistent and maintained energy stream for vital organs to overcome low energy state. Any excess energy can be channeled into exercise as a healing tool. The amount of exercise must be adjusted to avoid over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and trigger adrenaline release. Risk of adrenal crash must be carefully monitored and preventive steps must be taken at the right time consistently. The right thing done at the right time will be of tremendous benefit. Conversely, the right thing done at the wrong time will make things worse.
Experienced clinicians will want to conserve energy as much as possible during the initial healing process. This means exercises that do not reduce energy but increase energy flow in the body. After a comfortable level of reserve is accomplished and built up in the body, a gradual progression is effected so that the body can reverse its catabolic state into an anabolic state where muscles start to rebuild and strengthen. This has to be done on a step-wise fashion deliberately and gradually. Doing this might help avoid one of the most common recovery errors among those self-navigating as well as inexperienced clinicians - over zealous exercise leading to retarded adrenal recovery.
A properly designed Adrenal Recovery Exercise Program needs to factor in the following technical components as well: breathing, muscle toning, stretching, strength training, motion fluidity, control, and systemic circulation. It needs to take into consideration the state of adrenal function (Stage of Adrenal Fatigue), the amount of reserve remaining, the biological constitution, age, metabolic issues, past medical history, and injuries.
As with any exercise program, always consult and seek approval of your personal treating physician prior to beginning.
The toolbox to affect this consists of six important tools. Each has its place and has to be deployed at the right time for maximum benefit. Improper use of exercise, whether it be too much, too little, or wrong timing can make Adrenal Fatigue worse, and trigger adrenal crashes, especially if the body's reserve is low. The proper program allows the body a total healing experience, starting at the cellular level in the core of the body.
The body has an internal repair system in place. Our job is to systematically give the body the tools to affect that repair. Fortunately, our body is forgiving. The proper adrenal exercise can help the body return to its normal state of function.
The six tools are:
- Beginner- focus on breathing and stretching
- Intermediate- focus on toning and strengthening
- Advance- focus on fluidity and control
- Regular Yoga
- Power Yoga
Here is a graph that shows how following a comprehensive exercise program in stages can help restore the adrenal function and energy:
Because breathing is an automatic function, few take the time to understand its therapeutic significance in the Western Medical world. Most of us are not taught the significance of proper breathing and its healing power. As a result, the vast majority of people simply do not breathee properly while in a normal healthy state, not to mention any state of body weakness such as Adrenal Fatigue.
Three main sets of muscles are active when you breathee normally: the intercostal muscles, the abdominal muscles, and the respiratory diaphragm. All muscular activity of the body, whether it be contraction of individual cells, isotonic or isometric exercise, agonist or antagonist activity, concentric shortening, or eccentric lengthening, take place strictly under the guidance of the nervous system. breathing is special in that it involves both the Somatic Nervous System and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). In other words, you can voluntarily control breathing, or if you choose not to do so, the body will take over automatically. Both systems are therefore connected. The ANS is self-regulating and is not usually controlled by the Somatic Nervous System. For example, you cannot voluntarily decide to make the heart rate beat faster or slower. This is normally regulated by ANS and is beyond the Somatic Nervous System control. However, you can influence the heart rate by regulating, on a conscious level, the respiratory rate because breathing connects both nervous systems. Long exhalation will slow down heart rate during the exhalation process. By modulating our respiratory rate at will, we can influence the ANS. breathing therefore offers an important gateway into the world of the ANS, allowing us to modulate it. This is of vital importance to those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue when the Autonomic Nervous System is invariably dysfunctional.
The ANS is broadly divided into the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is responsible for adrenaline release and the fight or flight response on one side, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is responsible for rest and relaxation of the body's internal function. In quiet times when there is less need for air, the PNS mildly constricts the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways, especially the smaller bronchioles, and thereby impedes the flow of air to and from the alveoli. But in times of emergency or increased physical activity, the SNS opens the airways and allows air to flow more easily. The PNS, by way of release of its neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, works in a dynamic balance with the SNS, by releasing its neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, to modulate and maintain homeostasis in our body. This delicate balance must be maintained for us to feel good.
