Are you tired?
One of the most common complaints we see as naturopaths is that people are tired.
And when I say tired, I don’t mean some of the time. I mean ALL. THE. TIME. That relentless fatigue that doesn’t seem to go away regardless of what you do.
Now, I’m here to help you get to the bottom of it. To up your energy levels and get you bouncing out of bed in the morning. Sound impossible? It’s not.
We just have to get to the root cause of what’s going on in your body that may be causing this fatigue. The four most common causes of fatigue I see in practice are:
Adrenal fatigue – a chronic fatigue-like state brought on by chronic stress.
Gut issues – if you ever get bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhoea, or any other digestive complaint, you’ll want to check this section out.
Under-active thyroid – very common among women, and definitely under-diagnosed.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia – way more common than you think, easily diagnosed but sometimes not so easily fixed.
Read more on each of these below, find out if they might be the underlying cause for your fatigue, and ways you can overcome them.
Maybe you’re stuck in an overwhelmingly stressful job working 70 hours a week. Or you’re trying to be the perfect mum, juggling family, home and work life. Any situation which causes constant, unrelenting stress, in the long term, can cause adrenal fatigue. Another common term for this is “burn out”.
What is adrenal fatigue?
When I use the term “adrenal fatigue”, I am actually referring to HPA axis dysfunction. Let me explain.
The stress response is mainly controlled by the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. This is essentially the communication between your brain and the glands in your body that release your stress hormones, called the adrenal glands.
When you are stressed, the HPA axis is activated, leading to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, noradrenaline, and adrenaline. These supply you with energy and heighten your awareness, to allow you to face danger, fight or run away quickly.
However, all of the modern stressors we are exposed to on a daily basis, like traffic jams, our pissed off boss, that tight deadline, worrying about the kids – also activate the HPA axis.
Then what happens?
Over time, constant chronic activation of our stress–response system leads to depletion and loss of resilience, causing dysfunction of our stress response (ie HPA axis dysfunction).
These changes can be to:
– Cortisol output, either too much, or too little. This can cause a range of issues, including significant fatigue.
– Disruption of the cortisol rhythm, such as too little cortisol in the morning, making it so difficult to drag yourself out of bed (do you snooze 8 times before you get up?). Or too much at night, giving you that burst of energy at 10pm, causing insomnia.
I will note that the HPA axis affects nearly every organ and system of the body, including the gut, brain, thyroid, metabolism, and male and female reproductive system. However, discussions of these effects are beyond the scope of this article.
You can do something about it
This condition can be diagnosed based on your symptom picture, along with adrenal hormone testing that I offer in my clinic. I also have a quiz you can take to see if you might have adrenal fatigue, take the quiz now.
In terms of treatment recommendations for this condition, plenty of sleep, rest, and avoiding stress wherever possible is top of the list. Often those that have this condition might find that they have been driving themselves into the ground for years, and it’s time for a complete lifestyle overhaul.
However, I understand that it’s not realistic to expect people to sleep for 3 months straight, we all have to get on with our lives. And this is where naturopathic treatment comes in; herbal medicine is such an effective and safe way to treat this condition, I’ve seen it work wonders with my clients. Licorice is a particularly useful and well-researched herb, as it helps your body’s cortisol production come back into balance.
But you must always consult a qualified practitioner before taking any herbal medicine, as each person is different and there may be a reason certain herbs aren’t right for you.
Do you think you may have adrenal fatigue? I have a quiz for you!
If you think adrenal fatigue could be an issue for you, I have developed a short quiz with a list of 25 questions that indicate whether adrenal fatigue could be an issue for you. Take the quiz now.
There are many health issues that affect the gut, and they can lead to significant fatigue if left untreated. And these gut issues often DO go untreated for years, as they can be tricky to diagnose and symptoms may not seem so obvious at first.
Parasites, imbalance of the good and bad bacteria (dysbiosis), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease (IBD, including crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), food intolerances, food chemical intolerance (histamine, salicylates, etc), are all conditions I have seen in clinic that can cause significant fatigue, and even foggy thinking, depression and anxiety.
How do I know if this an issue for me?
Make sure to pay attention to symptoms like bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, changes in stool colour, frequency or consistency and reactions to food that you didn’t used to have. And as I mentioned above, even depression, anxiety and brain fog can by symptoms of underlying gut issues.
And if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, it’s recommended you do further testing to rule out all the issues listed above, as often these underlying causes aren’t picked up with routine screening.
Interestingly, a study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) found that supplementation with glutamine, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and zinc (all gut healing and anti-inflammatory), as well as a gut healing diet, improved energy significantly, and in some people led to full remission from CFS.
If you know me, you know I am all about gut health. Healing the gut, reducing inflammation, and rebalancing the microbiome are an integral part of health. And could be the missing link when it comes to your fatigue.
If you think that any of the conditions above may be an issue for you, I recommend you see your health care professional to conduct further testing.
An under-active thyroid (called hypothyroid) is another very common cause of fatigue, particularly in women. In fact, hypothyroidism is the most prevalent hormone deficiency.
If you have an undiagnosed thyroid condition, you may find you’ve slowly (or quicky!) started to gain weight, or you’re cold all the time, maybe your periods have changed, your constipated, depressed and forgetful.
Basically, when your thyroid is under-active, everything in the body slows down.
Hypothyroidism has many possible causes, it may be from an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto’s disease or other), recent pregnancy, iodine deficiency, high goitrogen food intake (soy and cruciferous veg like broccoli) or coeliac disease.
How to know if you have thyroid issues
Routine screening of the thyroid by your GP (testing TSH only) is often not enough to pick up a thyroid condition until it has significantly progressed, and you may have been suffering from symptoms for years before you are diagnosed.
That is why, for my patients that have all the indicative symptoms, I recommend a full thyroid panel (TSH, t3, t4, reverse t3 and thyroid antibodies).
However, as thyroid issues can be so complex, a full consultation with a health professional such as a naturopath is needed, as we cannot truly treat thyroid issues without finding the cause.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Last but not least, iron deficiency is one of the top causes of fatigue, especially among women. This must be ruled out first before exploring the options above, as if it is the case it may be a simple fix.
Testing for iron deficiency is a simple blood test that I recommend to all my patients.
However, if you can’t seem to get your iron up no matter what you do, there are certain chronic health issues and digestive diseases that can be an underlying cause of iron deficiency. A naturopathic consultation can help you get to the bottom of this.
I’ll finish up by saying
Being significantly tired all the time isn’t normal.
And you don’t have to live that way, you deserve more. As I’ve said, it’s always best to see your health professional if any of the above resonates with you. Don’t try to self-diagnose as it’s very easy to get it wrong.
All of the conditions I’ve talked about here are areas of special interest for me. I can help you understand what’s happening with your body and treat the underlying cause of your fatigue to get you back to the best version of you again.
Disclaimer: The information provided by Victoria Heath is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional before making any changes to your current regime.