Combating Chronic Fatigue

If you don’t feel your best energy-wise from time-to-time you are in good company.  Everyone experiences occasional symptoms of fatigue, and this may be associated with poor sleep, stress, seasonal depression, and many other things.  When stress becomes prolonged, after meeting the demands of the body to function at this high level, the system eventually wears down and is in need of restoration.  Stress can come from a variety of things including a demanding job, family and dependants, health problems, or the death of a loved one.  More often than not, a multitude of low level chronic stresses accumulate and tip the balance resulting in a health crisis or the body shutting down, with chronic fatigue resulting.

Chronic fatigue can also be associated with conditions such as anemia, infection, autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, or adrenal insufficiency.  These conditions should be considered and ruled out if they are suspected.  However the more common finding is a general state of malaise, for which one of the most common recommendations from a physician is an antidepressant.  ‘”But I’m not depressed” you might protest, and in return some of the general symptoms of depression such as low energy, altered sleep patterns, and loss of enthusiasm for the things you once enjoyed are rattled back to you.  And for some people, mild depression may be an issue, but is this the cause of the fatigue?

There are a variety of things that may be going that may not trigger the attention of a physician.  Even though blood panels may not show blatant anemia, lower than optimal ferritin (iron) levels may contribute to fatigue.  This problem is common in menstruating women.  Thyroid panels performed by most physicians do not include measurement of the more active thyroid hormone known as T3, as well as other additional markers of thyroid function which may shed light upon issues of fatigue.  Finally, cortisol levels and the range throughout the day (as well as other related hormones such as DHEA) are important to assess when evaluating a condition of fatigue as they directly reflect the function of the adrenal gland, our body’s primary responder to stress.

If you experience chronic fatigue and the possibility of infection or other significant disease has been ruled out, there are some things that you can try to support your body to have improved energy levels.  B complex vitamins are one place to start, ideally with forms of folate and B12 known as methylenetetrahydrofolate (MTHF) and methylcobalamin as these are more available for the body to use.  As B12 is sometimes poorly absorbed, supplements which include intrinsic factor (necessary for B12 absorption) are also recommended.  Vitamin C is an antioxidant which supports adrenal function, and in conjunction with B complex is a good base of adrenal food.  Nutritional supplementation to support thyroid function may also be helpful.  Adequate iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and an amino acid known as tyrosine are all necessary for healthy thyroid function.  Some of these things, particularly selenium, are often deficient in dietary intake and supplementation may be useful.

Herbs known as adaptogens support the body to adapt and function under stress.  Some examples are ginseng, holy basil, licorice, maca, ashwagandha, and rhodiola.  Each of these herbs have slightly different actions on the body, and also have additional systemic effects such as improving libido, cognition, lowering blood sugar, or increasing blood pressure.  Some are contraindicated with drugs such as antidepressants or blood pressure medications so consulting with a naturopathic doctor, an herbalist, or another reliable source of information is suggested prior to use.  These herbs can be found in teas, tinctures, or capsule forms, and if you are uncertain of how it will affect you a lower doses such as a tea is the best place to start. 

There are a wide variety of alternative and complementary medicine practitioners who may be able to help restore health from a state of chronic fatigue.  Naturopathic doctors are trained in primary care management, and in states other than Wisconsin actually are primary care physicians.  Because of that, these individuals are best suited to rule out possible causes of fatigue, and can support you with natural means to restore the body to health!