What happens when you run out of “juice”? Regardless of your energy source, if you use it all up, everything stops functioning. Your body is no different.
At any given moment we each have an energy requirement that must be met through sufficient production of ATP. Just as a battery becomes weak and the device begins to struggle to function until it simply can’t function anymore, so does our body when our energy demand begins to exceed what we are capable of producing.
Overexertion is dangerous; both over time and in some intense situations it can even become deadly. In the 24/7 stress of the hustle and bustle of today’s busy world, it is difficult not to burn the candle at both ends. Whether one is facing health issues or not, this is not a healthy lifestyle. When the body is functioning well, one might feel minor symptoms of fatigue or brain fog but tend not to feel the full impact of the physical, mental and emotional stress being applied. However, those struggling with health issues, even just the common cold, will quickly realize the energy draining effect of even the most minor of tasks.
EVERYTHING REQUIRES ENERGY
First, it is important to understand more about how we use energy. Absolutely everything we do consumes energy… this is why Mitochondria and their ability to provide ATP is so vital to overall health. One would expect to be exhausted after an intense, physical effort. And one isn’t surprised when afterwards their stomach is growling for its next meal. But have you ever wondered why you were absolutely exhausted after cramming for a big exam, or while during that study session you seemed to be starving and snacking on everything in sight? How about the fatigue of facing an emotional situation and the emotional eating that is often associated with it? Historically, these aspects have been weighted differently in relation to expenditure of energy. After all, the last two examples would generally be absent much physical exertion at all. But you might find it shocking to know that the brain averages 2% of overall body weight, yet uses approximately 20% of overall energy consumption. Especially when the majority of one’s day requires sedentary activities, mental / cognitive and emotional effort can easily become a person’s major activity-driven expenditure of energy… and be just as tiring as physical effort.
HOW ENERGY DEPLETION CAUSES SYMPTOMS:
Envision the body as a complex network of circuitry all interdependent on sufficient energy being pushed down the line. Among the different systems and sub-systems, multiple switch-points exist with thousands of little switches that act like fuses that can be overloaded and tripped. Some short-circuits occur because there simply was not enough energy to go as far, or to do what needed to be done; so the body attempts a workaround to still supply the necessary energy to the affected system. You may or may not recognize the manifestation of a symptom. However, if the condition persists and the body continues to mediate the dysfunction, other switches may become overloaded, triggering more switches to get tripped.
As energy levels become depleted, ultimately everything that happens in the body is an attempt to reduce load, improve function, heal and return to a neutral point (homeostasis). The redirection of energy occurs like redirecting a train on the tracks. Less train tracks, less resistance, less energy being sucked up by non-critical functions along the way, more energy is available to attempt to recuperate. The intent is to avoid less necessary functions so that energy can be conserved for more critical functions (and if bad enough, sometimes to the point of just trying to stay alive).
This is seen all the time in more physical examples, such as a major injury or other event that triggers “fight or flight.” The body will sacrifice some functions, or even a part of the body, providing little to no support in the form of energy and/or blood supply, in an effort to conserve and focus on essential functions critical to survival. When facing energy depletion, and in its most severe form, energy crisis, the same survival techniques are implicated. The only difference is, with an injury or while facing a tense or fearful situation, we know why our body is responding and changing. However, since we have no gauge to warn us when we are low on energy, we can’t always interpret the cause of a particular symptom; when in fact, we simply had an energy demand that exceeded our energy-generating capacity. Recuperation depends heavily on overall functional capacity and could be anywhere from a quick break to multiple days or even longer.
ENERGY CONSERVING TECHNIQUES:
Mitochondrial issues, in their most basic form, are energy issues; therefore, it stands to reason that energy conservation is a key aspect of addressing it. Conserving energy improves overall endurance and reserves energy for activities that are vital or more valued. Prioritizing and simplifying required efforts and eliminating unnecessary energy draining activities can allow optimal performance that can improve overall performance over time.
Obviously, the more impaired one is the more aggressive one must be with energy conservation techniques. However, this will have to be balanced with beneficial uses of energy, such as appropriate exercise and other required therapy techniques. The trick is striking the balance. Each individual has to determine how much is too much, and that is a day-to-day, and sometimes moment-to-moment evaluation.
BIOLOGIC AND METABOLIC PROCESSES:
1. REGULATING BODY TEMPERATURE: Body temperature is directly related to body metabolism and each mammal has an optimal temperature (for humans 98.6F but anything between 97.7F and 99.5F is considered the average range). The body works constantly to maintain this temperature and there is danger in both become too hot or too cold. Changes in body temperature can be due to external exposure (hot or cold environments) or internal due to shock, metabolic changes, an immune response and/or disease process. Different ranges apply to different ages, but for an adult, fever of 103F is cause for concern and can lead to dehydration, headache, muscle aches and weakness. The brain is highly susceptible to heat that can cause hallucinations, seizures and brain damage. As temperature drops, one may experience circulatory changes, cold extremities, shivering and/or trimmers, slowed heart rate, cognitive and speech difficulties and confusion. Below 95F, the condition is considered to be hypothermia and can be life threatening. The heart, respiratory and nervous system become impaired and organ function / capacity can diminish causing toxicity buildup.
