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All About Marathon Running and Your Body

Cardionomic Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Is marathon running good for your health? We have seen and heard a lot about how running and exercising is healthy for your body and your heart. In some cases it is really good to exercise. However, let’s take a closer look at some research findings about marathon running and see if it is truly healthy for your body overall.

Facts About Marathon Running

Many runners completing About Marathon RunningDuring the 26.2 mile course:

  1. The knees get about 20,000 poundings.
  2. Your internal organs are being suspended and bounced 20,000 times, resulting often in hematuria – blood in the urine – from kidney damage.

Now, researchers also have found surprisingly high — and potentially dangerous — inflammation and clotting factors in the blood of middle-aged male runners shortly after completion of Boston Marathon. While none of the runners in the Boston Marathon studies showed symptoms of actual cardiac distress, the high levels of creatine kinase-MB and C-reactive protein — the first, a marker for muscle injury and the second, a risk factor for clotting and heart attack — showed they were temporarily at increased risk.

C-reactive protein goes up whenever there is muscle damage, and the increase seen in blood clotting probably came from the skeletal muscle injury that occurs in all marathoners who run hard enough to “hit the wall” (become physically exhausted) between mile 18-20 .

Muscle inflammation from overuse causes overproduction of blood clotting factors such as the von Willebrand factor, which was found in higher concentrations in the runners’ post-race samples than in their pre-race samples.

The human body is not designed to run 26.2 miles non-stop. In fact, the marathon distance came about as a tribute to the runner who collapsed and died after completing that journey.

Excessive oxidative stress from over-exercising should be avoided.

If you can help it, don’t enter a marathon. Do a 5k, 10k, or half marathon at most.

To protect yourself if you decided to run a marathon:

  • Take at least six to nine months to train and build endurance prior to a marathon.
  • Take your personal medical history into account. Runners with known heart risks should think twice about a marathon. Do not push yourself beyond your body’s ability to handle.
  • Take extra anti-oxidants to protect your body from oxidative stress during the run.

About Marathon Running with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

Read all about marathon running and its long-term impact on your bodyIf you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), you may want to think twice before deciding to enter a marathon. Frequently experiencing extreme fatigue along with symptoms of insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, low concentration levels, constipation, and stubborn weight gain, low energy levels, and cravings for salty and fatty foods could indicate that you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue.

Oxidative stress from marathon running can affect, and even damage, your body at a cellular level. Often times this will lead to symptoms including glucose intolerance, hypertension and even digestive imbalances. Glucose intolerance and hypoglycemia play a significant role in Adrenal Fatigue syndrome. So, it is scary to think that running a marathon can cause more oxidative stress and further put your blood glucose levels out of whack. Blood pressure also plays a role in adrenal fatigue. In the earlier stages of AFS blood pressure is typically between normal blood pressure to high blood pressure. As you get to deeper stages of AFS low blood pressure is common. You really need to think about your heart and circulatory system if you suffer from AFS and want to run in a marathon. There are too many risk factors that can come into play. In addition, adrenal crashes may be triggered, leading to extreme fatigue that can housebound a person.

The Stress Response System and Its Impact on Running in a Marathon

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System is a model that will show you how systems are correlated and affect each other in various ways when they are under stress. It is an intricate network of various organs and six circuits including the cardionomic circuit and the hormonal circuit, which work in close unison to deal with stress. When a stressful situation arises, the NEM system signals to your adrenal glands to secrete more of the anti-stress hormone cortisol. However, when stress is constant and unrelenting, it can overburden your adrenals. As a result, they may become fatigued and will no longer be able to secrete adequate amounts of cortisol to meet your body’s high demands. This reduces your body’s natural stress-fighting ability and can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue.

Stress About Marathon Running can cause inflammation in your kneeWhen the amount of stress you experience surpasses the amount your body’s innate stress-fighting system can deal with, you increase your chances of developing adrenal fatigue. The downside about marathon running is that the excess stress you place on your body can trigger symptoms of adrenal fatigue. If you’re thinking about marathon running, it’s important to understand the risks of this type of training. Marathon running can also affect your cardionomic and hormonal circuits—part of the NEM system—thereby, disturbing your entire stress response system.

The cardionomic circuit is comprised of the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Imbalances within this circuit can cause heart palpitations, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, shortness of breath, and dizziness. The hormonal circuit—comprised of the thyroid, adrenal glands, and testes/ovaries—regulates your body temperature, stress hormones, and thyroid function. Imbalances in this circuit can cause fatigue, a sluggish thyroid, weight gain, reduced libido, infertility, miscarriages, and hair loss.

