Anyone who has a close relationship with adrenal fatigue and insomnia knows that the condition can be so complex, so mind boggling and so stubborn that it makes you question your own sanity. While studying this condition I’ve read about the most exotic diseases and a variety of causes leading up to them. Perhaps one of the most interesting and straight out of The Matrix is the so called Extracellular Matrix Congestion (ECM).
According to Stephen Christensen on Study.com:
Living tissues are not just accumulations of tightly packed cells. Much of a tissue’s volume is made up of extracellular space (‘extra-‘ meaning ‘outside’ or ‘beyond,’ as in ‘extraterrestrial’). This void is filled with a complex meshwork called the extracellular matrix.
Rather than being inert filler material, like the Styrofoam packing around a shipment of glassware, the extracellular matrix is a dynamic, physiologically active component of all living tissues. In addition to providing structural support for the cells embedded within a tissue, the extracellular matrix guides their division, growth, and development. In other words, the extracellular matrix largely determines how a tissue looks and functions.
The extracellular matrix is made up of proteoglycans, water, minerals, and fibrous proteins. A proteoglycan is composed of a protein core surrounded by long chains of starch-like molecules called glycosaminoglycans.
If a mere definition scares the bejeezus out of you then you’re not alone – this is complex stuff. In more simple terms ECM is biological glue that holds our cells into tissues and allows them to ‘talk to each other.’ ECM connects all spaces of our body and enables our organs communicate to each other.
I believe Dr. Lam was the first to associate EMC congestion with adrenal fatigue and dropped this bomb on his blog. He explains:
A healthy ECM leads to a healthy body. Breakdown of the ECM therefore is a threat to good health. Disturbances of ECM regulation can simultaneously compromise homeostasis and efficacy, leading to eventual depletion of nutritional reserve leading to cellular dysfunction and ultimate organ failure.
The ECM also serves as a backup garbage dump and septic tank for the body. The lymphatic system runs within, and when congested, as is normally the case in those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), toxins and metabolites diffuse throughout the extracellular space. Having a clean and healthy ECM forms the foundational base within which all cells can thrive. When the extracellular matrix is unpolluted, it optimizes organ function by facilitating cellular transport, intercellular signaling, detoxification, and rebuilding. Having a clean ECM is akin to taking a bath in a tub of clean water.
I think in most basic terms he’s really saying when your body is stressed it stresses the organs, especially liver and digestion and your body is starting to store toxins in its cells.This manifests in a variety of strange and ‘inexplicable’ symptoms that defy conventional medical logic. The ones that especially caught my eye were:
- Paradoxical reactions to nutritional supplements and medications;
- Bloating and indigestion;
- Chemical sensitivities to shampoo nail polish, perfume, etc.;
- Food sensitivities, especially to corn, wheat, and diary products;
- Fatigue that fail to improve despite medications and rest;
- Unexplained dizziness;
- Feeling “wired and tired”;
- Unable to fall asleep after using a computer monitor or watching TV;
- A feeling of heaviness in the lower extremities.
Holy cow, this is all me, I thought. What makes most sense to me about all the ECM congestion is that when the body is already intoxicated and fatigued it does not assimilate even the most beneficial nutrients. This would explain why even despite of being a health freak I was not getting better and was experiencing frequent crashes.
I was expecting Dr. Lam to suggest some ultra galactic plasma cell bending matrix rectifying enema but what did he offer? Warm water with lemon! Really? He insists that someone with ECM congestion should avoid all harsh cleanses and to use an approach that is very gentle, slow, and nurturing. In addition to water and lemon he mentions things like meditation, yoga, Qi gong as tools that help the ECM detox and heal as well as very gentle cleansing protocol and diet.
To be frank, this makes most sense to me and totally fits with my experience. QiGong, meditation, diet and very gentle herbal formulas are the only things that are making a tangible difference for me and my insomnia.
Ultimately, Extracellular Matrix Congestion sounds like an exciting discovery but there is not much we can do about it. It’s a great conversation piece with my nerdy friends but offers nothing new in terms of treatment of my still mysterious health condition.