The following article was written by Elin Ritchie, M.D., a medical doctor trained in Canada at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. She graduated from medical school in 1992, and from a family practice residency program in 1994. She is a Board Certified member of the American College of Family Practice (ACFP). Dr. Ritchie currently practices integrative medicine in Taos, New Mexico.
Topics addressed in this article on what causes fatigue include:
- One food additive that causes fatigue and diabetes
- Three simple blood tests that help diagnose fatigue causes
- Three medications that cause fatigue and memory loss that your doctor might not tell you about but continue to prescribe
- How supplements support the immune system and decrease fatigue
- How to treat early depression with natural supplements
- How to increase the quality of your life and have the zest of a teenager!
- One vitamin without which estrogen, testosterone and all other hormones do not function
Fatigue Cause #1 Poor Sleep Hygiene
It is really too simple to believe but disturbances of sleep are a very common cause of chronic fatigue. Many experts say that an adult requires 7-8 hrs of sleep a night to be properly rested but I beg to differ. How many times have you slept hours and hours, maybe 9 or 10 hours and felt tired the next day? Often a person can do this for several months and still feel tired. It is really the Quality of sleep that determines whether you feel rested or not.
When you first fall asleep there is a deep sleep cycle that lasts maybe 45 minutes, subsequent to that you have several cycles of lighter REM sleep with dreams and shorter cycles of deep sleep. It is only during the deep sleep that body repair and more importantly, true rest is happening. We know this because experiments show that when REM sleep is interrupted in certain conditions like depression, the patients actually get better. They are no longer tormented by their dreams and their worries and they feel more rested.
Sleep hygiene consists of getting ready for sleep properly. One must release the concerns of the day in order to get truly restful sleep. A shower or bath, stretching or gentle movement exercise, mental review of the day along with proper use of supplements when needed will improve sleep.
Sleep is considerably worse when Alcohol has been used. Alcohol disrupts the deep sleep cycle and creates true exhaustion which can lead to illness and chronic fatigue. Even one drink in someone sensitive can deplete the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Unfortunately many medications prescribed for sleep also cause disruption of sleep cycles. Ambien, Xanax, Valium and Temazepam are all examples of Benzodiazepines that worsen sleep cycles. They are also addictive and cause memory loss and sometimes even a rare form of severe permanent memory loss in which a person loses all their long term memory. I have a patient who cannot remember his wedding, children’s significant events or even his professional life due to severe permanent memory loss from Temazepam. Even Benadryl can cause long term permanent memory loss and fatigue.
On the other hand, proper use of such supplements as Melatonin, valerian root, L-tyrosine or L-Phenylalanine can re-set the brain and give assistance to the sleep cycle.
Sleep apnea is a cause of sleep disorder that can be treated quite simply. If you snore a lot or stop breathing for a time at night, or if you wake up with panic attacks regularly, get checked for sleep apnea by your doctor. This is a life threatening and treatable disorder of fatigue!
Fatigue Cause #2: Diabetes or Glucose Intolerance
Diabetes is increasing in the US to epidemic proportions. Children are developing “Adult Onset Diabetes” as young as age 5. Obesity is in direct relation to the incidence of Diabetes. Diabetes and Obesity cause Fatigue and other health issues including severe illness, kidney failure, heart failure and early death.
The clincher is that 90% of Diabetes is curable by diet alone! We are literally killing ourselves with our food choices and with our repeated choice of TV over exercise. The real culprit is our inability to cut the sugar out of our diets.
There is one food ingredient that is 10 times worse than sugar though. High Fructose Corn Syrup. If you’ve read my articles before you already know this is my pet peeve for the 21st century! This is a food additive that is a sweetener that literally causes diabetes. It interrupts the body’s natural balance of insulin and sugar and the blood sugar levels skyrocket. On the other hand, try finding food that doesn’t contain this chemical. It’s in ketchup, applesauce, cereal, canned fruit, fruit juice etc etc.
Foods that do not contain High Fructose Corn Syrup are eggs, vegetables, meats (but check the prepared meats) and real cheese (processed probably has it too). Good Luck!
If you think you suffer from high sugar levels, have your doctor test your Hemoglobin A1C. This will reflect your average blood sugar over 3 months and is accurate in diagnosing early diabetes. Then chose a healthier diet and exercise plan and TURN BACK the CLOCK by losing weight and bringing down your blood sugars.
