Fatigue, Adrenal Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue:
Definition, Causes and Remedies
Why am I feeling So Tired all the time?
Effective ways to optimize your energy starting today
Picture this. Your alarm goes off in the morning, and you feel like you’ve barely slept (even after the full 7-8 hours you’ve been told you should be getting). You hit snooze a few too many times, finally dragging your groggy self out of bed with just enough time to make yourself a large (make that a very large) coffee on your way out the door. You skip breakfast in exchange for getting a few more precious moments of sleep, and then zombie your way to work, while the caffeine begins to kick in.
You start to feel more like yourself mid-morning after a second coffee, and are able to get down to work until the dreaded 3pm slump hits. You head out for more coffee (or maybe forage around the office for a quick hit of energy in the form of the typical sugary office finds), and get enough of a jolt to make it through to the end of the workday.
The same pattern repeats day to day, and you feel . . . exhausted.
If this pattern sounds familiar, you’re certainly not alone! If you feel tired no matter
how much sleep you get, it’s time to take a deeper dive into your health to find out
the root cause, and optimize your energy from the foundations up. While sleep plays
an undeniably important role in energy, there are so many other factors to take into
account when considering why your energy continues to be meh at best. Throughout
this article, we’ll dive into some of the most common causes for your fatigue, and
give you some effective strategies for how to start optimizing energy right away.
Low energy does not have to be part of your daily experience. You can have
abundant, all day energy, so let’s get started!
YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS IMBALANCED
Blood sugar levels play an inherently important role in keeping you energized, clear, and focused. In a perfect world, our blood sugar levels should stay pretty stable throughout the day – never dipping too high or too low. When we skip meals, go extended periods of time without eating, or opt for high sugar foods on a regular basis without protein/fat to balance things out, your energy and blood sugar stability can pay the price.
Let’s say it’s a typical workday. You head to work, stopping for a bagel and a coffee on the way. Protein and fat are non-existent. Our body starts to break down these carbs into their individual sugar molecules, causing a rapid spike in overall blood sugar (hello quick spike in energy!) but, without protein, fat, or fibre to slow the absorption of these carbs, our sugar levels then quickly dip again. This state of low blood sugar, or hypoglycaemia, can leave us feeling like we’ve hit a wall – with brain fog, low energy, feeling “hangry” and irritated, as well as craving more simple sugary carbs to give us that sugar spike all over again.
So how do you know if your blood sugar is off?
- You feel fatigued and exhausted
- You find yourself feeling moody and irritable
- Headaches, dizziness, or feeling jittery– especially after missing a meal
- Food cravings – especially for simple carbs and sugar
Blood sugar instability is easily fixed, so you can be well on your way to feeling sharp, focused, and energized with a few simple tweaks to your current nutrition intake. First of all, make sure your focusing on getting a good source of protein and fat with every single meal and/or snack – ideally eating something every 3-4 hours throughout the day. This slows the absorption and impact of glucose, keeping your energy levels stable and longer lasting than the sugar/carbs would on their own.
My favourite Combos
Some of my favourite and quick protein/fat combos for snacks include: trail mix with unsweetened coconut shavings, hard boiled eggs with a bit of sea salt, and high fibre berries with almond butter drizzled on top. For meals, include poultry, eggs, fish, beans/legumes, etc. + a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
YOUR THYROID IS UNDERFUNCTIONING
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped, hormone-producing gland that is situated at the front of your neck. It governs many bodily processes including metabolism, energy production, temperature regulation as well as skin/hair/nail health. When your thyroid gland is under functioning, it tends to produce deficient and
inadequate levels of active thyroid hormone (T4 and T3), manifesting as low body temperature, feeling sluggish and fatigued, as well as easy weight gain (even in the presence of eating incredibly clean and exercising a lot). Thyroid conditions affect a disproportionally large number of women as opposed to men, especially in the immediate postpartum period, during menopause, and when on the oral contraceptive pills (or right after transitioning off of them). Thyroid disease, and in this case specifically hypothyroidism – or an under-functioning of your thyroid gland – can manifest as:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Rapid weight gain (even with eating less and exercising more)
- Feeling cold all the time
- Hair loss, dry skin, poor nail health
- Joint pain
My top tip to support your tired thyroid gland?
Make sure you’re getting a full thyroid panel completed first and foremost via blood work with you naturopathic or family doctor to confirm whether your thyroid is actually the issue. Targeted and individualized care is important here, and the first step towards that is taking a look at your thyroid hormone levels together. Ideally you should be asking for Thyroid. Stimulating Hormone (TSH), T3, T4, and thyroid antibodies to be assessed to get a complete picture of where your thyroid stands.
