We all get tired – it’s part of the usual consequences of vigorous exercise, long days, too little sleep or that ‘slump’ in the afternoons when blood sugar starts to run low. However, for many reasons, tiredness can worsen and develop into persistent symptoms of fatigue. This symptom of feeling either physically or mentally exhausted (even when well-rested), is not a normal part of getting older and is a sign that something is wrong.
Fatigue is a symptom of an underlying problem and often signifies a lack of energy being produced where it is needed. Causes are numerous and figuring out why someone develops this condition can be complex.
Constant feelings of exhaustion can rapidly affect the ability to engage in daily living as well as mental and emotional health. Physically many people try to cope by rationing their energy for essential tasks (such as work), gradually withdrawing from social activities. Exercise may become increasingly difficult - often with severe pain and muscle soreness the next day. Mentally, many patients report feelings of ‘brain fog’ and struggle to concentrate, process information or remember things. If the problem is left unresolved then serious consequences for employment and ability to engage in education and even essential home tasks may ensue.
What causes fatigue?
There are many reasons why someone might develop a fatiguing condition:
Anaemia causes deficiency in essential circulation of oxygen to the tissues for energy production. This may be due to nutrient deficiency (low iron, B12 or folate), excessive blood loss or more complex problems affecting the bone marrow or kidneys.
Low levels of essential nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, CoEnzyme Q10, magnesium and vitamin D may also contribute to fatigue – even with no anaemia.
Coeliac disease:A form of allergy to gluten causes malabsorption of essential nutrients, anaemia and often digestive problems – all potential contributors to fatigue. Immune disruption and gut disturbance from other food sensitivities may also disrupt micronutrient.
Sleep apnoea / snoring or other chronic causes of sleep disturbance may lead to chronic sleep deprivation and fatigue
High stress levels, depression and anxiety may all exacerbate of fatigue and disturb sleep (and may also be a consequence of the condition)
High blood sugar levels due to diabetes or intermittent peaks and troughs due to unstable blood sugars are common causes of fatigue. Western high carb diets and constant use of stimulants such as caffeine are often to blame for worsening energy levels.
Hypothyroidism:Poor production or metabolism of thyroid hormones leads to feelings of low mood, weight gain and persistent fatigue
Chronic Infections:Viral illnesses or chronic bacterial infections and Lyme disease are all potential triggers for chronic fatiguing illness – especially in people who already have problems with energy production problems due to underlying
Toxin exposure, especially in susceptible individuals with poorly functioning detox processing, may be a trigger for mitochondrial dysfunction leading to poor energy production and fatigue in some people with this condition.
Understanding the mechanisms behind fatiguing illness can mean more effective and targeted treatment to help patients with fatigue. Often there is a combination of factors contributing to the problem and the whole picture has to be taken into account when planning strategies for recovery.
However, there are a number of strategies which are often helpful for many people suffering with this condition:
Sleep: Making sure you have good quality sleep can help you manage fatigue. Ensure you go to bed at the same time each night, avoid screens (or use orange filters), in the 2 hours before bed and keep the bedroom cool and dark.
Diet: Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins can allow the body to absorb the micronutrients it might be missing. Avoidance of junk food and processed foods in favour of fresh, organic produce can lower toxin load and improve inflammation levels. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine since these can affect your sleep.
Movement: Regular physical activity helps to improve your sleep and lessen fatigue. However, in some cases listening to your body and resting is required to maintain sufficient energy for daily living and the processes of healing.
Stress Reduction:If anxiety or low mood are interfering with sleep or motivation levels then getting support to help you cope with unavoidable stresses or trying a simple breathing or relaxation exercise may help.