Facts about marathon runningThis marathon study shows how running a marathon can affect your urinary system, your circulatory system, and muscular systems. When one of the bodies systems is under stress it will affect other systems too. The kidneys play a big role in your blood sugar levels and circulatory system. If your kidneys are affected in can cause changes in your glucose levels. These changes won’t be helpful if you suffer from AFS. It’s important to know the health risks and fully understand them before getting into any type of sport. If you have any concerns about running a marathon you should address them with your doctor or therapist before entering a race.

Here are five important things you should know about marathon running that can hurt your health:

Raises Cortisol Levels

Those suffering from adrenal fatigue tend to experience stubborn weight gain. More exercise and reduced calorie intake are frequently recommended to people with excess body fat. Even though eating less and working out more is the latest weight loss trend, in reality, overtraining can damage your metabolism and backfire. The type of exercise you do can have a direct impact on the hormonal circuit. The dark side about marathon running is that such physical overtraining decreases your fat metabolism and elevates cortisol levels which, in turn, impairs your body’s insulin sensitivity. This encourages fat-storage, thereby reducing the potential for weight loss.

Causes Cardionomic Circuit Dysfunction

Moderate running is considered good for your heart. However, what many people don’t know and need to know about marathon running is that it can negatively affect your heart health. Excessive exercise can have a negative impact on the structure of your heart and arteries, especially if you do not replenish your body with adequate calories and good sleep. Furthermore, elevated cortisol levels, owing to overtraining, can put your body in a constant state of fight-or-flight. This could have a negative impact on your cardionomic circuit. Excessive workouts have also been shown to cause elevated levels of C-reactive protein, which, in turn, increases your risk of blood clots and heart attack.

Increases Your Chance of Developing Adrenal Fatigue

You may have been told that exercise can help boost energy levels. Although you may be excited about marathon running, overtraining can actually lead to chronic stress. Marathons involve running for long periods of time and this can place your body under stress, increasing your chances of developing adrenal fatigue. Research has revealed that over-exercising leads to unconscious overeating to make up for the calories being burned. Instead, try going for short intense workouts and eating a nutrient-dense adrenal fatigue diet that can help prevent fatigue and overeating.

Causes Mood Swings and Insomnia

If you suffer from disturbed sleep, something you should know about marathon running is that the excess workout can increase your risk of mood swings and insomnia. In fact, studies have revealed a lot about marathon running and disturbed sleep. The rate of adrenal dysfunction, leading to anxiety, depression, and insomnia, was shown to be higher in overstressed athletes.

Increases Inflammation

About Marathon running: Young runner bending over and touching kneeAnother important risk to know about marathon running is that it can increase the oxidative stress in your body causing accelerated aging and illness. In addition, overtraining can cause excessive fatigue of your joints and muscles and abnormal fluctuations in your hormone levels. This raises the risk of inflammation which can cause swelling, pain, and illness.

These are just some of the adverse health effects about marathon running you need to know. But this doesn’t mean you need to stay away from running completely. Having a more strategic approach and following the guidance of a trained healthcare professional can help you run short marathons without causing any serious health problems.

A Final Word About Marathon Running

Exercising in moderation is essential for a healthy body. Our bodies are just not up to handling the amount of damage repetitive marathon races can cause. The downside you should know about marathon running is that this type of overtraining can cause numerous health problems, including adrenal fatigue, muscle damage, increased C-reactive protein levels, blood clots, inflammation, elevated cortisol levels, cardionomic circuit dysfunction, hormonal circuit dysfunction, mood swings, and insomnia. For a better approach to your health, consider focusing on short intense workouts, eating a nutrient-dense adrenal fatigue diet, and make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. To avoid adrenal fatigue triggers, consider staying away from excessive exercise and strenuous activities like marathon running. However, if you love to run, why not stick to smaller 5K or 10K race until your adrenals have healed. Your body will thank you for it.

© Copyright 2012-2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

If you’re thinking about marathon running, there are certain aspects you need to be consider to play it safe. To stay replenished and reduce the risk of fatigue, be sure to eat a nutrient-dense adrenal fatigue diet, practice some adrenal exercises, and get plenty of restorative sleep. Or why not try shorter marathons?

About marathon running

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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