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Have you had low energy for years or do you feel a recent drop in your energy levels? You are not alone. In 2007, 38% of North Americans complained of fatigue which could be significantly under-reported as we tend to normalize energy issues. The annual cost is $136.4 billion in lost productivity alone. Energy production is a foundational process that can be affected by several factors.

Fatigue can be mental and/or physical. A drop in energy is usually blamed on aging, menopause, or stress, however, this could be a red flag to a deeper-rooted cause. The conventional approach to energy issues is often ignoring them until an individual can’t get out of bed. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, don’t settle for being told your lab work is normal and that nothing can be done.

  • Do you wake up tired no matter how long you sleep?
  • Do you feel a dip in energy at specific times in the day
  • Do you feel exhausted after physical exercise?
  • Do you lack the energy you had in your teenage years?
  • Do you reach for that cup of coffee out of necessity?

The Top 5 Reasons You Feel Fatigued:

1. Anemia

One of the key issues with pinpointing the exact cause of poor energy is that the right blood work must be ordered. More often than not, we see a patient’s blood work and their iron level was measured but their ferritin level was not. Ferritin is an iron storage protein and works similar to your savings account. Knowing your iron level is similar to knowing how much money is in your wallet, however, this does not tell us if you are “broke” unless we know how much money you also have in the bank. The populations most at risk for anemia are pregnant women, menstruating women, preschool children, and vegans. This is further complicated if there are any issues with your gut. If you have low stomach acidity which is instigated by certain medications, mineral deficiencies, stress, and autoimmunity to the cells that make stomach acid, you are at a greater risk for iron deficiency anemia. Furthermore, there are other types of anemia such as B12 deficiency anemia which can also be caused by autoimmunity to intrinsic factor (a protein that aids in vitamin B12 absorption in the small intestine).

2. Adrenal Fatigue

In the majority of cases, adrenal health is the root cause of many energy issues. If you are a slow starter in the morning and rely on caffeine, chances are you are running on fumes as your adrenal glands are no longer making adequate stress hormones. When these hormones are not produced, our body relies on catecholamines which are our fight-or-flight neurotransmitters in order to combat stress. This can ultimately lead to persistent fatigue, anxiety, nervousness, headaches, and an inability to handle stress. By completing an Adrenal Stress Index, your daily cortisol rhythm can be mapped and corrected.

3. Hypothyroidism

When your thyroid gland is underactive, it feels like your world is falling apart. Fatigue becomes a day to day issue. One critical differentiation to make is if your symptoms are truly coming from your thyroid, adrenals, or a combination of the two. Please visit https://thelivingproofinstitute.com/thyroid-adrenals/ to assist with this differentiation. The majority of the cells in your body (excluding red blood cells) have a receptor for thyroid hormone. The adequate production, conversion, and signaling of thyroid hormones are essential to energy production. T3 (triiodothyronine) is the active form of thyroid hormone and when it binds to a cell receptor, the cell is signaled to increase metabolism. This signals your mitochondria, which are the energy production centers of your cells to make more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is our unit of energy. If there is a decrease in any area of thyroid hormone production, conversion or signaling, energy production is quick to suffer and daily fatigue becomes a regular occurrence. Furthermore, autoimmunity to the thyroid (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) is common and usually not diagnosed until nodules are found. Your thyroid cannot function if it is constantly under attack from your immune system.

4. Insulin Resistance 

The main role of insulin in your body is to decrease blood sugar. When you develop insulin resistance, your cells become less sensitive to insulin and cause your body to make more insulin in response. When you start to become insulin resistant, one symptom to pay attention to is feeling fatigue after meals. In most social circles, this is accepted as normal and typically joked about, however, it can be costly in terms of energy production. When you are insulin resistant, you cannot shuttle macronutrients into your cells. If carbohydrates cannot get into the cell, the liver will convert these to triglycerides which are very hard on the liver. Higher carbohydrate meals also raise serotonin production which has an overall calming effect on the body. This further leads to fatigue and drowsiness. Insulin resistance can be caused by a multitude of factors such as inflammation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, dysbiosis in the gut, and excessive carbohydrate intake. It is important to pay attention to the signs of insulin resistance: weight gain (especially around the midsection), hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, mood changes, fatigue after meals, skin tags, darkening of the skin on the posterior neck, and changes in menstrual cycles in women.

5. Neurological Fatigue 

A difficult differentiation to make on your own is whether or not your fatigue is neurological. The depletion of certain brain chemicals can cause fatigue and fatigue-like symptoms such as brain fog and declining memory. Our body relies on these brain chemicals called neurotransmitters to signal specific processes through our brain cells called neurons. When you have a deficit in these neurotransmitters, our neurons simply don’t fire and this is the beginning of neurological fatigue. Signs to look out for include feeling tired or getting a headache after reading or driving. When an area of your brain (lobe) gets fatigued, the brain will attempt to force you to switch tasks to protect it from damage. This is similar to a muscle cramp being an early sign to limit further exercise to avoid injury. In children, cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be attributed to this neurological fatigue.


Take Home Points:

  • Fatigue and fatigue-related symptoms are almost never from a single cause
  • Avoid guessing and spending money on bags of supplements you may not need
  • Do not accept fatigue as a normal occurrence or attribute it to “normal aging”
  • Get to the root cause of your fatigue as it could be the early sign of a bigger issue
  • Consult with an expert that has experience working with populations with fatigue

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17215708
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1231083/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25809607
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394534
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