F.atigue is one of the most common health complaints that many people experience. When the fatigue becomes chronic and is accompanied by other symptoms, this is when an individual may see their doctor to seek medical advice and treatment. Fatigue is the main or secondary reason for 10-20% of all consultations with a primary care physician.
When you are fatigued, simple tasks in life can feel difficult. Fatigue can manifest as a feeling of extreme tiredness, weakness, or a lack of energy. Some people may also experience brain fog, muscle aches, mood changes (such as irritability, anxiety or depression) along with their fatigue.
There are many reasons why someone may be experiencing fatigue. It is important to note that fatigue itself is not a specific disease but rather a symptom of an underlying issue. Physicians encounter patients complaining of fatigue for various reasons.
COMMON CAUSES OF FATIGUE:
1. LOW IRON AND FATIGUE
Being low in iron or having iron-deficiency anemia is one of the most common reasons why someone may be experiencing fatigue. Iron is needed for the transportation of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When iron levels are low, the ability to transport this oxygen is compromised, resulting in reduced oxygen delivery to the cells of the body.
Symptoms of low iron may include:
WHO IS AT RISK FOR IRON DEFICIENCY ANEMIA?
There are many different factors that may increase your risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. Following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet may increase your risk. Having heavy menstrual cycles with significant iron loss each month may increase the risk. Some women report a worsening of their fatigue and other symptoms of low iron during their menstrual cycle. Iron deficiency anemia is common during pregnancy, especially if the woman's iron stores are not adequate before conception. Having digestive problems such as IBS, SIBO or celiac disease may affect your ability to absorb iron.
WHAT TESTS ARE RECOMMENDED TO RULE OUR LOW IRON?
It's essential to recognize the risk factors and be vigilant about addressing iron deficiency anemia, as it can have significant health implications if left untreated. If you suspect you are at risk or are experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
At Vitalia Health Care in Vancouver, we recommend the following tests to evaluate for iron deficiency anemia:
* Complete Blood Count with differential: this blood test measures your Red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit
* Iron/ Total iron binding capacity: this blood test can tell if you have too much or too little iron in your blood.
* Ferritin: this blood test provides information on how much iron is stored in your body. In iron deficiency anemia, ferritin levels are low. It is important to note that Ferritin levels also rise when inflammation is present in the body. Therefore, we recommend testing all 3 analytes to get a more comprehensive look at iron levels in the blood.
2. CHRONIC STRESS AND FATIGUE
Chronic stress can lead to symptoms of fatigue. When your body is exposed to ongoing stress, it triggers a series of physiological responses that can lead to physical and mental fatigue.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol utilizes sugars and fats to do what it needs to do. Cortisol is released in response to stress and low blood sugar levels. It has effects on our whole body including our immune system as well as modulates inflammation.
You can read more about Cortisol HERE
Cortisol plays a crucial role in the body's stress response system which includes the Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic (PNS) nervous system.
Our SNS is our “flight or fight” system. It activates changes in our body that gets us ready to fight whatever is threatening us or run away from the stress. This is our GO, RUN, or FIGHT system.
The PNS is the opposite. This is our RELAX, REST, HEAL AND DIGEST part of our nervous system.
During times of stress (which also includes low blood sugar which is a stressor to the body) Cortisol is released. Cortisol blocks insulin to keep sugar in the bloodstream for quick energy. It increases blood pressure, improves focus with the main goal being to get away from the stress. Fighting a virus or digesting food is not a priority at this time.
In the short term, cortisol increases our ability to fight the stress. However, it also decreases digestion, sex hormone response and the immune system.
The problem starts when stress becomes chronic. Working long hours, taking care of the family, financial stressors, poor sleep, missing meals and over-exercising may all affect the adrenal response to stress.
Long term chronic stress may lead to chronic fatigue, blood sugar dysregulation, diabetes, weight gain (especially around the belly), immune suppression, digestive issues , cardiovascular concerns, sex hormone imbalances including low libido, fertility issues and PMS.
The adrenal glands job is to keep you safe, but chronic stress takes its toll. Read about Natural Ways to Manage Stress and Support Adrenal Function HERE.
HOW DO YOU TEST FOR ADRENAL DYSFUNCTION AND CORTISOL IMBALANCE?
Vitalia Health Care in Vancouver offers 2 diagnostic tests to assess the Adrenal system:
Dr Tasreen Alibhai, ND and Dr Elizabeth Miller ND at Vitalia Health Care in Vancouver are highly experienced in assessing for Adrenal dysfunction and developing treatment strategies to support your adrenal health.
We start with a comprehensive evaluation that includes a thorough medical history to identify symptoms and risk factors that may be related to adrenal dysfunction. These include symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, mood changes and levels of stress.
Hormone testing may be recommended to diagnose adrenal dysfunction. This may include blood tests, saliva cortisol testing or urine cortisol testing.
From this information, our Naturopathic Doctors will develop a comprehensive treatment plan individualized for your specific health needs. This may include stress management techniques, diet and nutrition suggestions, supplements or medications.
Follow up appointments will be discussed to monitor symptoms, monitor progress and make adjustments to the program as needed.
3. DIET AND FATIGUE
Another very common reason someone may experience fatigue is having low blood sugar. Low blood sugar is also known as hypoglycemia. Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary source of energy for your body's cells, including your brain. When blood sugar levels drop below normal, your body may struggle to maintain energy production, leading to symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, feeling faint and the classic “hangry” feeling.
Balancing your blood sugar is ESSENTIAL for feeling well overall. Aim for a diet high in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. For those who experience hypoglycemia, skipping breakfast or waiting for long periods of time between meals may not be a good idea. We recommend eating a good breakfast such as a smoothie with a clean protein source, a spoonful of healthy fat ( nut butter, seed butter, avocado), some greens, frozen berries and plant based milk.
If you are experiencing morning fatigue, try to incorporate a smoothie in the morning. At Vitalia Health Care in Vancouver, our Naturopathic Doctors suggest our patients try this for 2-3 weeks to see if it helps to improve their fatigue.
4. LOW THYROID AND FATIGUE
Low thyroid function, a condition known as hypothyroidism, is commonly associated with fatigue. The thyroid gland produces hormones, primarily thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which play a crucial role in regulating the body's metabolism. When thyroid hormone levels are insufficient due to hypothyroidism, various bodily functions slow down, leading to a range of symptoms, including fatigue.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LOW THYROID?
In addition to fatigue, low thyroid levels may also lead to the following symptoms:
Hypothyroidism can have various causes, including autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto's disease), iodine deficiency, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, radiation therapy, and certain medications. It can also occur without an obvious underlying cause.
HOW TO TEST FOR LOW THYROID:
The Naturopathic Doctors at Vitalia Health Care in Vancouver recommend comprehensive blood tests to assess thyroid function. These include:
Fatigue is a very common health complaint that can affect an individual’s quality of life. It is important to see your family Doctor or Naturopathic Physician to investigate the reason for your fatigue and treat it so that you may return to enjoying life with the energy to do the things you love to do!
Book an APPOINTMENT today with our Naturopathic Physicians, Dr Tasreen Alibhai ND or Dr Elizabeth Miller ND, if you are interested in investigating the reasons you are experiencing fatigue and would like to address the underlying causes with Naturopathic Medicine.