We all get phases of feeling tired but there is a big difference between occasional tiredness and the incapacitating effects of true fatigue. However, before chronic fatigue syndrome is diagnosed a number of easily fixable health issues can be addressed. Some will need you to work with your doctor while others will simply involve a few basic lifestyle changes.
If you or one of your family is suffering from fatigue work your way through our 10-point check list, you may discover one or more pointers that could make all the difference to your health and boost your natural energy levels again.
- Your sleeping, but are you?: If you feel that you are getting enough sleep but are still feeling fatigued and can’t fathom it may be worth considering a condition known as sleep apnoea. This problem causes interrupted breathing during sleep and as a result disturbs your sleep but does not necessarily to a point where you wake up. Because you body and brain need a certain amount of sleep to feel refreshed any disturbance of this delicate balance can result in unexplained fatigue if its not picked up on. In the UK, sleep apnoea affects 4 in 100 middle aged men and around 2 in 100 middle aged women with around 60% of the over 60’s experiencing the problem. One of the quick fixes for sleep apnoea is simply loosing weight especially is you carry fat around your neck.
- Could you be anaemic? If you are a women and having regular periods, the monthly blood loss can add up, especially If you are not obtaining enough dietary iron to help replace the losses. A low level of circulating red blood cells can cause profound fatigue because adequate oxygen levels will not reach the tissues of the body. There can be many causes for anaemia so its worth getting a blood test but you can easily top up your iron levels by eating iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, liver and shellfish. In general, vegetarian iron is not as easy to absorb but is available in beans, bran flakes, Tofu, figs, kale and lentils. If you feel you can’t get your iron up through diet alone supplements can help.
- One coffee too many? Many of us will reach for a mug of coffee to help fight off fatigue because we all know that coffee can boost alertness. However, the positive effects of this pick-me-up are seen in moderate intake levels but the effects tend to diminish the more we drink. In fact, with higher levels of intake coffee simply causes agitation, raised heart rate and blood pressure and, ironically, fatigue! If you are hitting the coffee more that you feel you should, start cutting back slowly to avoid withdrawals and headaches. Also be aware of the caffeine content of soft drinks. Dropping your coffee intake can actually boost energy!
- Check your sugars. It’s not uncommon for diabetes to become an issue the older we get. Type-2 diabetes can creep up on us in a rather stealthy manner and present itself with unexplained fatigue in the early stages. If the dietary sugars stay in the blood and don’t get into the cells we suffer from fatigue. Glucose is a key nutrient needed by the cells to generate energy. Having it circulating in the blood but not getting into the cells causes an energy crisis with fatigue as a prime symptom. A family history may point to Type-2 diabetes but a simple blood test is all that is needed to diagnose it. Adopting a whole food diet and avoiding the cakes and sweeties is a must. Cinnamon or fenugreek supplements can help regulate sugar metabolism and are worth considering.
- The wrong or not enough of the right foods. Skipping meals or not eating enough will contribute to an energy crisis within the body. Even at rest, our bodies burn food to keep the metabolic fires burning in each and every cell. Not enough food makes us feel fatigued and can adversely affect our ability to function physically and emotionally. Equally as bad is existing on junk food which tends to be sugar high and nutrient low. Getting your sugar fix will play havoc with your blood chemistry that further contributes to fatigue. Try and eat regularly and make sure that your complex (unrefined) carbohydrates and proteins are at the centre of your meals; poached eggs on whole meal toast is a great start to the day!
- The hormone connection. Sitting in the front of our neck is a special gland that is at the heart of regulating our metabolic rate. Known as the thyroid gland, it produces the hormone thyroxin, which, in turn, keeps our metabolic rate on the right tracks. If this gland starts to fail the hormone level drops and our overall metabolic rate shows and we can experience severe fatigue. Getting a blood test will confirm what type of thyroid problem you may have but in some cases very early cases can be overlooked. Borderline low thyroid function may be an issue in those with medically unexplained fatigue. To help determine if this is the case a simple body temperature test can help. Despite being quite controversial the Barns Temperature test may uncover a sub-clinical low thyroid condition.
- Check your water works. When we are ill we tend to want to go to bed and sleep it off. To a lesser degree, a background non-acute infection can cause unexplained fatigue. Bladder infections may be a cause of fatigue especially if the infection is not at an acute level but grumbling away as a chronic infection. Testing a sample of urine is easy and can help detect these infections. While antibiotics may be needed by some, using a slow release cranberry and d-mannose supplement can help keep the bladder clear.
- Feeling low? While feeling low can be thought of as an emotional issue depression does affect the body on a physical level. Those suffering from depression will commonly complain of fatigue as a key feature of the problem. Because of the complex nature of depression, other factors such as poor appetite and sleep disturbance all add up and compound the feelings of fatigue and tiredness. For those with mild to moderate depression a course of St Johns wort may help lift the mood but care is needed if you are taking other medications. In general, you should seek professional support of you feel depression could be an issue.
- Dehydrated? You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to take control of your fluid intake. Your body just sitting at a desk, at a PC or driving a car required adequate hydration for optimal health and performance. Drinking coffee in addition to the comments in point 3, also stimulated the need to have a wee. Coffee is a strong diuretic. However, sipping bottled water is the way to maintain adequate hydration. Even mild dehydration can be associated with fatigue. You can check your hydration level by looking at the colour of your urine; it should be light in colour. Dark urine can be a sign of dehydration and an indication that you need to drink more water.
- Are you a shift worker? We all have an internal body clock that tells us when it’s time for bed. Forcing this system to adjust to shift work can cause the body to become confused regarding the sleep-wake cycle so you have trouble sleeping during the day while you find it difficult to concentrate and function when you should really be sleeping. Although we can manage for a while, prolonged exposure to this can be a cause of fatigue. To help ease the effects of shift work try to limit your exposure to daylight after a night shift and make your bedroom as dark and as quiet as possible.
Dr Jacob Teitelbaum MD., expert on chronic fatigue syndrome
Health supplements recommended by Dr Teitelbaum