Fatigue Cause #3: Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid is a sure cause of fatigue. If you do not produce enough thyroid hormone, as many people do not, you will have low body temperature, weight gain, fatigue and low blood pressure. I have patients who have lived several years not knowing they have low thyroid.
The doctor can check a TSH level which accurately determines if the thyroid is working well. After pregnancy, illness or stressful life situation you may experience temporary decline in thyroid function. Try adding Iodine and other thyroid balancing herbs to bring up your natural production. Alternatively, the medication, Synthroid, is inexpensive and very effective with few side effects. Though the doctor will say you have to be on this for life, I have found many individuals can take it for a short time, say 6mo or 1yr, then once the stress is passed they are fine without it. If you continue to test the TSH to make sure it goes to the normal range, you are sure that you can do without medication or supplements.
Fatigue Cause #4: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
These elusive causes of fatigue are the most difficult I have had to diagnose or treat. They also are the cause of some of the most debilitating fatigue I have ever treated. Occasionally patients see me who have gone from high-energy go-getters to bed-ridden pain-ridden individuals. Very difficult socially as well since many family members and friends think these poor individuals are faking it or making it up in their heads. Wow.
The usual tests of blood sugar, thyroid and blood count levels fail to reveal causes that we understand. The patients themselves can report what makes them worse, what helps and what level of activity puts them into a severe episode of barely being able to do their normal self care activities without help.
Tests of Epstein Barr Virus may reveal an infection that hasn’t resolved. Other neurological tests show deficits that are hard to explain.
While there are many remedies that have been successful for various individuals, I have all my chronic fatigue patients take Del-Immune immune system boosters at moderate doses. This does two things, it seems to resolve some of the fatigue in and of itself. It also reduces the frequency of colds and flus that worsen the fatigue and really add insult to injury. By supporting the Immune system the patients are better able to fight fatigue.
Fatigue Cause: #5 Hormone Imbalance
There are many otherwise healthy individuals in their 40’s to 70’s who would have greater level of energy if their hormones were working properly. Whether these are women or men, the sex hormones are very important to their wellbeing and energy levels, not to mention their sex life. Hormone levels are easy to test and easy to supplement with herbal supports or with the natural hormones themselves.
Testosterone supplementation in men is pretty successful in rejuvenating their bodily balance of muscle to fat ratio and improving overall function. Whether in lozenges, creams or injection, they do revitalize the body. I do use the prescription drug, Proscar, to lessen the stress on the prostate and risk of prostate cancer if hormone replacement is not done accurately.
There is one vitamin however, without which no hormone works properly: Vitamin D. This forgotten vitamin is a co-factor in the function of every hormone in the body including Thyroid. Get your vitamin D level checked and take a supplement if you need to.
Fatigue Cause #6: Depression
Depression. A loss of Zest for Life! Severe hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest in normally satisfying activities and even suicidal thinking are symptoms of this pervasive disease in our society. Alcohol and other drugs are often used to self-medicate and immediately worsen the problem both chemically in the brain and socially due to the inappropriate behavior that results.
I’m a firm believer of the use of anti-depressants if necessary to get a person feeling better and on the right track. Before that though, St. Johns Wort, L-Tyrosine L-Phenylalanine and other natural supplements can pull a person back from the brink of severe depression. Obviously strict abstinence of alcohol, prescribed benzodiazepines (valium, Xanax, Ambien) and narcotic containing compounds is required to even come close to recovering from depression.
Don’t get me started on Marijuana in this regard. Marijuana whether street or prescription variety ages the individual, worsens apathy and depression and makes many other health issues difficult to treat. Sad but true.
Oh Ya, don’t forget light box therapy as a way to treat depression. Very effective in the more overcast climes!
Fatigue Cause #7: Loss of Direction in Life
This may be strange to bring up in a medical article, but really, if you’re not happy with where you are and what you’re doing, the natural forces that keep your body alive retreat.
Think about what you love to do; who you love to be with; what you want to accomplish in life; and do more of that. Too simple and too difficult at the same time.
Two books which may help in this regard are Robert Fritz Your Life as Art and The Element by Ken Robinson. Both are instruction manuals for turning around your life to a Joy-Filled Life-Fulfilling experience. Give life a chance and it will express itself through you with Creativity and Discovery.