October 24, 2022

A deeper look at fatigue and how to enhance your energy

By Dr. Melika Azari, HBSc ND
A deeper look at fatigue and how to enhance your energy

For a lot of people, fatigue is one of the most common complaints they have, and, in fact, it is the top complaint that patients have when they come to see me. 

Fatigue can be debilitating and affect everything from your mood to your ability to function at work. In this article, I'll discuss what fatigue is, what causes it and some evidence-based tips to get your energy back for good.

First of all, what is fatigue?

Fatigue is a general sense of tiredness. It can be caused by many things, including stress, depression, poor diet or lack of exercise. Fatigue can also be caused by an underlying medical condition. Some symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Tiredness that lasts for more than 24 hours
  • Feeling tired even after you've had enough sleep
  • Sleeping more than usual and waking up feeling unrefreshed

It's important to know that fatigue isn't normal and it could be a sign from your body that there's something off.

Now let's talk about YOUR fatigue

If you're feeling tired all the time, there are a few questions you can ask yourself because the solution for getting rid of your fatigue will depend on why you're tired in the first place. Here are some questions to think about:

Are you getting good and refreshing sleep each night? This is usually the first question I ask my patients because sleep is not only so important to our overall health but it is directly tied to fatigue, too. About one in three Canadians experience some sort of sleep disorder. That’s almost as many people that live in Ontario!

Most people either have trouble falling or staying asleep and a few unlucky ones have both. If you're unsure about how you're sleeping, there have never been more tech wearables than ever before to check in on how much deep sleep you're getting. The good news is that a few small tweaks can improve both the length and quality of your sleep.

Many of my patients find relief from a combination of magnesium, acupuncture, and botanical herbs to improve their sleep.

Are you burnt out from a period of physical or mental stress? If you're feeling burnt out and exhausted, there are a few things you can try. First off, it's important to know the difference between being stressed and being burned out. Stress is an acute response that helps us cope with daily life, but it shouldn't last more than a few days at most. While we can't control the events in our lives, we can find ways to address those stressful times in healthier ways. Talking to a counselor can certainly help during acutely stressful times, as can taking a class of herbs called adaptogens. These incredible herbs can help to regulate your nervous system and help your body adapt to stress.

Using herbs like rhodiola, schizandra, or ashwagandha can be helpful for people who are stressed or feeling burnt out because these herbs can help reduce physical and mental fatigue and provide an energy "lift" without stimulants like caffeine.

Are you eating enough nutrient-dense foods? The food you eat can either cause fatigue or give you energy. I generally recommend eating a source of protein with every meal, and focusing on filling your plate (or bowl) with plenty of colourful veggies. That can go a long way to stabilizing your blood sugar which can also stabilize energy levels. I find that when we really dig into the root cause of their fatigue, a good percentage of my patients do have food sensitivities that are directly contributing to their fatigue levels. Can you imagine eating a food every single day that you are sensitive to and you don't even realize?

One way to figure out whether food sensitivities may be at play for you would be to do an elimination diet, which is a process of removing certain foods for a period of time (about 6 weeks), and then reintroducing them one by one to see how you feel. If you notice that you feel better when certain foods are gone, then it's likely they were contributing to your fatigue levels. However, a food-sensitivity blood panel is a much quicker way to know which foods could be dragging your energy down.

Could it be an underlying medical condition? Yes. Physical illnesses such as anemia (a shortage of red blood cells), thyroid problems (an overactive or underactive thyroid gland), depression/anxiety disorders, among other conditions, could be to blame. If you're not sure, we can do a blood panel to check for underlying conditions that could be contributing to your fatigue, and guide your treatment from there.

Can supplements help? You bet. But here's the catch: it depends on what you're using them to accomplish. When you're exhausted and feeling crappy, it's tempting to throw your money at products that claim to increase energy. If you're not taking the right supplements to address why you're feeling fatigued in the first place, you'll just be covering up your symptoms. The best approach is a personalized one that addresses the root cause of your fatigue--with recommendations that are made just for you.

Lastly, don't give up—you can beat your fatigue and feel great again!