Written by Natasha Thomas
Posted on: May 16, 2019
Energy makes you feel great, alive, enthusiastic, creative. (No wonder everyone loves caffeine.) Fatigue, on the other hand, makes you feel ‘blah’ and apathetic, and may even make you lose your enjoyment of life.
What causes fatigue?
Numerous factors (including several potentially serious medical conditions) can cause fatigue, but the “Big 5” that I see most often are:
- Stress (leading to abnormal cortisol production)
- Poor quality sleep
- Poor dietary choices (leading to blood sugar swings and nutritional deficiencies)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Environmental toxins
Just as in nature, everything is connected to everything else, so it is in our bodies. Each of these factors can affect or exacerbate the others. Therefore, fixing fatigue is rarely as simple as balancing just one factor. Every aspect of your life and lifestyle must be considered. That’s why a professional assessment is so important. It could even be a matter of life and death.
Wendy’s case, for example, could have had a very sad ending…
Wendy’s Wake-up Call
Wendy* was a busy career mom with not enough energy to be the employee or mother she wanted to be. She slept (according to the clock) for eight hours or more every night, but she never felt rested the next day.
Her job required that Wendy always be “on call,” which never allowed her to truly relax. She was so dedicated to her job that she even slept with her smartphone next to her pillow!
She drank caffeinated sodas to get her through her work day, but they didn’t seem to help. She got so drowsy that she didn’t realize she sometimes dozed off during meetings, embarrassing her co-workers. After a friend at work clued her in, she was the one who was terribly embarrassed. When she got home at night, as soon as her kids were in bed, she fell into bed, exhausted, only to wake up the next morning feeling like she hadn’t even slept.
Without changing her eating habits, her weight began to creep up … and up … and just kept climbing. As she gained weight, she got discouraged and was afraid to get on the scale. “Why is this happening,” she thought, “And why am I so tired all the time?”
She knew that some serious diseases start with fatigue, and she thought maybe she should see a doctor. But like most people who are tired and afraid, the days went by and she never made the appointment.
Until the day she had a frightening wake-up call.
While driving home with her kids, Wendy dozed off at the wheel. She was jolted awake by the screams of her children. Heart pounding, Wendy regained control of her car just in time to avoid an accident. They were all badly shaken, but thankfully, no one was hurt.
But it woke Wendy up, big time. No matter what the medical news might be, she had to find out what was wrong with her. Wendy called me for an appointment.
After my extensive case-taking and lab tests, I found that Wendy had sleep apnea. Her sleep, unbeknownst to her, was being interrupted constantly throughout the night. Her oxygen intake was reduced, as if she was being partially smothered during the night. She never knew it, but of course, she was not well-rested in the morning!
During sleep, when your body is in balance, the cells of your body and brain detoxify—they “take out the trash” generated by daily living, and they repair any little areas of damage. Without proper oxygen levels, our cells can’t take out the trash and repair (think of it as sludge building up throughout your system). This systemic sludge can contribute to many negative health outcomes, including weight gain and feeling sluggish.
But that wasn’t Wendy’s only imbalance.
In addition to the apnea, Wendy was also prediabetic. Her blood sugar was completely out of balance. When she felt tired, she craved sugar, caffeine, and highly processed foods. These junk foods sharply spiked her blood sugar. She felt temporary energy, but, just like any addictive drug, it wasn’t a healthy solution.
Unhealthy, junk food, “quick fix” energy spikes are just like an addictive roller coaster: What goes up must also come down. With dysregulated blood sugar, the blood sugar plummets hours after the unnatural spike. These drops can cause drowsiness, weakness, and irritability.
Wendy also had nutritional deficiencies and an abnormal production of cortisol. Instead of a normal adrenal hormone response, with cortisol rising in the morning (to help wake her up) and falling at night (to help her rest), Wendy’s adrenals just couldn’t do what they were supposed to. Her cortisol was low in the morning and high at night. That explained why she was dragging in the morning and felt restless at night. Wendy’s adrenals were as worn out and exhausted as she felt.
