Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Adrenal Fatigue -- An Explanation of Yin and Yang for the Rest of Us

So adrenal fatigue is big news these days: 80% of people in the U.S. have adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue symptoms include:
  • mild depression
  • low energy and the inability to get "caught up" on sleep
  • allergies and food sensitivities
  • muscle fatigue
  • poor sex drive
  • inability to handle stress
  • dark circles under the eyes that won't go away
  • cravings for sweet or salty foods
Do any of these sound familiar? It does to a lot of workaday people who have to "get up and go" whether they feel like it or not. I've certainly had many of these symptoms, as have my friends, so I decided to do a little research about the "Yin and Yang" of adrenal fatigue. In other words, I interviewed my acupuncturist to get the skinny on this condition from the Chinese Medicine point of view.

The Yin and Yang of Adrenal Fatigue in Layman's Terms
So after wading through a ton of Chinese Medicine words which flew right over my head, I finally got the layman's explanation about adrenal fatigue. Ready? Here goes.

In order for us to be healthy and feel good, our Yin and Yang energies need to be balanced. Yang energy is radiative, and is the energy that allows us to "get up and go." We are using Yang energy when we are active during the day, whether we are working at the office, exercising at the gym, or thinking our way through a sticky math problem. When we expend too much Yang energy, we get burnout, which happens to a lot of people.

Here's where Yin comes in. Yin energy is supposed to balance the outgoing Yang energy, to "embrace and anchor the Yang," as my acupuncturist put it. Roughly translated, Yin energy is internal and keeps our energies contained. The Yin is what prevents us from expending too much Yang, and what keeps us from burnout. The Yin is responsible for telling us when we need to rest, and for allowing us have restful down time. Yin energy is the quiet little voice that says, "A nap would feel great right about now."

What Happens When Yin and Yang Energies Are Out of Balance
If our Yin and Yang energies were balanced, we would be active during much of the day, but rest when we were close to over-expending our Yang energy. Plus, we would be able to shut down and rest at night, instead of feeling too wired to sleep.

Unfortunately, that kind of balance doesn't really fit our modern lives. Most of us live with too little sleep, too few nutrients and micronutrients, and way too much stimulation. Our schedules dictate that we have to "get up and go," even though our Yin energy is telling us that we are not fully rested and our fuel tank is running on empty. Instead of listening to the Yin message to rest, we override that message by using artificial stimulants. We use caffeine, nicotine, and sugar to push our bodies beyond its limits. This is called stress.

Here's where the adrenal glands kick in. The adrenal glands are responsible for our stress response, and regulate over 50 hormones (including cortisol, adrenaline, testosterone, epinephrine, and estrogen, to name just a few) to do its job. When we stress our bodies by using artificial stimulants, the adrenals respond by kicking the body into overdrive. In overdrive, which is the same as the "fight or flight" response, we are running on sheer Yang energy, energy that we don't really have in reserve. And then at night, we are so wired we can't go to sleep so we take sleep medications to shut our systems down. This artificial shutdown is just as harmful to our body's natural rhythms as drinking coffee all day long.

The Yin Deficiency
After a while our bodies start paying the price, and we start getting some or all of the symptoms listed above … all because we refuse to listen to the quiet small voice that is our Yin telling us to rest. After a longer period of time, our bodies no longer have the ability to balance Yin and Yang energies. We've reached a new internal "set point" that is too Yang and not enough Yin.

In Chinese Medicine, this is called a Yin deficiency. Most Americans are running around with a Yin deficiency, expending energy they don't have, thinking they'll catch up later. Sound familiar? The bad news is that unless you correct the Yin deficiency, you may or may not ever catch up. Worse, the energy you are expending today is being borrowed from the end of your life … you are literally using up your life force from tomorrow so you can keep running today. Yikes!

What to Do About a Yin Deficiency
When I heard this little tidbit about the life-shortening effects of a Yin deficiency, I immediately wanted to know what to do about it. The Chinese Medicine answer is simple: rebalance.

How do you rebalance? You have to do two things:

1. Restore the Yin and Support Adrenals
Acupuncture works well to restore the Yin, though you may need to go for a series of treatments. Herbal support helps restore the Yin on a daily basis. Formulas that work well include Eleviv, which offers most users noticeable effects within about a week. Other herbs that support the adrenals include licorice root, bupleurum, wild yam, Siberian Ginseng, and sarsaparilla.

2. Listen to Your Yin
Slow down and smell the roses, really. Rest more, enjoy life more, laugh more. These are literally prescriptions that both Eastern and Western physicians are giving to their patients with adrenal fatigue. At the end of the day, your lifestyle choices have more effect on your overall Yin and Yang balance than anything else.

So … enjoy and rebalance!

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