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What’s The Cause Behind Your Fatigue?

Published July 16 2012

Many people who I consult with have low energy levels, and the goal of this article is to discuss some of the most common causes of fatigue, and give some suggestions on how to overcome these causes.

1. Low Iron Levels. Let’s begin by talking about low iron levels, as this is a common problem, especially in cycling women, but can also affect both men and menopausal women. Low iron levels will cause the body to produce fewer red blood cells, and these red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to the body’s tissues. So without sufficient iron your blood is unable to carry oxygen to the tissues effectively.

There are a few different causes of low iron levels. One obvious cause is low iron intake, which you can improve by eating foods rich in iron such as meat (beef, liver, chicken, turkey), egg yolks, and even vegetables such as spinach and kale. Sometimes supplementing with iron is necessary. Another reason why someone might have low iron levels is because they have problems absorbing iron. So someone might be consuming enough iron in their diet, but for some reason their body has a difficult time absorbing it. Sometimes this can be due to certain conditions, such as Crohn’s or Celiac Disease. Sometimes it’s due to a different issue. Of course heavy bleeding can also lead to an iron deficiency. So a woman who has long and/or heavy menstrual periods is more prone to an iron deficiency.

2. Other nutritional deficiencies. While iron is the most common mineral deficiency that leads to fatigue, deficiencies of some of the other minerals and vitamins of the body can affect the energy levels. For example, a copper deficiency can also lead to fatigue. Deficiencies in the minerals zinc, selenium, and iodine can also lead to fatigue. Certain vitamin deficiencies can also lead to fatigue, such as a deficiency in Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, and Folate. So getting these vitamins through the foods you eat is important, but sometimes taking certain supplements are necessary to correct such a deficiency. You also want to make sure you can properly digest and absorb these vitamins and minerals.

3. Compromised Adrenal Glands. This is one of the primary causes of fatigue, as most people reading this are familiar with the term “adrenal fatigue”. Many people I consult with have problems with their adrenal glands, which is why I recommend for most people to get their adrenals tested. The adrenal glands secrete numerous hormones, one of which is cortisol. Cortisol is necessary to help us respond to stress, and also plays a major role in regulating the blood sugar levels, along with the hormone insulin. When cortisol levels are low, fatigue is common. DHEA is another important hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and so adrenal gland issues can also lead to a deficiency in DHEA, which in turn can greatly affect the energy levels.

However, what’s important to realize is that not everyone who has compromised adrenals experiences fatigue. I’m a perfect example of this, as when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, both my cortisol levels and DHEA were very low, and yet I felt fine from an energy standpoint. Chances are the fatigue would have eventually developed had I not addressed the adrenal gland problem. And part of the reason why my energy levels weren’t too bad is because I had a hyperthyroid condition, which of course increases the metabolism, and probably offset the fatigue to some extent.

4. Thyroid problems. Of course problems with the thyroid gland can lead to fatigue. This is most common with a hypothyroid condition, which slows down the metabolism of the body, and thus will usually affect one’s energy levels. An overactive thyroid gland can also sometimes cause fatigue. The results are more mixed, as while many people I consult with who have hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease have low energy levels, some have energy levels which are fine. Once again, one also has to consider the strong possibility of other factors causing or contributing to their fatigue, and not just look at the thyroid gland itself.

5. Other causes. There can be numerous other causes of fatigue, such as a congested liver, lack of sleep, food allergies, parasites, other hormone imbalances, etc.

How To Restore One’s Energy Levels

Now that you know some of the causes of fatigue, let’s discuss some of the things you can do to increase your energy levels.

1. Eat well. This is one of the most important things you can do, as minimizing the refined foods and sugars from your diet can help a great deal. Some people notice a big difference in their energy levels by eliminating some of the common food allergens, such as gluten and dairy. The water you drink can also affect your energy levels, and so you ideally want to avoid drinking tap water, and drink either spring water or purified water. Drinking coffee may seem to help with the energy levels, but of course the caffeine is just acting as a crutch. After all, nobody I know of has a caffeine deficiency.

