Published June 27 2016
It’s common for people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions to experience fatigue. And while sometimes the fatigue is on the mild side, many people experience moderate to severe fatigue. In fact, sometimes the low energy levels can be so severe that the person is unable to work or engage in other routine activities. For others it isn’t this bad, but they still have a difficult time getting out of bed, need caffeine to stay alert, etc. As a result, I decided to put together this article which discusses seven things you can do to increase your energy levels.
But before I dive into these seven factors, it’s probably a good idea to define fatigue, and to briefly mention why people develop low energy levels in the first place. Fatigue is often described by patients as a lack of energy, mental or physical tiredness, diminished endurance, and prolonged recovery after physical activity (1). Of course the cause of fatigue differs depending on the person.
While some people develop fatigue quickly due to an infection or even extreme stress, in many cases the process is gradual. And so it is rare for someone to have normal energy levels and then the next day to experience fatigue, although there are always exceptions. As you go through each of these factors which can increase your energy levels, you of course also want to do what is necessary to maintain healthy energy levels. With that being said, let’s go ahead and look at seven things you can do to increase your energy levels.
1. Balance your thyroid hormone levels. Since most people reading this have a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, and because a thyroid hormone imbalance can lead to fatigue, it makes sense to start with this. In most cases, low thyroid hormone levels related to hypothyroidism are associated with fatigue, although there are some people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease who also experience fatigue. Either way, the goal is to correct the hormone imbalance. So for example, if someone has overt hypothyroidism, they very well might need to take thyroid hormone medication to help increase their energy levels. However, while doing this, the goal should be to address the cause of the problem, if at all possible. And it’s the same concept with hyperthyroid conditions, as someone might need to take antithyroid medication, or an antithyroid herb such as bugleweed while addressing the cause of the problem.
One important point I want to bring up is that with people taking thyroid hormone medication, sometimes the other ingredients can lead to fatigue. For example, many people take Synthroid, which has fillers and artificial ingredients. And some people who take this medication will experience negative symptoms because of these ingredients. Of course this doesn’t describe everyone, but if you take synthetic thyroid hormone medication and address the other factors I discussed here, and if you still are experiencing fatigue, then you might want to consider switching to a hypoallergenic brand of synthetic thyroid hormone medication, such as Tirosint, or a hypoallergenic brand of natural thyroid hormone, such as Nature-Throid or WP Thyroid.
2. Improve the health of the adrenals/HPA axis. I require just about all of my patients to complete an adrenal saliva panel. And the reason for this is because most people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have adrenal problems, which in turn can cause fatigue. Although giving adrenal support can help, it usually is necessary to address the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. While it may be necessary to take certain nutritional supplements and herbs to address high or low cortisol levels, a depressed, DHEA, etc., it of course is even more important to make sure you are following the basics. In other words, you want to eat a healthy diet, do a good job of managing your stress, and get sufficient sleep each night. If you aren’t focusing on these areas then it will be very difficult to restore the health of your adrenals.
Some people might be wondering what to do if they are having problems falling and/or staying asleep. After all, some people would do anything to get quality sleep, but they have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or they have both problems. If this is the case with you then other imbalances will most likely need to be addressed to help you to sleep better.
3. Eradicate infections. Having an infection can cause fatigue. This can happen with just about any type of chronic infection, although some of the more common infections which can cause fatigue include Lyme disease, candida, and Epstein Barr. Lyme disease can cause extreme fatigue, and when it becomes chronic it can be very difficult to treat. With viral infections such as Epstein Barr, the goal usually isn’t to eradicate the virus, but instead is to put it into a dormant state while improving the health of the person’s immune system. As for having a candida infection, these are very common and can also be challenging to treat, and I spoke more about this in an article I wrote entitled “Candida and Thyroid Autoimmunity“. And there are other infections which can lead to low energy levels.
Of course before you can eradicate any infections you need to detect the presence of them, which admittedly can be challenging at times. It is easy enough to test for certain viruses in the blood such as Epstein Barr and Cytomegaolvirus. Sometimes a comprehensive stool panel can pick up an infection, including parasites and pathogenic bacteria. Chronic lyme disease can be challenging to diagnose, and I discussed this in an article I wrote entitled “Can Lyme Disease and Other Tick Borne Infections Trigger Thyroid Autoimmunity?”
4. Correct nutrient deficiencies. Having certain nutrient deficiencies can lead to low energy levels. For example, many people have an iron deficiency, which is a common cause of fatigue. Vitamin B12 is another common deficiency that can lead to fatigue. If you have low energy levels and haven’t had an iron panel (serum iron, ferritin, iron saturation, TIBC) and/or a vitamin B12 test then these should be done. If someone isn’t consuming enough protein this can lead to fatigue as well. I’ll shortly talk about mitochondrial dysfunction as a potential cause of fatigue, and if someone is deficient in nutrients which support the mitochondria, such as coenzyme Q10 or riboflavin, then this of course can lead to fatigue.
5. Do a liver detoxification. Many of my patients follow a 21-day liver detoxification, and while doing this alone doesn’t always increase energy levels, many people do experience an increase in energy after doing a liver cleanse. And the reason for this is because having an increased toxic load can cause fatigue. Of course doing other things to help eliminate toxic chemicals can also increase energy levels, such as infrared sauna therapy and colon hydrotherapy. However, it’s important to understand that some people feel worse initially after starting a detoxification program. Such “detox symptoms” can include an increase in fatigue, along with headaches, indigestion, and other symptoms. But these symptoms are usually temporary, and in most cases they will subside within a few days of beginning the liver detoxification.
6. Address blood sugar imbalances. Having increased or decreased blood sugar levels can lead to low energy levels. In fact, fatigue is a very common symptom of hypoglycemia, although many people will frequently feel an increase in energy after eating, although this isn’t always the case. On the other hand, with hyperglycemia or insulin resistance many people will experience an increase in fatigue after eating. And so whether someone has hypoglycemia, or a condition such as insulin resistance, fatigue can be a factor, and balancing the blood sugar levels can help. Eating well will of course play an important role in this, but sometimes taking certain nutrients and herbs can also be beneficial, such as chromium, alpha lipoic acid, cinnamon, and gymnema.
7. Improve the health of the mitochondria. As I briefly mentioned earlier, mitochondrial dysfunction can also cause fatigue. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, mitochondria play an important role in energy production. It does this through the production of adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP, as this is mostly produced inside of the mitochondria. And a decrease in ATP can result in a decrease of energy. In addition, the synthesis of pregnenolone takes place in the mitochondria. Pregnenolone is a precursor to DHEA and progesterone, and a deficiency in either one of these hormones caused by mitochondrial dysfunction can cause fatigue. So you do want to do things to improve the health of the mitochondria, which I discussed in an article entitled “The Relationship Between Mitochondria and Thyroid Health.”
In summary, having low energy levels is common in people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions. Most of the time they develop this fatigue over a period of time, although sometimes it develops right away. Some of the factors that can cause fatigue include a thyroid hormone imbalance, weak adrenals/HPA axis dysregulation, an infection, a nutrient deficiency, environmental toxins, blood sugar imbalances, and mitochondrial dysfunction.