Some of you may already know this but the #1 most common symptom that people visit their doctors for in our country is fatigue. Why is that? Well, just about every state of dysfunction or disease in the body impacts the key cellular mechanisms that produce energy in your body. Unfortunately, most of us try to solve this fatigue with “energy” drinks, coffee and other caffeinated beverages that actually make the problem worse in the long run.
So let’s dive in and understand what may lie at the root of poor energy and fatigue.
Inside of each of our cells are tiny power stations called “mitochondria”. These organelles are primarily responsible for making energy for our cells. When these mitochondria aren’t working at 100%, we have less cellular energy available to run the body. Mitochondria are damaged by a variety of things including inflammation, toxicity and oxidative stress due to insufficient antioxidants in the body. There are key nutrients that are needed for mitochondria to function well and for our bodies to detoxify and fight off “free radicals”.
- Glutathione – Your body’s number 1 antioxidant and powerhouse molecule. Having enough glutathione in the body is crucial for health. In fact, some scientists say that it is impossible for the body to have chronic disease and autoimmunity unless the glutathione stores are first depleted. Now glutathione isn’t a nutrient that we get from our diet. It is a molecule that our body makes and then recycles over and over again and it is only when we run out of the building blocks that make it and recycle it that creates depletion. So what helps build and recycle glutathione? The amino acids L-cysteine and L-glutamine, the trace mineral selenium and several herbs like milk thistle, gotu kola and cordyceps have all been shown to increase glutathione levels. (taking glutathione pills is not been shown to be effective but recently several companies have developed oral liquids called “liposomes” that have shown effectiveness in raising glutathione directly)
- Acetyl L-carnitine – Another important amino acid that is found in red meat helps with glutathione production.
- B Vitamins – B Vitamins act as key enzymes in critical processes inside of our cells. Many can be considered specialized antioxidants as well.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid – Our bodies need adequate amounts of healthy fatty acids such as alpha lipoic acid have been shown to be particularly helpful in supporting the mitochondria in the brain and nerve system.
- Co-enzyme Q10 – Another important antioxidant, CoQ10 is essential for mitochondrial function. In fact without it, there is no way to generate energy in our cells.
- Other helpful nutrients include: Resveratrol, Omega-3 fatty acids, catechins from green tea and quercetin.
As we move out from the cell towards the organ systems of the body we see many other potential levels of dysfunction. First and foremost, we should discuss the importance of the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones are the main drivers of our basal metabolic rate. These hormones are produced throughout the day to give us the energy we need to accomplish all that is needed. Often patients with low thyroid output wont have enough energy to make it through the day. They can will themselves to get things going but when they sit down between projects or errands, they are wiped out. Sometimes these symptoms are exacerbated with brain fog and a “heavy head” and even what some might consider depression. Getting your thyroid hormone levels checked can be a bit tricky. If you don’t look hard for the problems, you might get a “normal” lab report even though there is a definite problem. If you think you have a thyroid problem make sure that you run a comprehensive thyroid blood test including:
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)
Total T4 (the main hormone created in the thyroid gland. Not very biologically active in the body)
Free T4 (the portion of T4 that is available for the body to convert to active thyroid hormone)
Total T3 (the amount of active hormone that is converted by the body into fro T4 hormone)
Free T3 (the amount of active hormone that is free to be used by the cells)
Reverse T3 (the amount of T4 hormone that is converted to another type of inactive hormone)
Thyroid antibodies (markers of autoimmune attack on the thyroid tissue. The majority of low thyroid cases in America are caused by autoimmune attack and are rarely diagnosed correctly for many years)
Another major cause of fatigue is anemia. Low levels of iron and/or B12 can cause the body to have a hard time transporting oxygen to your cells. When there isn’t enough oxygen to the cells, they cannot create energy in the mitochondria. Getting to the root of where this anemic state is coming from becomes a primary solution in these cases. Many times people get diagnosed with low iron or low B12 and then their doctor just puts them on replacement levels of these nutrients without investigating where the problem is coming from. Are they deficient in their diet? Do they have an absorption problem in their small intestine from some other GI problem? Do they have an increased loss of blood from a hidden bleed? Do they have heavy menstruation? We always want to try to find the root of the problem to treat it correctly.
I know it seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many times patients over look sleep challenges as a trigger of fatigue throughout the day. We’ve become accustomed to getting 5-6 hours of sleep per night and thinking that it is “normal”. Well, it isn’t. We are biologically wired for more sleep than that and most people require at least 7-8 hours per night. If there are reasons that are causing sleep difficulties, they need to be addressed so that we can restore that vital component of repair and rejuvenation. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a great morning and you’ve already addressed proper sleep hygiene (getting to bed on time, no screen time before bed, etc.) then you really should be evaluated for deeper issues like hormone imbalance and sleep apnea.
Last but not least, our sedentary lifestyles aren’t helping us create energy. In fact, when we are physically active through exercise we are creating a more efficient metabolic furnace to generate energy. Sure, when we are burned out because of anemia, thyroid problems or mitochondrial dysfunction, even thinking about exercise is enough to make us tired but when these issues are ruled out, beginning a sensible physical fitness program including a baseline movement strategy and supplementing that with high intensity interval training and weight lifting can actually create more energy.
How is your energy today?
We are meant to be able to make it through a very productive day with high, sustainable energy. When we are dragging around and not wanting to engage in life because of fatigue it is important to investigate why. If you or a loved one is dealing with fatigue, please don’t settle for it. Get help now so that you can get your life back on track.
If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, schedule a consultation and we can dive in to your specific situation, determine appropriate testing and get you on your road to health.