As a collective human race, we’re experiencing unparalleled levels of fatigue, but why? Simply put, our bodies are trying to function in a world they just weren’t designed to live in.
A far cry from the simpler hunter-gatherer world our genes evolved in, each day we are exposed to an increasing amount of stressors, such as:
- The psychological impact associated with finances, relationships, work or health issues;
- Processed foods;
- Being overfed and undernourished;
- Poor sleep quality and/or reduced quantity;
- Electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure emitted from smartphones, TV’s, Wi-Fi etc. and excessive use of these digital devices;
- Environmental toxins through air pollution, plastics and synthetic home/personal care products;
- Sluggish liver, kidneys and bowels;
- Adrenal and/or thyroid issues;
- A dysregulated body clock due to prolonged artificial light exposure; and
- Prolonged periods of sitting.
As the body can’t differentiate between psychological and physical triggers, these factors cumulatively activate the stress response, increasing the demand and strain on the body’s energy reserves. Unsurprisingly, this is making us tired.
One primary reason for this stress-induced fatigue is that nutritionally, the demand for energy is greater than what is being supplied by what would be considered a balanced diet. This nutritional deficit is akin to speeding down the highway with 100 places to be, whilst unknowingly having the handbrake on the whole way. You’ll reach your destinations, but it’s going to take a lot more effort! In order to get everything done, it’s clear you’re going to need to pull over, take off the handbrake, and continue your journey with more ease. The handbrakes can be in the food you eat, the lack of nutrition you are having, the sluggishness in your liver, kidneys, bowels, adrenal and/or thyroid or in your mitochondria itself.
Mitochondria Matter Too!
Having a nutrient intake that doesn’t meet your energy demands impacts your entire body. Within each of your cells, there are clever components called organelles, the microscopic contents that carry out your cells functions. One of these organelles is the mitochondria, which look after energy production, and work tirelessly to provide your cells with a constant fuel supply.
However, these mitochondria are extremely sensitive to psychological and physical stressors, which as we have already discussed, place a burden on our energy requirements. The nutritional depletion and cellular damage that can occur from stress therefore overly tax our mitochondria, comprising their function. The result, poor mitochondrial function, then leads to a reduction in overall energy supply and the presentation of fatigue.
So, in the midst of modern day stress, how do we meet these increased energy demands and kick fatigue to the curb?
Luckily there are several key nutrients that help support and protect your mitochondria against the brunt of daily stressors, which include:
- A vital nutrient used by your mitochondria to produce energy, with research showing low CoQ10 stores are linked with increased susceptibility to fatigue states and chronic disease.
- In addition to fatigue, stress is another cause of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. CoQ10 carry’s strong antioxidant actions, helping to protect your mitochondria, and overall body, from the cellular damage that can occur from stress.
- This essential mineral is needed by your body to help convert the food you eat into energy.
- Also, a magnesium deficiency makes you more susceptible to stress, whilst stress depletes your magnesium levels – resulting in a vicious cycle.
- B vitamins are required by the mitochondria to create molecules of energy, but can become depleted in states of stress. B vitamins also work to blunt the impact of stress on your body, and modulate the production of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol). A good place to get adequate B vitamins is from nutritional yeast, or if you do not methylate well, use methylated B vitamins.
Other reasons you might be feeling tired, and how you can fix it
When you’re always tired, everything in life takes more effort, which can eventually keep you from doing the things you love. Often, it can be difficult to pin down the exact cause of your tiredness, because so many factors can affect your energy. To help, here is a list of common causes of fatigue, with practical solutions to re-energise you.
In order to rest and recharge, your body needs seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you are struggling to get to sleep, or stay asleep, audit your bedtime routine. Are you engaging in stimulating activities before bed, such as heavy exercise, or working on your laptop? Do you consume caffeine (e.g. tea, coffee, cola or chocolate) too close to bedtime? If, despite having healthy habits, you are still not sleeping well, there are effective, natural options to help.
Fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration, which can be caused by simply not drinking enough water ( you should aim to achieve 30ml/kg per day), fluid loss (from exercise or hot weather) or a combination of the two. One way to tell if you are dehydrated is by the colour of your urine; if it is darker than a just-ripe banana, you are probably dehydrated. Drink two or three glasses of water immediately, and make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day. Potassium is an important mineral to help our body stay hydrated.
Chronic stress, due to unstable finances, relationships, work or health issues, can also take its toll on your energy levels. By triggering the hormone adrenaline, stress can leave you feeling overstimulated, and eventually wipe you out. Improving your stress management through meditation, exercise or speaking to a counsellor, may increase your energy. Magnesium, which is vital for energy production, is also depleted by stress, so making sure you get enough of this important mineral can help improve your energy levels.
When fighting an infection, your body forces you to prioritise rest by making you feel tired. However, fatigue can persist for weeks or months following certain infections, hampering your return to full health. If you haven’t bounced back from a recent illness, immune-boosting herbal medicines including astragalus and medical mushrooms (such as reishi, shiitake and coriolus), alongside nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C can make a massive difference to your energy, putting pesky post-viral fatigue to rest!
Exposure to mould from water-damaged or damp buildings can trigger your immune system and cause fatigue in a similar way to viruses. If you have noticed water damage in your home, consult with a qualified natural healthcare practitioner to get on top of mould-related illness by supporting your immune system.
Low iron levels
If you follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, have a history of poor absorption (for example, due to a digestive condition), or experience heavy periods, you may have an iron deficiency, which has been associated with fatigue. If this sounds like you, a visit to your GP for a blood test is highly recommended to assess your iron status.
Mental health issues
The topic of mental health is important to understand, as individuals experiencing depression may not immediately recognise symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, constant frustration, and profound feelings of indifference as part of a mental health diagnosis. If these symptoms sound familiar to you or a family member, seeking support and reaching out to qualified healthcare Practitioners is the first step in addressing mental health issues. Eventually, managing mental wellbeing can help resolve symptoms such as fatigue, and support overall health and wellbeing.
Low blood sugar
Eating balanced meals can help to stabilise blood sugar levels by providing a steady flow of nutritional resources that the body can convert into energy. This means starting the day with a balanced breakfast, like a plant based protein smoothie, followed by protein-rich wholefood snacks (such as boiled eggs and nuts) as the day goes on.
Getting these nutrients in your diet can be tricky, but consuming a variety of whole foods including fish, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and dark green, leafy vegetables can help to boost your intake. In the meantime, addressing nutrient deficiency with a supplement may improve your energy. It is important to keep in mind that the quality and effectiveness of supplements can vary, so seek the advice of a qualified health Practitioner who can help choose the right combination for you.