What your fatigue might mean
Fatigue is common, even among children and young people. It’s probably the most mentioned complaint in my clinic. Often it’s not a temporary phenomenon either, but a persistent one. Why is this happening?
Much of our fatigue can be attributed to our diet and lifestyle, which commonly cause gut imbalances leading to dysfunction at a cellular level. Our gut is the powerhouse of our health, and by rebalancing and healing it through diet and lifestyle, our cells get the nutrition they need, our fatigue often diminishes, our energy returns, and along with it our other health.
But sometimes the causes are more complex. Perhaps we’ve triggered a negative genetic response, or caused our normal detoxification processes to stop working well, or have an excess of heavy metals in our body or an underlying infection. These causes are real and not simply ‘in our heads’ as some believe. Nutritional Therapy can be a powerful tool in determining what nutrition, in the form of food and possibly supplements, will best help your body to overcome dysfunction and fatigue at a root cause or cellular level.
FOUNDATIONAL CAUSES OF FATIGUE
Are you eating an excess of unhealthy foods or not enough healthy ones?
Any form of simple sugar, like table sugar, refined carbohydrates, most bread and artificial sweeteners, can lead to fatigue by causing your blood sugar to peak too high and crash too low, making you reach for more sugar or caffeine to pick you up again in a vicious cycle that leads to inflammation and disease. Quitting sugar, and I mean ANY form of sugar, and anything refined including flour, rice and most bread, is the number one thing you can do to ensure steady energy throughout your day. You’ll find a list of sugary foods here, post about the impact of sugar on the body here and a post about how to give up sugar here.
If you’re not balancing your macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates – this can cause low energy too. Your body needs protein for creating tissue and more; fats for your cells, hormones, brain and endurance; and some complex carbohydrates for quick gut fibre and energy.
Insufficient healthy foods will also leave you lacking the key micronutrients – the minerals and vitamins your cells need to function.
Eat real food as it comes in nature - nothing from a packet, nothing interfered with by people such as GMO, and nothing with added chemicals or pesticides.
The other key thing to say about some foods is that they can cause inflammation, which can feel like fatigue. Sugar is highly inflammatory and gluten is the next thing people may need to give up for more energy. Gluten wreaks havoc on EVERYONE’s gut, causing damage or leakiness in the one-cell membrane that stands between it and your blood stream. Over time, and when combined with other assaults on your gut like antibiotics, stress, drugs and alcohol, this leakiness allows large food particles into your blood stream leading to inflammation, which is implicated in 90% of disease and a general tired or ‘ick’ feeling. Other common inflammatory foods in addition to sugar and gluten include soy, corn, processed vegetable oils and dairy.
2. Are you dehydrated?
Water is our most common deficiency. I’m constantly surprised at how many clients show signs of dehydration. Dehydration can lead to an array of health issues from fatigue, constipation, hunger, joint and back pain, heartburn, migraines and fibromyalgia.
The formula for how many litres of water you need to drink is your body weight in kilograms divided by 30. In ounces it’s your body weight in pounds divided by 2. And don’t forget, if you drink something dehydrating like coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice or alcohol, add two glasses for each one of these. If you don’t feel like working that out, aim for 8 good sized glasses a day, beginning with two on rising.
3. Is your lifestyle and mindset helping?
This is a big topic, but too much stress, a lack of sleep, and a negative mindset about the world along with low exercise levels can impact your general and gut health and make you feel fatigues. I’ve talked a little about this here.
SPECIFIC CAUSES OF FATIGUE
Think of your gut as the command and control centre of your body. It’s where your body meets the environment through what you eat and drink, obtains nutrition, makes important substances like brain chemicals, where 70% of your immunity lies and more brain cells live than in your brain. If there are imbalances in the gut, your entire health will be compromised.
Gut dysfunction can underpin many diseases, and fatigue is common feature. Gut dysfunction can come in the form of small intestine bacterial overgrowth or SIBO (which lies behind 80% of IBS), infections like parasites, bacterial overgrowths and undergrowths, yeast and fungal overgrowths, viral infections, low stomach acid, bile, H Pylori, low enzyme production, intestinal permeability and food intolerances as well as allergies. This can lead to a host of health problems from IBS, GERD and cancer and to autoimmune disease and mental health problems.
