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Fighting Exercise Induced Inflammation, Cortisol Increase and Catabolism

Dr. William Wong ND, PhD, Member World Sports Medicine Hall of Fame

What thing inherent to hard training in either conditioning or a sports skill can slow down your progress, cause loss of muscle mass, increase in body fat, decrease your level of testosterone and increase your estrogen? Answer: Inflammation.

It seems ironic that the thing we use to become stronger, better, faster can also be the thing that tries to bring about results opposite to those we work so hard for! The truth is that all exercise and sports activities produce some level of inflammation. The harder and more intense the training the higher the level of inflammation. Increased inflammation causes a reaction in the body to reduce the insult, and the immune system responds to the inflammation by producing the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. Cortisol is made by the body by converting your precious progesterone into cortisol. This is bad for two reasons, #1 cortisol is catabolic, destroying muscle, as the TV adds tell us it also causes us to gain body fat. #2 the progesterone that gets converted into cortisol can no longer protect testosterone from converting into estrogen so the more T we make (or put in) if not protected by progesterone becomes T’s opposite number estrogen, with its fat increasing, catabolizing and mood depressing effects

How do we fight to overcome this effect of strenuous exercise and prevent the great cortisol increase and testosterone decrease? First we fight the inflammation before it creates the cortisol response. We do that with the only safe non-toxic anti-inflammatory stuff around – systemic enzymes, the Vitalzym from World Nutrition, being my present choice. Systemic enzymes work to reduce inflammation on a different mechanism from Cox 1 or Cox 2 inhibitors and different still from cortico steroid hormones. In general the COX 1 and 2 tribe also known as Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxin, Celebrex etc.), will kill the kidneys, cause liver failure and create intestinal hemorrhage. In the US 22,000 people who die each year from the use (not abuse) of these drugs (New England Journal Of Medicine, June 1999). The Cox 2’s while first touted as being side effect free are now after killing 59,000 from heart attacks and strokes and making another 139,000 folks seriously ill, known to create cardiac and vascular inflammation. (Imagine that an anti inflammatory that causes inflammation, gee wiz what will the drug makers think of next)! Systemic enzymes work to eat substances known as pro inflammatory cytokines and have a 50 year history of widespread use in German and Central European and Japanese medicine with over 200 supporting peer reviewed studies verifying not only their absorption but also their therapeutic action. (

Five to ten capsules (depending on the intensity of the exercise) taken on a fairly empty stomach after a workout will curb inflammation, improve recovery, speed tissue rebuilding and most importantly reduce the immune systems cortisol release in response to the post training inflammation. If systemic enzymes are taken as daily supplements they will have a multitude of benefits you can study up on later but for now know that they improve anabolism mostly by reducing cortisol catabolic effects. Speeding recovery from exercise and preventing post exercise soreness is also a plus.

The Communist block athletes in their heyday trained 5 to 6 days a week 6 to 8 hours a day in conditioning and sport specific skills. In anyone’s book this was over training. At first the Communist docs tried to control their athletes inflammation using cortisone. This had disastrous side effects as a consequence. By 1973 months before the International Olympic Committee banned cortisone, the Russians and East Germans had already dropped the drug and switched to systemic enzymes to control inflammation. So successful were they at controlling inflammation / cortisol induced catabolism that they were actually able to lower the doses of anabolic steroids their athletes were on!

Now, on to the estrogen problem. If we’ve cut out making as much cortisol to cope with our inflammation then we’ve spared some progesterone from conversion into cortisol. That itself improves our testosterone levels and reduces estrogen. But we still need more P and T to be stronger and we need to control what ever E we do make better. Maca powder, a staple flour of Peruvian cooking, has within it plant sterol precursors that are just one reaction away from becoming T and P. As opposed to sterols like DHEA which are several metabolic steps from becoming P and T, the sterols in Maca powder are much closer to being what you want them to become. We must keep in mind the research done by the late Dr. Sidney Golinsky, Naturopath, PhD in pharmacology and OBGYN; he fed DHEA to bodybuilders for extended periods while doing hormone tests on them weekly. What the results found was that the DHEA was mostly all converting into estrogen! Imagine already moody bodybuilders being even more so with PMS (mind you the study group was entirely male)! Not only does the progesterone, maca helps to make, help control estrogen, the maca has Di Indole Methane (DIM) to block a good bit of estrogen and help metabolize it out. One other point to remember the dreaded hair loss and prostate swelling hormone Di Hydro Testosterone (DHT), is not made from testosterone but as research has shown DHT is a product of estrogen. So any control of estrogen lowers DHT levels significantly.

Now in older folks (i.e. 35 +) just having the precursors might not stimulate their becoming what we want them to become and so to help the process along we should take the herbs that cause our glands to send the signals needed to make something of these sterols and for this I’ve found the product Libido Lift from Fountain of Youth Tech. works very well.

Dosing on the maca should be 3 to 6 teaspoons daily and on the libido lift 4 capsules 3 times a day for those under 200 lb. and 4 times a day for those over 200. Use the maca powder not capsules or extracts, those don’t work as they are either too small a dose (in the case of the capsules) or not complete in the full spectrum of maca’s nutrients and sterols in the case of the extracts.

There are herbs and the like that lower cortisol levels but the question is what happens to the inflammation the cortisol is trying to control if you lower cortisol without reducing your levels of inflammation? Since inflammation is self perpetuating, since inflammation is the root cause of every disease that can kill us, since perfectly “healthy” marathoners and tri athletes have dropped stone cold dead from heart attacks and strokes caused by the inflammation created by their over training, it makes sense not to lower the sign posts to the problem of inflammation without doing something about getting rid of the inflammation itself.

About the Author

Dr. Wong is the author of “The Best Natural Sports Medicine Book Ever” and “10 Natural Treatments You have Not Heard Of Until Now.” He is also available for phone consultations. Visit his website for more information.


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