Five Root Causes of Chronic Fatigue
Are you tired all the time? Does the tiredness just crush you to your very soul? Does it keep growing stronger day by day? Does it take all your resolve to get through the day? Are there days when you just cannot drag yourself out of bed? While it might be normal to feel fatigue with the onset of a virus, if you struggle with chronic fatigue that is constant, consistent and chronic, then it’s time to dig deeper and get to the roots. If you stay bogged down by fatigue, the quality of your life can suffer, and the entire day can be just trying to manage mundane tasks, with no energy or passion to get beyond what is absolutely necessary.
First of all, what is fatigue? Your mitochondria are the space within every cell of your body, where the energy from microscopic particles of food are converted into a form that your cells can utilise to grow and gather energy. Think of the mitochondria within your cells as the source of your energy. Every cell has thousands of mitochondria. Mitochondrial function can be the deciding factor of how your energy is. While there might be other root causes, think of mitochondrial function as the essential area to address when you want to get over chronic fatigue.
Five Root Causes of Chronic Fatigue:
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Oxidative Stress
- Poor Iron Status
- Low Thyroid
- Adrenal Dysfunction
Many of these root causes can overlap and influence each other, as you’ll see when you read more. The reason that I have included mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress side by side, is that they are two parts of one subject. I have gone into detail for both, so as to give you the most information possible.
The mitochondria are very sensitive. When they convert microscopic food into energy, they produce ATP, which is what provides you energy. Mitochondria are deeply impacted by food, and food that is damaging, is damaging to your mitochondria as well. The mitochondria can make ATP through glucose, ketones and fatty acids. Your mitochondria regulate practically every function including synthesis of molecules, organ and system regulation, cell signalling, DNA synthesis and muscle contraction. Therefore, ignoring chronic fatigue is not a safe option. Fatigue is the signal that your mitochondria need help.
You might be wondering what damages your mitochondria? Why are you feeling as fatigue as you are? Well, in the simplest terms, your mitochondria can be damaged by toxin exposure from petrol fumes, heavy metals like lead and mercury, pesticides from non organic food, chemicals from hair colours, pthalates from shampoos, BPA from plastics and much more. They can also be affected by cerebral folate deficiency, which is a condition where there are poor levels of folate in the central nervous system.
You might also be facing other symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction such as frequent headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms and slow cognition. There could be more complex aspects of mitochondrial health, but even if you were to start by cleaning up your exposure to toxins and addressing deficiencies, it would be a great place to start.
To restore mitochondrial function, reduce toxin exposure and eat a diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates rather than starches and simple sugars. Going higher in fats may be potentially helpful, but it can be challenging to begin with a diet like a ketogenic diet when you have mitochondrial challenges. Your cells might need carbohydrates until your mitochondria have reached a point where they can end chronic fatigue, rather than speed up aging. Also remember ample hydration, which is critical to mitochondrial health, cellular function and energy.
If your mitochondria are in a state of dysfunction, then your cells age rapidly and you feel fatigue. When they are not working well, the reason that you feel tired so much, is oxidative stress. The mitochondria are the main source of free radicals. Oxidative stress occurs during the metabolic process of converting food to energy within your cells, when the byproducts or waste created, which are free radicals, are very high. When there are inadequate antioxidants to combat this free radical damage, there is oxidative stress. To some extent, oxidative stress is supportive as it helps you kill pathogens and old cells, as well as create new cells. In excessive amounts, it can cause ageing. High levels of oxidative stress slow down systems. Your cells are stressed. This causes you to age. It is also what makes you look old and feel old. If you think that it’s just age catching up, think again. It might not be. Your mitochondria need glutathione, a master antioxidant, to neutralise free radicals and combat oxidative stress. Glutathione is not produced within your mitochondria. It requires healthy liver function.
To combat oxidative stress and improve mitochondrial function, you need to find a way to mop up those free radicals. Food is a powerful way for you to do that. When you think of oxidative stress, think of fighting it with high antioxidants from colourful plant foods. The more quality, quantity, colour and variety of fruits and vegetables that you bring into your daily diet, the sooner your mitochondria will respond positively and combat fatigue for you. You can get a lot of information on colourful foods in my Phytonutrient Power E-Book which can be downloaded for free here.
3)Poor Iron Status:
Iron is a component of the molecule haemoglobin, found in red blood cells, and is responsible for carrying oxygen around the whole body. It is vital to energy production, and blood cells low in haemoglobin due to iron deficiency can make you feel exhausted! Since Iron plays the vital role of carrying oxygen throughout your body, it is a critical mineral. It transports oxygen from the lungs to tissues, and the return of carbondioxide from the tissues back to your lungs. Without iron, energy production is severely impaired, and chronic fatigue and exhaustion can occur. Iron is a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and therefore deficiency can impact mood and cognition. Iron status can be poor due to multiple factors. One reason is that your diet just does not contain enough iron rich foods, and this can be possible if you are a vegetarian or vegan. It does not mean that you cannot get adequate iron, but that it is far easier to get deficient in this case. Another reason is inadequate levels of stomach acid or the use of antacids, which affect breakdown, absorption and utilisation of iron from the foods you eat. This can be a reason that you are deficient in iron even while eating red meat. Looking at haemoglobin alone will not be an adequate indication. Seeing that you have optimal ferritin levels can be a better way to keep this in check.