Fix your gut, and your fatigue and other health problems will often resolve. If not, you may need to explore specific support for your body due to depletion and/or genetics.
2. Adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysregulation
Adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysregulation, otherwise known as burnout, is something many people will suffer from in their lifetime. Your adrenals glands are part of your endocrine system, secreting more than 50 hormones that regulate your metabolic processes like your blood sugar levels, inflammation, cellular hydration, the fight or flight response, oestrogen and testosterone levels, and more.
Stress can come in the form of overwork, trauma, chronic inflammation and illness, sleep deprivation, relationship problems and processed foods that are laden with sugar and chemicals. Although the purpose of your adrenals is to cope with stress, too much stress can overwork them. When your adrenals are exhausted, the rest of you will feel constantly fatigued.
It is possible through concerted and targeted dietary and lifestyle changes, to heal adrenal problems.
3. Cellular dysfunction like methylation
Impaired methylation, mitochondrial function and oxidative damage can cause disease and fatigue. Given methylation is such a critical process for everyone, and that diet and lifestyle can trigger this or any other gene to behave badly regardless of whether you are born with a mutation, I will focus on this. Ineffective methylation can be a major cause of fatigue.
Methylation is a biochemical process responsible for the functioning of most of our body’s systems. It is central to our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and is involved reactions that regulate the activity of the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems including how you manage stress, detoxification, inflammation, the genetic expression and repair of DNA, energy production, the production and recycling of the antioxidant glutathione, cell repair, histamines, neurotransmitters and brain chemistry balance and the immune response.
If you have a shortage of methyl groups, or your methylation cycle is interrupted, any or all of these processes can become compromised, and you can get sick and fatigued. More than 50% of people have a genetic predisposition to methylation problems, which can be switched off and on with diet and lifestyle.
4. Chronic infections including chronic fatigue or CIRS (mould illness
Several studies have found that people with chronic fatigue have lab markers consistent with active pathogen activity and infection. These infections may be either viral or bacterial including Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), HHV, Mycoplasma (an intracellular bacteria), Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease). Hormonal imbalances, poor immune system response, chronic low blood pressure and nutritional deficiencies are also contributing factors along with a possible link to oxidative stress, Coeliac disease, and food sensitivities or food allergies.
Removing infections from the gut, and rebuilding healthy bacteria can go a long with to improving immunity, nutrient absorption, hormone levels and other factors mentioned above, to eradicate chronic infections or reduce their impact. Also, genetic mutations that affect the methylation pathway are associated with chronic fatigue.
CIRS or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, can occur in people living in a water damaged, mouldy environment who have a gene that means their body does not recognise or therefore break down and remove from their body this mould and the many biotoxins it releases into the environment. A biotoxin is a poisonous substance produced by living organisms. But the ongoing assault from these biotoxins in the body sets off a chain reaction, leading to a continuous upregulation of multiple inflammatory pathways, reduced blood flow, a dysregulated immune system, hormone imbalances, intestinal permeability, and disrupted neurological function. The symptoms are many and include brain fog, breathing issues, rashes, digestive problems. It can be very serious, even leading to disability and death. People need to leave the mouldy environment, throwing out all porous and semi-porous possession like books, mattresses and couches, and the biotoxins carried out of the body with the help of non-herbal or herbal medicines.
5. Nutrient imbalances
Your mitochondria are the power plants of your cells, their job is to convert nutrients into energy. They need to function properly to create enough energy. But your mitochondria rely on specific nutrients. If your body is deficient, for example of CoQ10, b vitamins, magnesium, L-carnitine, healthy fats, your cells will not be able to create sufficient energy.
Other deficiencies of nutrients like B12, iron, folate, magnesium, zinc, EPA/DHA and fat-soluble vitamins (most common), can also lead to fatigue through, for example, anaemia, depression, scurvy, osteoporosis and pellagra.
6. Medications such as the pill
Many medications can cause fatigue, including blood pressure medications especially beta blockers, statins, proton pump inhibitors, benzodiazepines, ventolin, antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics and diuretics.
