What’s the universal complaint I hear from my patients? “I’m tired.” Burn out and fatigue can range from simple tiredness in the morning to feeling like leaving bed is a victory. There are dozens of reasons why someone might be chronically exhausted. Most of them can be traced back to core bodily malfunctions.
This post outlines five common causes I see in my private practice for fatigue, followed by at-home solutions for getting your energy levels back to normal. Let’s clear some room for greater triumphs than getting up in the morning.
- Iron Deficiency Anemia
Anemia occurs when: a) the body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, and b) the body loses red blood cells.
Anemia leaves people feeling tired, weak, and all around “blah.” It can also cause cognitive issues like confusion and forgetfulness.
This is a big one for women. Common causes include heavy menstruation, insufficient iron in the diet, poor absorption, or bleeding from the GI tract. Diet changes and supplements go a long way here, so simply understanding your iron count and ferritin is often the only hitch.
- Hypothyroidism: Under Functioning Thyroid
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located just below the voice box. It produces hormones that help the body direct energy, manage body temperature, and maintain proper organ function.
When your body suffers from hypothyroidism, your thyroid isn’t releasing enough thyroid hormone into the bloodstream or it’s not being converted to its active form at the cells. This will make the thermostat knob turned on LOW and you will be cold, possibly constipated, unable to lose weight when you try and TIRED. If untreated, thyroid problems can increase your risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, sexual dysfunction, infertility, and more.
Most doctors don’t do the proper testing and just look at TSH and T4 in the blood. This is SLOWLY changing as the evidence clearly shows this is not the best way to assess the complete picture. Taking your basal body temperature just before getting out of bed in the morning is one way to see how your thermostat is functioning along with complete blood work looking at much more than TSH and T4.
- Leaky Gut
Neither technical nor sexy, “intestinal permeability” if you want to get technical is no joke. This situation creates small holes in the intestinal lining that hinder digestion and crucial nutrient absorption. When partially digested foods, bacteria, and other toxins leak into the bloodstream, your immune system misreads the foreign substances and attacks the body. There are many causes for leaky gut and ways to heal it – look out for the blog.
This brings us to food sensitivities, which can exacerbate the issue. You should identify and remove food intolerances from your diet while the lining heals itself. If you don’t pinpoint these problem foods, you face risk of the issue intensifying, leading to more damage.
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
We have 37 trillion cells in our body. In nearly every one, mitochondria act as “energy factories”. These tiny organelles are responsible for creating over 90 percent of the energy we need to sustain ourselves. When they dysfunction (often caused by gene expression), energy production decreases, and your cells become damaged.
Symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction vary depending on which cells are affected. In addition to fatigue, some problems can include muscle weakness and pain, gastrointestinal issues, complications, visual/hearing problems, and susceptibility to infections.
- Adrenal Fatigue
The adrenal glands are small organs found above each kidney and do so much compared to their size. They produce cortisol, our main ‘stress hormone’, and more. They regulate the heart rate, blood sugar, hormones, immune system, and get their orders from the brain through the HPA axis.
Often affiliated with chronic stress or fear, adrenal fatigue occurs when the glands function on a low level and when the brain’s communication pathway isn’t optimal. Other causes are nutrient deficiencies, lack of routine, post-traumatic stress, sleep deprivation, chronic illness or chronically in a stressful situation and in sympathetic overdrive.
We’ve covered major ground on common causes of fatigue. Now let’s get you started on some at-home solutions.
- Eat Right—for YOU
Hardly a shocker, modifying your diet can help you battle fatigue. But finding which foods sit best with YOU is crucial. I shudder to use the term “diet”—it often relates to restricting your food intake. This is 100 percent about navigating what does or doesn’t work for your body and giving it what it needs—not restricting.
- Move Around
Energy creates energy—plain and simple. We’ve come to live sedentary lives, spending hours or days typing away on our computers. Even lower intensity movement—such as walking or yoga—can help counter this inactivity. Get moving!
- Get Some Shut Eye
Never compromise sleep. You may be thinking, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”—but this can lead you to an early grave. It’s harsh, but true. Lack of sleep is a short-term solution with long-term consequences. A routine sleep schedule will majorly pay-off if you’re feeling fatigued. Wake up the same time and go to bed the same time weekday, weekends.
- BE More, DO Less
More and more people strive to be present. The benefits of meditation are proven. These eastern ideologies have practically become mainstream. But I still see a gap between knowing what’s right, and actually taking the time to do it. Learning to quiet the mind after a stressful day is vital—and ultimately leads to a restful night’s sleep.
- Stress Can Control You. Learn to Manage it.
Stress is not easily conquered, suppressed, or eradicated. It’s a natural part of life that operates as a gauge for making healthy decisions. The key lies in how you handle it. Changing your perspective on stress is the first step towards managing it. Stress, for better or worse, is a constant. So the best thing you can do is find healthy methods for addressing it—before it manifests itself as chronic fatigue, or worse.
*Disclaimer: The above are common causes of fatigue that I see but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other causes for fatigue including lyme’s disease, parasites, mold, pernicious anemia, B12 deficiency, MTHRF mutations, inadequate food intake, cancer, and heavy metal toxicity. If you have chronic fatigue, be sure to talk to your functional medicine doctor for the best plan of action for you by discovering the cause.
In good health,
Dr. Afrouz Demehri