Tired of Being Tired: Rescue, Repair, Rejuvenate
By Jesse Lynn Hanley, M.D., Nancy DeVille
Most ambitious people have at one time or another stopped to think about what might happen if they kept driving themselves. For forty-seven-year-old Danielle Di Benedetto, it was the proverbial bad dream. She opened her eyes to a group of solemn-faced doctors gathered around her hospital bed The chief of cardiac surgery cleared his throat and stoically delivered the prognosis. Her main coronary artery was 95 percent occluded; two other major arteries were 75 percent occluded The doctors did not know if she would survive emergency triple bypass surgery. However, they were going ahead with the operation, and they gave her two days to notify her family and gel her affairs in order Danielle was stunned.
Danielle was an ambitious entrepreneur, yet she had been fully committed to living a healthy life for over ten years, including eating well, or so she thought, having regular massages and acupuncture and taking plenty of vacations. She could not imagine words like arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris, or myocardial infarction applying to her. What Danielle had not known is that, despite all of her healthy pursuits, she had been sowing the seeds of adrenal burnout for a very long time.
You may be a perfectionistic mother who leaves little time for herself, an idealistic schoolteacher who works far too many hours, a student who is hyperfocused on getting and staying on the dean's list, or a computer techie who pulls all-nighters while trying to cash in on the Internet boom. Whatever your dream, it is possible, even probable, that like Danielle you are sowing the seeds of adrenal burnout without even realizing it.
Danielle is a tall, willowy redhead with intense green eyes and an expansive smile. Born and raised in New York, she launched her career blessed with inherent talent and drive. Danielle is a self-proclaimed hustler who has a golden touch. "Everything I tried in my career worked. At eighteen I had my own clothing boutique; at nineteen I had three boutiques. By twenty-four I was the junior designer for an elite fashion house. My successes went on like that, so I never could stop. Success was a blessing and a curse. I was hooked."
In addition to her driving career ambition, in her twenties after work Danielle Hilled from one A-list party to the next or partied all night with the beautiful people. Smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee gave her an added lift to keep up the frantic pace. Wherever she went, she left a trail of candy wrappers.
Could this be you?
DRIVEN: You love taking risks and rising to challenges. You have great dreams and ambitions. You love an edgy, alert feeling. Everyday demands and self-imposed goals run you. You are always on the go Occasionally you stay up very late at night or even pull all-nighters at work, school, with your newborn baby, or socializing. You have a lot of energy and are extremely productive. Because of these pressures and demands, you find you cannot exercise as much as you think you should-or you exercise to the extreme You are turning to caffeine mid sugar for energy You may have taken up smoking cigarettes, perhaps thinking it gives you a boost. Even so, you feel and look great. Every day is an adventure that you look forward to. Life is a blur of activity, and you love it.
What you may not realize is that while you are engrossed in your happy and productive lifestyle, your body is scrambling to keep up. Every highly charged situation will cause an initial adrenaline rush. When the stress continues, the hormones Cortisol and DHEA are next secreted from the adrenal cortex throughout the day and night to help your body function. The amounts of Cortisol and DHEA that are secreted are altered and influenced by the degree of the intensity of your experiences When your brain senses greater prolonged stress, such as staying up until 2 A.M. to meet a deadline, more Cortisol and DHEA are secreted When that need diminishes, as when you finally go home and go to bed, Cortisol and DHEA levels decline.
Cortisol and DHEA cannot bail you out indefinitely. Just as you would not rev your car's engine 24/7, and just as you regularly maintain your car's engine, your body, and more specifically your adrenal glands, need what I call Three Rs: Rest, Repair, and Rejuvenation. When your body is given the opportunity to relax, biochemical changes occur that foster the nourishment and rejuvenation of your adrenals and your other vital organs. If your adrenal glands are constantly churning out stress hormones 24/7 and not given the opportunity to Rest. Repair, or Rejuvenate, their functional abilities will diminish You will begin to suffer from insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, low sex drive, weight gain, water retention, and gastrointestinal discomforts, to name just a few problems.
As you continue to drive yourself, your adrenals will first decrease DHEA production. Now you have too much Cortisol and not enough DHEA. This is not a good situation because DHEA buffers many of the negative effects of excess Cortisol. For example, Cortisol causes muscle wasting, and DHEA stimulates muscle building, essentially replacing what Cortisol has broken down. Increased Cortisol suppresses immunity, whereas DHEA increases immunity. Increased Cortisol leads to increased weight gain, whereas DHEA leads to fat burning and weight loss.
Taking DHEA supplements is not the only answer. Your body functions effectively when all of its systems operate in unison. Increasing DHEA to match an already high level of Cortisol would only accelerate the damage to your adrenal glands.