Fatigue is a very common concern that patients come to see me for in my practice. A lot of the time, patients have had a standard workup done with their medical doctor, but were told everything came back as “normal”.
You may find yourself in the same situation. You know you could feel better, but you don’t know what you can do about it. So, you keep dragging yourself from one day to the next with just barely enough energy to get through the day. Chances are, you CAN get better, and a naturopathic doctor can help you figure out what needs to change.
We all feel tired once in a while. If you’re wondering if your level of energy is normal or not, here are some signs that things could be better:
Of course, there are some basic lifestyle factors that can lead to fatigue. These are things that you would easily be able to identify yourself, like lack of sleep, a diet of highly processed food, or lack of exercise (which you may not be able to bring yourself to do if you are feeling very run down). What I’ll share with you today are the top 7 causes that I take into account when assessing a patient with longstanding fatigue. Keep in mind that there are many other causes. If these show up as optimal for you, then I’ll keep digging to find the cause of your fatigue.
#1 – Iron Deficiency OR Iron Overload
Most women who have regular menstrual cycles have sub-optimal iron levels. Furthermore, those who eat vegan or vegetarian diets are at greater risk of an iron deficiency. Even if you are not anemic (where iron levels drop to a minimum), you can still feel low in energy if your storage level of iron (ferretin) is sub-optimal. I generally aim for ferretin to be in the 60-80 range for women. Note that you could be in the “normal” levels with levels of ferretin as low as 10, but obviously you wouldn’t be feeling your best!
Before you go ahead and start supplementing with iron, do get your ferretin levels checked. It is possible to take too much iron, which can cause all kinds of problems long-term. Some people feel unwell because their body stores too much iron, a condition called hemochromatosis. I’ve seen this issue more commonly in men than in women, but it can happen in either.
#2 – Vitamin Deficiencies, Especially VitB12 And VitD
A Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common in vegans and vegetarians, so if you are eating little to no animal protein, you are probably deficient. However, even if you do eat meat regularly, it is possible to be B12 deficient. This can be due to problems assimilating the B12 from your diet due to issues such as malabsorption, food sensitivities, or low stomach acid. As well, if you are prone to depression or anxiety, you may need higher levels of B12.
Vitamin D deficiency is also very common here in Canada. It is very rare for me to measure a patient’s blood levels and find them in the optimal range if they are not supplementing with at least a minimal amount of Vitamin D. Adequate Vitamin D not only helps with energy, but it also helps with hormone balance, immune system support, skin health, and cancer prevention. Most people need prescription levels (i.e. >1000 IU per day) of Vitamin D at least temporarily, and getting your blood levels measured helps to individualize that prescription for you.
#3 – Blood Sugar Imbalances
If you crave carbs or sugary snacks and need that cookie to get your energy back up, a blood sugar imbalance might be behind your fatigue. Sugary foods can bring your energy levels up, but only temporarily. This is soon followed by a crash in energy, which will have you reaching for another quick source of energy. Having more balanced meals with plenty of protein and vegetables can help you keep your energy more even throughout the day. You can test this out by seeing how you feel after pasta dish compared to how you feel after a hearty chicken salad.
#4 – Sub-Optimal Thyroid Function
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the metabolism slows down, and people generally feel more fatigue. If you’ve been diagnosed with this, you know how it feels. However, even if your doctor measured your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and it was within the normal range, it could be functioning sub-optimally. If you suspect this might be a problem, see my post about the thyroid here.
#5 – Food Sensitivities
Reactions to food can have local effects (such as digestive symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation), but they can also lead to systemic effects, such as brain fog and fatigue. Many patients notice more energy once they go on a detox or elimination diet that removes the most common food sensitivities at once. You can find out if food sensitivities are playing a role in your fatigue either through an elimination diet, or through IgG food sensitivity testing.
#6 - Adrenal Fatigue
If you’ve been under chronic stress for a while, chances are you have adrenal fatigue. Your adrenal glands are little glands that sit on top of your kidneys and help you deal with stress. For short-term stress, they produce adrenaline, but for longer-term stress, cortisol is the prevalent hormone. Your cortisol levels vary throughout the day, so the best way to measure the health of your adrenal glands is through a 4-point salivary adrenal test (taken at 4 times during the day). We typically also test for other hormones in females when running this test, as being chronically stressed can wreak havoc on your other hormones.
#7 - Depression
This one doesn’t have a lab test to rule it out, but careful questioning can help your doctor assess if depression might be causing your fatigue. In this case, the fatigue can be mental/emotional, and you may not feel motivated to do things that used to be enjoyable for you. There are questionnaires, such as the Beck Depression Inventory, that can help us see where you stand. If you do have symptoms of depression, a naturopathic doctor can also see if some of the above factors could be contributing to you feeling depressed.
These are just some of the most common causes of fatigue I have seen in practice. As you can see, finding and treating the cause of your fatigue is key – only then will you be able to see lasting improvement in your day to day energy!
Do you want to wake up in the morning with a spring in your step and energy to last throughout the day? If yes, then I invite you to start your journey towards thriving with me!
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Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.