Burn Out! Part 3, the Nuts and Bolts

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Burn out occurs when the exquisitely organized systems of the body become basically disorganized, and it only takes one out of balance body system to start a syndrome of problems. Earlier I wrote about the symptoms of burnout and its vulnerable personality types. Now I am going to explain some of its contributing physiological factors.

As we age, our bodies seem to have a harder time recovering and restoring the effected system back to its normal healthy rhythm. The most common systems that get “disorganized” are the gastrointestinal tract and the thyroid and adrenal glands; each exert a huge effect on your overall physiological balance. Remember, these systems don’t stand alone, they are connected and therefore affect each other.

Gastrointestinal Tract

A healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract is key to overall health; it digests food, takes in essential nutrients, and keeps the bad stuff out of our bodies. When the gut is compromised by irritating food, it becomes a significant source of overall stress on our bodies. This can happen through inflammation of the gut itself, or the inability for the gut to filter out good and bad, thus letting in the “bad” travel all over our system and cause inflammation-anywhere. We know that chronic inflammation often can lead to disease. If you are eating poorly and do not have a healthy gut, it will work against your health seeking activities such as workouts. The gut works best when our stress is low and we are eating well. But remember, stress in all forms causes the gut to work less efficiently, and the gut working inefficiently causes stress. It is a “chicken or the egg” cycle. Your gut is not functioning correctly=stress. Stress=poor gut function. Conclusion: Poor GI function from poor eating coupled with too much training (stress) contributes to burn out. (Stress and Intestinal Barrier Function-American Journal of Physiology).

Thyroid System

There are several ways your thyroid system can get dysregulated and I am going to review the ways that are most likely the possible result of burn out. First, let’s review some thyroid basics. The thyroid glands secrete two major hormones, T3 and T4, the dominant of which is T4, which in turn is converted to T3 outside the thyroid gland itself. T3 is the metabolically active form of the thyroid hormones. The signal for the thyroid to secrete these hormones comes from the pituitary gland in the form of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). In cases of thyroid related burnout you have the following possible scenarios:

  1. Your overtraining regimen causes a chronic low blood sugar state and your T3 gets down-regulated. Your exhausted body is simply signaling you to take a break and when you don’t, the chronic lack of T3 puts you in a state of hypothyroidism.
  2. When your muscles get taxed and your body gets chronically inflamed (sore all the time?) from too much training this is collective stress. Stress from burn out will affect the conversion from T4 to the active form of T3. If you have the classic form of thyroid testing, which is measuring TSH levels only, your doctor might not detect a thyroid issue because you will be secreting a normal amount of thyroid hormone, but the lack of conversion will not be detected.
  3. Inflammation from the gut, lack of sleep and the refusal to rest appropriately will also up-regulate the conversion of T4 to a hormone called “reverse T3”. This situation is extremely bad because reverse T3 acts like T3, and takes up its binding site as if it were actually T3, but without its metabolic benefits. Also, now you have wasted T4 because it has converted to an ineffective form of T3 (reverse T3). (Resting thyroid and leptin hormone changes in women following intense, prolonged exercise training.) (Euthyroid sick syndrome: an overview.)

The dangers of any dysregulation in the thyroid is a general lack of homeostasis in the thyroid system itself, and its affect on your whole body system. If you believe you are overtraining, burned out, or once had been – a blood test evaluating TSH, free T3 and T4, and reverse T3 are in order. I will give you the details of what exactly to look for in a future article.


Adrenal glands are the buzz word on the street because dysregulation of this system causes so many problems. Adrenal burn out starts with a lifestyle of high stress, and where there is high stress, there is usually fluctuating levels of cortisol involved. Cortisol does a lot of good stuff like acting as a anti-inflammatory that brings your body back to homeostasis. It also regulates blood sugar. But, if you ask your body to produce too much, your brain will stop listening and cease to signal the adrenals to slow down the secretion of the hormone. As time passes and the adrenals secrete cortisol without proper brain regulation, the adrenals get inefficient and are unable to crank out the cortisol needed to deal with inflammation and blood sugar fluctuations. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the adrenals are also a source of other essential hormones in the body, like testosterone and estrogen to name a few. They also have a big tie-in with the thyroid. Adrenals imbalance causes several upstream and downstream hiccups that, in the end, are worth avoiding by not burning yourself out to begin with. Finally, getting tested while your levels aren’t too far gone can help you get back into balance sooner. (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis)

I have given you a basic rundown of some of the most important systems that get dysregulated when we burn ourselves out. In my next article I will talk about how to get yourself turned around from burnout and help you interpret some numbers in your labs. For now, be reasonable, get tested, and get on your way in being Strong, Healthy and Happy!

NEN Workout:

*lunge 10 steps and do 10 push ups – 5 rounds~GO!
*please warm up appropriately


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