HOW TO HELP: Although our body automatically regulates temperature, this doesn’t mean you can’t offer a helping hand. Wearing appropriate clothing for external temperature is always a good idea; cool, breathable clothing in warmer environments and layers of warmer clothes in cooler environments. Don’t spend excessive time in environments that are too hot or too cold for comfort. Although drinking room temperature water may be overall better for absorption, while working out or otherwise feeling hot, drinking colder water will help bring down core body temperature quicker with less expenditure of energy to do so. And just as a cold treat can help cool you off, the opposite can be said for warming you up with hot beverages and / or food. At night, metabolic rate decreases and can cause your temperature to drop. If one is metabolically challenged, they might consider safe ways to increase body heat at night, such as a heating blanket, being careful to ensure against burns and the risk of becoming too hot… again, it is all about balance.
2. DIGESTION: Everything we consume must be broken down into it’s chemical parts to be absorbed and utilized by the body. Some substances easily and naturally break down and others take more effort. In the over-processed, heavily manufactured and chemically generated food industry, things we buy and consume as food have substances that our bodies have a hard time recognizing and utilizing. Eating “clean” and “natural” isn’t just the latest dietary craze. It is vital to providing your body the raw materials necessary to function and to do so optimally.
HOW TO HELP: No one should have to tell you if something is natural. You should be able to look at it and tell it is natural. The more one has to manipulate a substance in order for it to be consumed and digested, the more burden and negative side effects that substance will have during the process of digestion and utilization. For more information, see “Second Pillar: Dietary Requirements – Nutrition.”
3. IMMUNE RESPONSES: The Immune System is an amazing thing, fighting each and every day to keep us healthy and to overcome the invasions by bacteria, viruses, mold, fungi and the effects of toxin exposure that we are constantly exposed to. But immune responses are also huge energy drains.
HOW TO HELP: Provide your body with necessary nutrients that support and strength the immune system. See “Second Pillar: Dietary Requirements – Supplementation” for more details.
1. PLAN AHEAD AND PRIORITIZE: It’s best to expend a little energy to plan your day, week and month than the stress that will ensue from juggling things on the move. Take the time to ask, “What’s the most important thing for me to do today?” Then schedule tasks accordingly. Click here for tips on Prioritized Task Lists.
2. DON’T RUSH: Now that you have a schedule of prioritized tasks, pace yourself accordingly. Don’t stress if everything on your list doesn’t get accomplished. If you focus on taking care of priorities first, anything else can easily be pushed to a later day.
3. BREAK IT UP: Even working on priorities, know your personal limits. As energy begins to wane, take time to rejuvenate yourself. Some might find that a little exercise helps them along. Others might need a snack. Still others might need a nap. Don’t beat yourself up over needing a break. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself then hit your list again.
4. WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER: Sometimes we get so focused on accomplishing a task that we might end up doing things the hard way, just to get it done. Sometimes it’s well worth the time to step back and analyze the best, less energy consuming way to accomplish a task. Can needed items be situated in closer proximity to avoid unnecessary reaching? Is your work area ergonomic (provides optimal comfort, reduces stress, protects against injury)? A little thought as to where and how you accomplish a task can have a tremendous impact in overall productivity.
5. DON’T OVERDO IT: Especially since one’s energy capacity is always in flux, it is often difficult to gauge “how much is too much.” Keep a journal and make an effort to identify how symptoms develop and progress. Like most things involving early detection, identifying early warning signs can help prevent overexertion and its associated effects. The hardest part is taking that tough next step to actually heed the warning and force yourself to rest. Your body will thank you later.
COGNITIVE AND EMOTIONAL BURDENS:
It is important to remember that mental effort can also impose a significant energy demand.
1. COGNITIVE EFFORT: Efforts to absorb, comprehend, learn, prepare, practice, recall and to be creative and in using problem solving skills each pose a source of energy draining cognitive activity. The more intense and stressful the situation requiring you to think, the more demand for energy. But even an enjoyable activity, such as reading a good mystery, can keep your brain churning away and consuming vital ATP. You can’t stop your brain from running. But the more energy impaired you are, the more your activities should be focused on relaxing or calming functions.
2. MENTAL / EMOTIONAL STRESS: Ever heard someone say, “that person is sucking the life force out of me.” There is actually some truth to that. Mental and/or emotional stress (drama) really can be detrimental to Mitochondrial function and negatively impact overall health. And it doesn’t even have to be your own personal drama that does it. Exposure to others who are high-strung or dealing poorly with stressful situations can have just as much impact on you as it likely is on them. Even watching violent or stressful entertainment can have a negative effect. Science has already proven the impact stress can have on overall health. Now we understand that these intangible stressors drain overall energy stores and can leave more vulnerable people struggling to do even basics tasks. What can follow is a state of even less available energy leading to worsening symptoms including brain fog and cluttered or irrational thoughts, depression, stomach upset and other GI issues, heart and other organ stress and anxiety; all of which are being linked to a lack of sufficient ATP-energy.