“Why am I always tired!?”
I hear this complaint on a daily basis in my naturopathic practice. While there are a number of possible underlying factors that can cause chronic fatigue, including our society’s emphasis on doing more than we can keep up with, often leading to burnout, there are several steps we can take to gain more energy and get back to feeling like ourselves again.
Here are my recommendations:
1. Get your blood tested
Rule out the basic causes of fatigue by getting tested for low iron, low vitamin B12, poor thyroid function, HPA axis dysfunction, and low free T3 levels.
- Low iron levels: most common among menstruating women and vegetarians/vegans, low iron levels can result in paleness, headaches, dry skin, hair loss, dizziness, and even anxiety.
- Low vitamin B12 level: Tiredness, tingling hands and feet, anxiety, problems with memory, burning/sore tongue are all symptoms of low vitamin B12 levels.
- Thyroid function: A thyroid disorder can manifest as low energy, difficulty maintaining or losing weight, dry skin and hair, feeling cold, low mood or depression, hair loss and constipation.
- HPA axis dysfunction: When we’re stressed and push ourselves too hard, our adrenal glands (responsible mainly for producing cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline) suffer. When we experience adrenal fatigue, we can experience tiredness, sugar and salt cravings, poor stress tolerance, poor blood sugar regulation, sleep disturbances and lower body temperature.
- Low free T3 level: if you’ve been undereating, fasting, over-exercising, experiencing high states of stress or recovering from an illness, it’s common to have low free T3 levels. This can result in feeling tired, needing more sleep, feeling cold, or gaining weight.
2. Regulate your blood sugar
Many people’s energy suffers between meals or right before eating, indicating hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Making a commitment to eating more regularly throughout the day (approximately every three hours) can help regulate blood sugar levels. If you feel sleepy or bloated after meals, you may be suffering from high insulin levels or insulin resistance. This is caused by poor blood sugar control, and it’s a good idea to get your blood tested for fasting glucose and fasting insulin.
3. Boost your immune system
Food allergies and intolerances begin with an inflammatory reaction that occurs on a systemic level, meaning affects the entire body versus a single organ. Once the inflammation has affected the entire body, it can eventually develop into an allergy or intolerance due to leaky gut (when the lining of the gut is damaged, causing large food particles, bacteria and environmental toxins to seep into the bloodstream ) or auto-immunity (when the body attacks itself). Food allergies and intolerances can cause significant fatigue due to the immune system being on overdrive, trying to ward off the allergens.
4. Make sleep a priority
Most of my patients are chronically sleep-deprived. Our bodies run optimally on 7 - 8 hours of sleep/ night, but most of us only get 6 hours if we are lucky! Insufficient sleep can cause poor brain function, weakened immune system, and can even negatively impact mood. To sleep better, limit screen time before bed, avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and incorporate natural supplements like magnesium, vitamin D, B vitamins, gaba, melatonin, or L-tryptophan.
5. Optimize your nutrition
Lacking sufficient protein, iron, healthy fats and micronutrients from vegetables can affect your energy levels. Eating out and relying on takeout can limit your intake of nutrients due to the many additives found in convenience foods. Ensure you’re getting lots of fresh produce and eating well-balanced meals to optimize your nutrition and fuel your mind and body.
6. Get active
When life gets busy, our exercise routine is normally the first thing to go. As easy as it can be to make excuses not to exercise, physical activity gives your tissues oxygen and nutrients to help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. Additionally, the endorphins released during movement also help boost your mood, manage stress and calm anxiety. Getting into a good exercise rhythm can also improve self-esteem, which helps you make smart choices and take better care of yourself.
7. Get checked for chronic infections
Fatigue can occur as a result of chronic infections, which causes significant inflammation. Epstein Barr virus (EBV), human herpes virus (HHV-6), cytomegalovirus (CMV), parvovirus (Parvo B19), and chronic Lyme disease (BorreliaBurgdorferi) can all cause extreme tiredness.
8. Look after your mental health
Depression can lead to low motivation, fatigue, insomnia, over-sleeping, feeling overwhelmed or overly emotional, weight gain or weight loss, and no longer finding pleasure from what you used to. If you’re struggling with depression, consult a healthcare provider, and consider natural supplements (with proper guidance) to help combat your low mood and gain energy again. Vitamin D, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), B vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids are a great way to get started.
Visit your naturopathic doctor to get started on getting back to doing what you love (naturally!).