Falling asleep at the wheel could have had tragic results, but Wendy got a second chance.
Fixing Wendy’s Fatigue Factors
For a short period of time, Wendy used a machine while sleeping to control her apnea. With better sleep, she noticed improvements in her energy level and was encouraged to make positive lifestyle changes.
She reduced her exposure after sundown to the blue light that is emitted by cell phones and digital screens, such as iPads, computers, and televisions. If she had to use digital screens, she used blue-blocking glasses. Research has shown strong evidence that this blue light may be harming our eyes and also disrupting our circadian rhythms and sleep.
Our lab tests revealed that Wendy had several nutritional deficiencies. She was nutritionally supported by supplements such as Vitamin D, CoQ10, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, and certain B vitamins.
As she began to feel better, she was able to stick to a better diet and not reach for the unhealthy, addictive, “quick-fix” foods. As Wendy’s weight dropped, she didn’t need her apnea-correcting machine any more.
Her chronic fatigue became a thing of the past. Her career and whole family benefitted from her healthy lifestyle changes and newfound energy.
Wendy was beyond grateful for her wake-up call. It gave her a new life.
Resolving the Big 5 Culprits Causing Fatigue
If you can relate to Wendy’s fatigue, let me review the 5 most common culprits and give you some practical steps to implement.
Stress and adrenal dysregulation are very common today.
Your two adrenal glands sit on top of each of your kidneys. The adrenal glands are responsible for the famous “fight-or-flight” hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol should be high in the morning to help you wake up, and low at night to help you relax and sleep so your body can rest and repair.
In the long ago past, our adrenal glands were sporadically called upon to produce a lot of these hormones to help us run from (or fight) some impending danger we could see right in front of us. After the danger passed, the adrenals calmed down, because, generally, life-threatening, stressful situations were sporadic and short-lived. (Think about herds of wildebeests. They are calm until lions charge in and take down an old or sick one for food. The rest run away and go back to being calm again.)
Humans today, however, often live a lifestyle of being always “on the go” with constant deadlines. Stress is constant. Even our thoughts cause stress. We worry about work, relationships, finances, relatives, politics, the world—the list can be endless.
Your adrenals can’t tell the difference between a real, life-threatening danger right in front of you, and scary scenarios that exist just in your imagination. So, the adrenals dutifully pump out stress hormones to deal with the “danger,” real or imagined, all the time.
The result is dysregulated adrenals causing a chain reaction of high cortisol, high insulin, and weight gain. Eventually, the adrenals can simply become too tired to produce any more of these hormones, and that in itself is a serious situation.
Certain natural herbal supplements can help the body better adapt to stress. Called “adaptogenic herbs,” they can help, but in complex, multi-factorial cases like Wendy’s, some of these herbs are best used under medical supervision.
As discussed above, worry causes stress hormones to flood the system. Not surprisingly, when the body feels threatened, it’s hard to relax and sleep. (You don’t see wildebeests napping as lions charge in for lunch.)
Everyone knows caffeine causes the opposite of restfulness, but many don’t connect their daytime coffee habits to their nighttime insomnia. They assume that once they can’t feel the stimulation anymore, it’s out of their system. However, caffeine may affect the system (depending on a person’s genetics and other factors) for up to 12 hours after consuming it. For some people, one cup in the morning may be their limit.
Another challenge to restful sleep is people’s attachment to their digital devices. Digital screens emanate blue light, which stimulates the brain and tricks it into thinking it’s daytime (time for high cortisol). This disrupts the circadian rhythm and decreases melatonin, the hormone we need for restful and restorative sleep. Add to that the stimulation of endless digital media or the workaholic’s addiction to getting even more done at night, and you have a recipe for insomnia.
Sleep deprivation has many causes these days. Some you can control on your own, and some may need more guidance. If you can’t sleep, and don’t know how to solve it, see this blog post.