2. Get sufficient sleep. Needless to say, getting sufficient sleep is extremely important. I realize that many people are unable to sleep due to other issues, and when this is the case then the goal should of course be to address these other problems, which in turn should help the person obtain better quality sleep each night. On the other hand, some people intentionally don’t get enough sleep, as they feel that watching television or surfing the internet is more important. Others have a crazy work schedule that makes it difficult to obtain quality sleep. For example, someone who works rotating shifts will usually have problems sleeping, and a big reason for this is the effect this has on the adrenals.

3. Detoxification. While many people I consult with need to clean up their diet, some people have already done so when consulting with me for the first time. In fact, some people have been eating well for years, some avoiding gluten during that time, yet still have problems with fatigue. This of course is why you need to consider some of the other factors I have discussed in this article. But one thing to keep in mind is that even if your low energy levels is caused by diet, sometimes just eating well won’t correct the problem. And part of the reason is that years of eating poorly can cause problems with the detoxification of the liver, and so this may be something that needs to be addressed in order to overcome their fatigue.

I have consulted with many people who eat well and have already gone through one or more detoxifications prior to speaking with me. Perhaps they need to do a different type of detoxification, or there might be another factor causing their fatigue. But either way, if you are experiencing fatigue and have never gone through a liver detoxification, then this is something you might want to strongly consider doing. While there is no shortage of liver detox programs you can purchase online or at your local health food store, I really do recommend being under the guidance of a competent holistic doctor the very first time you follow such a program. Doing so can have many benefits, and one of them is to improve one’s energy levels.

4. Correct Nutritional Deficiencies. As I mentioned earlier, numerous mineral and vitamin deficiencies can cause or contribute to fatigue. And while eating well will help to correct such deficiencies, often times taking nutritional supplements is necessary for a short period of time. The reason for this is because it is very difficult to obtain all of the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet. And so if you have a moderate to severe deficiency, in addition to eating well, you most likely will need to take certain supplements.

5. Adrenal support. Eating well, doing a good job of managing stress, and getting sufficient sleep can help greatly to restore one’s adrenal health. However, depending on how compromised the adrenal glands are, one may also need some type of adrenal support. For example, if someone has low cortisol levels, then they might need to take an herb such as licorice. If high cortisol levels are the problem, then phosphatidylserine might need to be taken, or a combination of herbs such as Ashwaganda and Rehmannia. Individuals with low DHEA levels usually don’t need to take bioidentical DHEA, although if it is extremely low then sometimes they might benefit from such support.

6. Correct any gut issues. Many people have gut issues, and I’m sure many people reading this are familiar with “leaky gut syndrome”.  This is a problem with the intestinal lining that allows proteins and other molecules to pass through.  Some of the causes include food allergies, an infection, parasites, etc.  While eating well, avoiding common food allergens, and correcting nutritional deficiencies can help with many gut issues, it usually will take a number of months to address a gut problem, simply because it takes time to heal the digestive system.

7. Balance the thyroid hormones. When an imbalance in thyroid hormone is causing the fatigue, then one obviously will need to correct this problem. But as you know, the malfunctioning thyroid gland is rarely the cause of the problem. So while taking thyroid hormone or antithyroid medication (depending on your condition) might be necessary on a temporary basis, these drugs don’t do anything for the cause of the problem. The goal is to determine what is causing the thyroid gland to malfunction, and then fix the problem. Doing so can of course be a big challenge, but those who do take responsibility for their health not only will help with their energy levels, but will help improve their overall health as well.

So if you are experiencing fatigue, then hopefully this article has given you some valuable information to overcome this problem. Admittedly it can be a challenge finding out what is responsible for one’s fatigue, and going to a medical doctor can be a frustrating experience, as all they usually want to do is give you medication to help manage the symptoms. And usually medication doesn’t even do a good job of accomplishing this, and often times it will worsen the fatigue. On the other hand, a competent holistic doctor will look for the underlying cause of the fatigue, which can help to greatly improve one’s energy levels.