There are many reasons why we may feel drained of energy. Unfortunately, fatigue often is categorized 'unimportant' when compared to other symptoms.
The standard testing run at an annual check-up is usually little help since this testing is to determine if you are in imminent danger.
When it comes to symptoms, while some are more life-threatening than others - they are all important. Symptoms are your body 'telling' you something in the form of pain, fever, rash or fatigue - these symptoms can be indicators of how well your body is functioning.
Fatigue can be due to your body fighting off a 'hidden' virus - sometimes for years. It can also be adrenal fatigue, nutritional deficiency, mitochondrial fatigue, circadian rhythm dysfunction, or food sensitivities, just to name a few.
The list below is not a complete one and keep in mind - your situation is unique. There are hundreds of potential causes of fatigue, a full functional medicine evaluation can assess the factors below and personalize treatment just for you.
Adrenal fatigue usually happens after periods of physical or psychological stress. Just think of an argument you've had with someone - your pulse quickens, your heart races and the feelings of anger are almost as palpable to you as when you were in the argument.
Your body makes no distinction between physical, psychological or emotional stress - the same chemicals are released.
Your adrenal glands are responsible for releasing adrenaline and cortisol. During times of stress, the demand for those chemicals increases in proportion to the experienced stress. This stress can be physical, psychological, mental, or biochemical in nature.
When the body and mind experiences stress for long periods of time, the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal system cannot keep up with the production of these stress-adapting chemicals.
When this happens, you have adrenal 'fatigue'. This is a problem for both the brain (hypothalamus/pituitary gland) and the adrenal glands (organs that produce and secrete adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and aldosterone).
Adrenal fatigue can feel as though your body has lost the ability to recharge and recover. Activities that were enjoyable and easy for you before can exhaust you when you are in adrenal fatigue.
Key Signs of
Light Sensitivity / Photosensitivity
If the sun or indoor lighting seems uncomfortably bright you may be suffering from photosensitivity which can be caused by adrenal fatigue.
Excessive Thirst / Electrolyte Imbalance
If you are always thirsty but never seem to be able to quench your thirst - adrenal glands not only make adrenaline and noradrenaline - they also produce hormones that govern our electrolytes which regulates fluid balance in the body
Chronic Low Blood Sugar/ Hypoglycemia
Your body should be able to handle a skipped meal once in a while but if your adrenal function is compromised you will not have enough adrenaline released to liberate stored energy, causing your blood sugar to plummet - making you feel awful (shaky, angry, nauseous, dizzy)
Often, we cannot change our external stressors but we do have control over two factors that make all the difference
Our Mindset - how we perceive life, situations, and those around us
Our Internal Biochemistry - through personalized lifestyle changes and nutrient support we can reduce the stress on our body which will strengthen our mental and emotional health.
Adrenal fatigue can last weeks, months or years. To effectively treat it, your adrenal gland function and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis must be supported through dietary interventions, correcting nutritional deficiencies and by personalizing a treatment plan that will allow your body to recover from adrenal fatigue.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are very common, yet are seldom adequately screened for. Just taking supplements that promise to reduce fatigue will usually not produce any results.
That is because there are many different forms of individual vitamins that are each absorbed differently and used for different purposes. The ones you take should be of the highest quality and suited to your specific needs based on testing.
By performing a thorough functional medicine evaluation we can assess your levels of nutrients and how well your body is utilizing these key vitamins.
Generally, patients with fatigue are forced to operate beyond normal capacity - this creates a biochemical strain on their system which can lead drain their body of important vitamins and minerals.
While not a hard and fast rule, these nutrients are most commonly linked to fatigue and where I find deficiencies in my own patients.
supports the immune system, decreases inflammation, decreases musculoskeletal pain, supports bone health, supports dopamine and serotonin function in the brain which is vital for mental health.
potent antiviral and antibacterial, key for endocrine health, supports the immune system, important for digestive function, needed for protein synthesis and digestive repair, protects against environmental toxins
vital for metabolism (conversion of carbohydrates for fuel), important for the function of the adrenal glands
Our mitochondria are the engines of our cells, they produce energy. If they become injured or are unable to do their job, your energy levels suffer.
Mitochondrial damage and dysfunction can be the result of long-term use of
Low-grade inflammation from an underlying infection or injury
Excess sugar intake
Chemical toxicity from cookware, cosmetics, car exhaust, pesticides in food, BPA in food containers
heavy metal toxicity from silver fillings, copper pipes, aluminum in deodorant, arsenic in rice
The body can repair these 'engines' (mitochondria) but often the onslaught of multiple stressors is so persistent that the body is unable to repair your mitochondria fast enough - which then produces the symptom of fatigue.
The highest number of mitochondria is found in our muscle tissue and nervous system. If these organelles are not fully functional you will not have optimal muscle endurance, power, or strength - you will feel tired and weaker than you once were.
Moderate to severe mitochondrial fatigue can affect cognition, memory, and make you feel like you are in a fog all of the time. It may feel that you spend twice the amount of mental energy to only get half the mental power.
The heart has a lot of mitochondria to ensure your heart constantly pumps, heart failure is literally a failure of the mitochondria within the heart. Heart failure is a severe form of mitochondrial damage.
This is why the same targeted interventions for mitochondrial fatigue for those who are chronically tired will also greatly benefit those with heart failure.
Chronic Viral Load
'Hidden' viral infections can be affecting your body for a long period of time (weeks, months or years) without causing overt signs of infection like a fever or a runny nose.
These infections are caused by viruses like the Cytomegalovirus or the Epstein Barr Virus, they first go after your 'battery' reserve - your metabolic functions, like burning food for fuel and your adrenaline stores.
Then these viruses cause nervous system fatigue, which can be the deepest and most persistent types of chronic fatigue.
Often fatigue due to chronic viral load does not respond well to anything that supports adrenal function (like B vitamins and herbal adaptogens).
In this case, we would need to need to repair the immune system and then systematically target the viral load.
Can Functional Medicine Help Fatigue?
Functional medicine is uniquely suited to help chronic or 'unexplained' fatigue. Functional medicine utilizes genetic data, the latest diagnostic testing, nutritional medicines, and lifestyle interventions to target symptoms and optimize your health.
My new patient appointments are at least one hour long. This is so the patient can have time to thoroughly go into their own health history, family history, lab results, health goals, and questions.
Through personalized treatment, you don't have to waste months or years in trial and error periods using supplements or diets that never seem to do anything. Finding the cause of your fatigue is the key to getting you feeling better and able to enjoy your life.
You can read more about functional medicine here.