So-called “comfort foods” are usually high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Refined carbs (white flour products such as pasta, breads, crackers, etc.) spike blood sugar, causing that roller coaster rise and fall we discussed in Wendy’s case.
Sugar causes an even worse ride on the addiction roller coaster. Calling sugar an addiction is accurate. For decades, scientists have proven that sugar is more addictive than cocaine.
Big food manufacturers know this quite well, and purposely add addictive flavors and ingredients like sugar to “hook” people into being repeat customers. One soda contains up to 13 teaspoons of sugar. It’s no wonder that people’s glandular systems are dysregulated!
If you have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), you may feel you sometimes need a quick sugar fix to bring your energy up. By adjusting your nutrition, you can get off the roller coaster and keep your blood sugar and energy stable.
In Wendy’s case, in addition to changing her diet, her tests revealed that she also needed supplementation with CoQ10, Vitamin D, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, and certain B vitamins.
This is why having a functional medicine partner in your quest for optimal health is so important. Without the tests I ran, Wendy could have wasted hundreds of dollars, shooting in the dark, by trying every supplement she read about that “might” help.
- Hormonal Imbalances
It is no exaggeration to say that hormones affect absolutely everything in your body, from your energy, outlook on life, and mood to your libido … and everything in between!
By clicking this link, you can learn the seven surprising symptoms of hormone imbalance. Menopause and andropause (male menopause) may signal imbalances as well. Learn more about your sex hormones here.
The thyroid is another big topic. I see many cases of hypothyroidism (low thyroid), which is linked to weight gain and many more symptoms. To learn more about your thyroid, click here.
I run more detailed lab tests than most doctors typically run, which is a critical component to discovering hidden hormonal imbalances. Test results provide valuable keys to solving your unique health issues.
This is a big topic, as intimate as your home and as vast as the outdoor air you breathe. In this blog, however, I am referring to the environment you can control, your immediate environment.
Your immediate environment includes everything you physically interact with, from the products you use on your body, to the clothes you wear, the upholstery you sit on, the floors you walk on, the things you touch, whatever enclosure surrounds you (vehicle or walls), and the air, including chemicals or biotoxins, you breathe.
Homes, schools, and workplaces may have hidden mold, silently and invisibly tearing down your health. Symptoms of being negatively affected by mold include fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, depression, numbness, blurred vision, mood swings, headache, joint pains, frequent urination, cramping, excessive thirst, aches, and icepick-like pains.
If this sounds like you, take my Biotoxin Quiz by clicking here.
Treating patients with illness due to biotoxins is a specialty (and passion) of mine, because I understand. I suffered from mysterious symptoms that doctors could not figure out or solve. My symptoms stemmed from biotoxins, which none of the doctors I consulted with ever investigated.
Now, I help others solve their mysterious health issues.
You can do many things to improve your health. Without proper guidance, however, it can feel like you’re blindfolded and trying to “pin the cause” on a moving target. With so many conflicting health opinions out there, it can feel overwhelming.
In fact, the right approach for one person may not be the right approach for another. Everyone is a unique individual with unique health needs and imbalances.
That is why my evidence-based approach involves taking your complete case history as well as running unique lab tests that most doctors are unfamiliar with. These pieces of the puzzle help us discover the unique approach that is individually right for you … not your spouse, not your neighbor, but you.
I am your partner in discovering the unique methods to help you regain balance.
Symptoms are signals asking you to pay attention to imbalances in your body. Ignoring symptoms, because you’re afraid of what the doctor may find, might be a “normal” response for some people. But as you saw in Wendy’s case, that response might have prematurely ended her life.
Fixing problems at the source is always best, and it leaves you no reason to fear. Symptoms are just imbalances, and once they are discovered, they can be fixed.
Do you have any symptoms you are ignoring, hoping they will just go away? If they haven’t, please don’t wait for your scary wake-up call.
Make your appointment for a complementary 15-minute consult with me by clicking here. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
*Fictionalized name and account based on a real patient case study.