Making sure that you are getting enough iron through foods is the first step. The next step is to improve absorption by improving stomach acid levels. You can get iron from leafy greens, moringa, pomegranate, dates, tofu, tempeh, legumes, rajma, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp, flax, cashew nuts, kale, cabbage, mushrooms, prunes, olives, mulberries, quinoa, coconut milk, amaranth, gluten free oats, dark chocolate, thyme, blackstrap molasses, red meat, organ meats, clams and fish. You can improve stomach acid by drinking lemon water with your meals. You can get more details on these vitamins and minerals and their food sources here as a downloadable e-book.
Low thyroid is another major reason for chronic fatigue. Sluggish thyroid and thyroid hormone deficiency can make you feel fatigued and sluggish even after excessive sleep. The drop in metabolism caused by low thyroid hormones actually make your body feel dull, sluggish and tired. Hypothyroid could also be a factor impacting slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep or stage 3 sleep, is what makes you feel refreshed after deep sleep. Without having this stage of deep sleep, no amount of sleep can be healing and taking afternoon naps may even make it worse. Thyroid and sleep have a deep connection, each impacting the other.
Multiple nutrients are required for optimal thyroid health, and restrictive diets and diets low in diverse nutrients can be a reason for poor thyroid health. These include iron, iodine, selenium, zinc, tyrosine, vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, C, D and E. Zinc is found in Pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, sunflower seeds, seafood, oysters, liver, turkey, crab, herring, organ meats, mushrooms, soybeans, eggs, rice, sesame seeds and legumes. Selenium is found in Butter, Brazil nuts, tuna, herring, oysters, salmon, clams, chicken liver, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, wheat, sesame seeds, meat, organ meats, seafood, beef and mushrooms. Iodine is found in Seafood, seaweed, sea salt, spinach, mushroom, potato, asparagus, kelp and sea plants, but be cautious with seaweed if you have autoimmune thyroid. Tyrosine is found in meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry, egg whites, yogurt, tofu (non GMO), pumpkin seeds and avocados. Vitamin A is found in Egg yolks, Liver, whole milk, spinach, carrots, yellow or dark green coloured vegetables, cod liver oil, fermented cod liver oil, mint, turnip greens, orange fruits and vegetables, squash, mangoes, dandelion, kale, tuna and mackerel.
The first thing to supporting your thyroid recovery is to understand that there is no perfect diet. If someone has told you to eat only two hourly or only eat vegan or paleo, it probably will not work for you. You truly are unique and you will require understanding the depth of your body to find what works for you.
Check your iron levels. Iron is required in many areas of thyroid production, and iron deficiency can mimic many symptoms of thyroid dysfunction such as low energy, weakness, cold hands, inflammation and irritability.
The adrenal glands are small glands that sit on top of your kidneys. It has an outer layer called the cortex and an inner layer called the medulla. The cortex produces cortisol, aldosterone and androgens. The medulla produces norepinephrine , epinephrine and dopamine.
Cortisol is required to maintain normal blood vessel tone, maintain normal blood sugar levels, combats stress and illness, impacts appetite and energy, and even calms down your immune system in inflammation or allergies. Aldosterone maintains fluid balance or sodium potassium regulation. Elevated cortisol is not something to be taken lightly. . It can impact so many areas of your body. It can increase inflammation overall, it impacts circadian rhythm which means sleep is messed up. It can impact the lining in your gut. It can impact your brain in many ways. So before you look at protocols, you definitely have to make a conscious effort to handle stress. If you are someone who is constantly finding all the things wrong in your life or your body and never celebrates the good things, however small they are, just stop. Stress kills and this is real.
I think when you have adrenal fluctuations or exhaustion due to excessive stress, unnatural circadian rhythms and over pushing your body, you can move between feeling wired and tired with that high adrenaline, and feeling exhausted in spite of rest. Multiple factors can cause these, anything from excessive stress, excessive dieting with low calorie diets, skipping meals or even intermittent fasting in a body where cortisol is fluctuating, over exercising and practices like daily 108 sun salutations, and lack of sleep. All of these are huge! Cortisol is also deeply connected to blood sugar and so many people have severely imbalance blood sugar. Electronic gadgets and social media is another major cause of adrenal fluctuations. If you are reaching home late and staying up posting on social media beyond 10 p.m, then you’ve missed the Cortisol curve. You need to be in bed before cortisol starts to naturally spike in the middle of the night. This is very important. When people say that they are light sleepers, my antenna goes up. There is no such thing as a light sleeper, only fluctuating blood sugar and elevated cortisol.
To address adrenal issues, begin with eating meals that balance your blood sugar and which are not high in excessive sugars and starches. Reduce overworking your adrenals with overtraining and excessive exercise. Get back in sync with the earth’s biorhythm. Get to bed when it is dark and wake up as the sun starts to come up.
Recovering from Chronic Fatigue
In order to heal yourself from chronic fatigue, spend a few moments making some notes for yourself from this article. Try to honestly jot down insights of possible root causes. Look at all the root causes. Try to address them one by one. Be patient. It takes time. But, understanding the right place to begin is critical, and I have left you with the tools to support that. Let me know if you transformed yourself with the information here! I would love to know!