The next step is to enrich your body with the right micronutrients that your thyroid gland needs to do its work. Selenium is particularly important for the thyroid gland, and is used to increase production of active thyroid hormone and reduce thyroid antibodies. Eating two whole Brazil nuts per day gives you a therapeutic daily dose of 200mcg selenium to keep your thyroid happy and working away!
YOU HAVE A NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY
While there are many different vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can present as low energy and fatigue, we’re just going to talk about three of the most common ones here – Vitamin B12, Iron, and Vitamin D.
Iron and vitamin B12 deficiency is common in individuals who consume a primarily vegetarian or vegan diet, as animal based food products tend to be the best food sources. Individuals who have heavy or prolonged menses, may also experience significant iron loss on a monthly basis. Low iron can also cause heavy menstrual flow in and of itself, so this tends to perpetuate a pretty vicious cycle of heavy flow, leading to deficient iron, leading to even heavier flow. Supplementing with iron can be particularly helpful in these cases.
Vitamin D on the other hand, primarily comes from sun exposure as opposed to dietary intake. Living in high latitudes and farther from the equator (as we do in Canada) puts us at much higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Even with adequate sun exposure in the summer months, general public health recommendations state that all Canadians should be supplementing with around 400-1000IU of vitamin D/day. Ideally you should have your vitamin D levels tested at the end of the summer, as this is when stores are at their highest, and can better indicate how much you should be supplementing to keep stores (and energy/mood) high all winter long.
Outside of getting blood tests to assess for your vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D levels, you can also back up this lab work with the following signs/symptoms:
- Exercise intolerance – feeling out of breath even after walking up a flight of
stairs for example
- Tingling in the hands/feet
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Low mood and/or anxiety
So how can you start improving your energy right away?
By incorporating more mineral and vitamin rich functional foods into your daily intake. Some examples of iron rich foods include: beef liver, turkey, oysters (animal protein heme based iron) as well as raw spinach, tofu, and black strap molasses (plant based non heme based iron) – try to get a combination from both heme and non heme based sources daily. Vitamin B12 rich foods include: nutritional yeast (a great vegan source of B12 that tastes delightfully cheesy when sprinkled on popcorn), sardines, and eggs. For Vitamin D, consider using the Dminder phone app to track your and sun exposure – perfect time to start this practice with warmer and sunnier days ahead!http://dminder.ontometrics.com/
YOUR ADRENAL GLANDS AREN’T ADAPTING TO STRESSORS APPROPRIATELY
Ah, stress. Something we all have and deal with, but some better than others. Stressors in our lives can actually play a huge role in our day-to-day energy, not just because they’re emotionally taxing, but because they begin to take a toll on our adrenal glands as well. When we’re exposed to chronic long-term stress (from our workplace, family, finances, environmental pollutants, the TTC, you name it), our adrenal glands begin to secrete stress specific hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Historically, this response was necessary for us to survive the stressor – especially when it was something like a sabre-toothed tiger chasing after us! Cortisol and adrenaline cause the pupils to dilate, blood pressure to increase, and blood flow to move away from the digestive and reproductive organs, and instead shunt it towards the large muscles the arms and legs to promote quick escape.
The issue is that we’re only ever supposed to be in this “fight or flight” state for short, infrequent periods of time. With the added stress and demands of the modern world, however, we tend to be in this stressed state more often than not, which can deplete and tax the adrenal glands – eventually leading to an inability to adapt to stressors as we should, and to deal with burnout and adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue can manifest differently depending on how far along you are into the burnout process. Some of the more common signs that may hint towards you having adrenal fatigue include:
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Fatigue and low energy
- Morning grogginess no matter how much sleep you got
- Trouble concentrating
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
- Frequent sickness and infections
Treating adrenal fatigue should be an individualized approach
But by far the best way to start correcting your stress response and getting your energy back is with adaptogens. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help our body to adapt to stressors – they help to modulate the cortisol response and to either raise or lower it based on your individual needs. Always work with your herbalist or naturopathic doctor in choosing the right herbs for you. Please don’t self prescribe! That being said, some of my favourite adaptogenic herbs include Reishi mushroom (calming and anti-viral), Siberian ginseng (energizing and helps with focus), and ashwagandha (which also has the added benefit of supporting thyroid function).
Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto Downtown
With a special interest in women’s health, functional hormonal health & fertility, Dr. Jennah brings a unique brand of naturopathic healthcare to your aid. She treats Patients suffering from digestion, fertility, hormones, periods, anxiety, fatigue and much more. Can Naturopathic Doctor Jennah Miller help you?