Adrenal Fatigue, especially in the advanced state, is invariably tied to overstimulation of the SNS. Extensive experiments have shown that Type A high strung personalities have about threefold more plasma norepinephrine responses and fourfold larger adrenaline responses during exposure to various laboratory and clinical stressors than compared to Type B individuals who are laid back and relaxed. These chemical transmitters of the SNS flood the body in Type A individuals, resulting in a body that is on constant alert, leading to a viscous downward spiral of compensatory responses and ultimately adrenal burnout. One key to adrenal recovery is to reduce SNS tone and enhance PNS tone. Adrenal breathing can help greatly. Adrenal breathing influences the autonomic circuits that slow the heartbeat and reduce blood pressure, producing calm feelings and a sense of stability. It calms the mind, and allows the body's internal homeostatic system to reset itself. This conduit by way of controlled respiration consciously gives us access to autonomic function that no other system of the body can boast.
Those with severe adrenal weakness often exhibit abnormal breathing patterns. Abnormal breathing patterns in an Adrenal Fatigue setting can over-stimulate the SNS, trigger panic attacks, and contribute to adrenal crashes. We tend to breathe shallowly or even hold our breathe when we feel anxious or are under stress. Sometimes we are not even aware of it. Shallow breathing limits oxygen intake and adds further stress to the body, creating a vicious cycle. Holding one's breathe either at the end of inhalation or exhalation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, aggravating adrenal weakness if the body is already in a state of low adrenal reserve. Adrenal breathing Exercises can break this negative cycle by rebalancing the ANS and gently delivering more oxygen to the body for natural energy generation without over-stimulating the SNS. The body gets to take a break and reset itself to its natural state.
Proper adrenal breathing releases tension from the body, clears the mind, reconnects the body to the mind, reduces fatigue, and improves both physical and mental wellness. This is accomplished through enhancing the Parasympathetic Nervous System's function. It shifts the body's basal resting mode from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic bias.
Bear in mind that in Eastern cultures, breathing is also used as an effective modality to enhance energy and alertness by stimulating the body's Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This is seen frequently in certain types of yoga breathing and is usually accomplished by various techniques involving breathe holding that gradually increases intensity and performing quick breathing exercises with high frequency (belly breathing). Another technique involves using the chest wall only to affect breathing and this is called thoracic or paradoxical breathing. The chest wall expands while the abdominal wall is drawn inward towards the back during inhalation and outward during exhalation. While these breathing techniques are empowering and increase energy flow, they can also drain the body of the already low energy state of Adrenal Fatigue. They therefore should be avoided in Adrenal Fatigue.
In adrenal breathing, the goal is to reduce sympathetic tone. All sympathetically driven and oriented breathing techniques should therefore be restricted and not be deployed until the adrenals are well healed or unless directed by your health care professional. breathing programs that do not consider this may make Adrenal Fatigue worse.
Proper adrenal breathing patterns should be smooth, quiet, regular, and rhythmic. Intensity of each breathe must match the body's current state of reserve. There should be no intentional breathe holding or prolonging of breathing time during inhalation or exhalation. This is best accomplished by gentle breathing using the diaphragm. This is often referred to as abdominal breathing, or belly breathing, because this is where movement can be seen and felt. Improper technique can worsen Adrenal Fatigue.
Beginning students and those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue (Stage 3 or higher) and weak constitutions should be very careful in the inhalation and exhalation intensity. Forcing more air in and out of the lungs beyond what the body can tolerate may drain the body of reserve and potentially have a negative effect of activating the SNS. This can trigger adrenal crash. The intensity level may need to be titrated downwards significantly in times of adrenal crashes.
If properly done, Adrenal breathing Exercise using the diaphragm helps to restore adrenal health by enhancing parasympathetic tone, improving lymphatic circulation and clearing up toxic metabolites. The activity also improves vital capacity, supports healthy ANS balance, improves tissue oxygen saturation, and effects gentle rhythmic massage on the GI track and internal organs including the adrenals, and optimizes musculo-skeletal tone. It is one of the easiest and most effective exercises anyone with Adrenal Fatigue can do at anytime and anyplace to support adrenal recovery.
Adrenal breathing Exercise takes as little as a few minutes to complete and can be done anywhere at anytime. No equipment is necessary. The exact program varies from person to person. The frequency and intensity depends highly on the stage of Adrenal Fatigue. Because the wrong inhale and exhale intensity can trigger an adrenal crash, this exercise should be done under professional guidance.