The pill warrants a special mention. The pill can cause fatigue by depleting the body of many essential nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, B Vitamins. It can also compromise the normal functioning of your thyroid gland and thyroid hormones.
7. Hormone imbalances
Your hormones are messages that tell your cells how to behave. This includes the hormones associated with the metabolism, thyroid, and sex organs.
But did you know that your microbiome or gut is now considered a hormonal organ because it controls the production of hormones, and can inhibit or support hormonal balance? Restoring healthy hormone levels is difficult to achieve without healing your gut, often the root cause of hormonal dysfunction.
8. Thyroid problems
Fatigue is also one of the first signs of a thyroid imbalance. Your thyroid hormones control how your body uses energy, so if your thyroid is underactive, as is the case in hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, you can experience fatigue, weight gain, brain fog and hair loss.
But did you know that the state of your gut can impact your thyroid? Poor gut health can suppress thyroid function and trigger Hashimoto’s disease, and low thyroid function can lead to an inflamed and leaky gut. For example, your gut bacteria assists with converting inactive T4 into the active form of thyroid hormone, T3. If your gut bacteria are compromised, so is this process.
We are often exposed to heavy metals and toxic chemicals that can contribute to fatigue, inflammation, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, autoimmunity and heart disease. Mercury, lead, aluminium, BPA, PFCs and other heavy metals along with chemicals hide in everything from the water we drink, air we breath, amalgam (mercury) dental fillings and the fish we consume.
It is not unusual for pathogens (infectious agents) living in our gut often thrive on them. While it is possible to detoxify these from our body, this requires a process to ensure these are safely carried out of your body and not reabsorbed. It is also critical for your digestion to be functioning properly before such a process is attempted.
10. Immune dysregulation
Immune problems can also cause fatigue. Could you have hidden immune problem such as autoimmunity, Coeliac disease (many people go undiagnosed), underactive immunity or chronic, systemic inflammation? Given that 70% of our immunity lies in our gut, guess what I’m going to say. Heal your gut, heal your inflammation.
11. Tooth infections
Low-grade infections in your teeth, for example untreated cavities or infected fillings and root canals, can play havoc on your body’s immune system, leading to systemic inflammation and fatigue. Our body works as a system, and one are of dysfunction can impact other areas resulting in fatigue. I’ve seen plenty of people’s health, both physical and mental, improve when dental infections have been properly dealt with.
WHAT NOT TO DO TO OVERCOME FATIGUE
Eat sugar and refined carbs as a pick me up
Drink more coffee
Ignore or tolerate your symptoms (they are not normal)
Take pick-me-up drugs
Give up on sleep
Overdo the alcohol
WHAT TO DO about your fatigue
The issue with fatigue is that it’s a non-specific symptom with many possible causes. Often people suffering from fatigue might not need to worry about getting extensive testing done for a diagnosis. This is the approach I recommend.
Clean up your diet
Fix your lifestyle
Heal your gut
Then if needed, get more targeted testing done
Changing your diet and lifestyle should be your first step to reducing fatigue, and it can be enough. Your body will never heal if the fuel you put in is substandard. If that doesn’t help, then consider specific gut testing and/or genetic testing for more targeted support and healing.
Nutritional Therapy is a powerful and efficient tool that determines what nutrition in the form of food and supplements can support your body to heal the dysfunction at the root causes or cellular level.
How does it work? With in-clinic clients, I palpate neuro-vascular points on your body (similar to acupuncture points) for sensitivity to determine which areas most need support e.g. digestion, blood sugar, minerals and vitamins, thyroid, immunity etc.. I then test food and/or supplements against those points using your body’s biofeedback mechanism to determine what you most need. With online clients, I use the signs and symptoms survey and graph to target support.
I also offer lab microbiome mapping (DNA tool testing) – which gives a complete picture of what’s happening in your digestive system or gut, from whether you have leakiness, how you’re digesting fats, what your gut immunity status is, the infections you have and more – as well as food sensitivity testing and genetic testing.
There is no one formula to resolve fatigue, only what each person’s body needs at that time. Diet and lifestyle are always the first place to start.