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The Reasons You're Feeling Fatigued

Have you been having trouble getting through the day? Do you feel so exhausted it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning? If so, you’re not alone.


A new study found that nearly 3 out of 5 American adults report feeling more fatigued than ever. However, not all fatigue is the same. Fatigue can be caused by a number of lifestyle factors, physical health conditions, and mental health conditions.


In this blog, we’ll break down some of the most common causes of fatigue and what you can do to mitigate them.


What is fatigue?


Fatigue is more than just being tired, it’s an overall feeling of lack of energy that can be mental, physical, or both. Fatigue also lasts longer than feelings of tiredness and can’t easily be relieved by a quick nap or a few extra hours of sleep at night.


When you’re fatigued, you’re not just drowsy or sleepy, rather, you have no drive or motivation to do anything. Fatigue is considered to be chronic when lasting for over 6 months. Chronic fatigue can also cause a lasting impact on your psychological and emotional well-being.


Fatigue is often accompanied by a number of other symptoms, such as:

  • Trouble concentrating or focusing

  • Brain fog

  • Muscle pain or weakness

  • Irritability, nervousness, or anxiety

  • Very low energy and motivation

  • Depression

  • Loss of enjoyment throughout life

Other signs of fatigue include:

  • Tired legs

  • Discomfort or uneasiness

  • Sleepiness

  • Tired eyes

  • Impatience

  • Whole-body tiredness

  • Stiff shoulders

  • Boredom

  • Lack of motivation

Fatigue can be caused by a number of different factors. They can be divided into three general categories:

  1. Lifestyle factors

  2. Physical health conditions

  3. Mental health issues

Lifestyle factors:


Many people’s fatigue can be traced back to one or more lifestyle habits or routines- especially a lack of exercise. Being fatigued from too little exercise may seem counter-intuitive. But actually, working out regularly can help you feel more energized throughout the day. Regular physical fitness will help to strengthen your cardiovascular system, which will allow oxygen and nutrients to more quickly reach your tissues.


Luckily, it doesn't take drastic changes in physical fitness to help mitigate your fatigue. One study found that sedentary adults who introduced 20 minutes of exercise three times a week into their routine reported feeling less fatigued and more energized in only six weeks.


However, lack of exercise isn't the only reason you're feeling fatigued. Here are some other lifestyle factors that can leave you feeling fatigued:

  • Obesity or being overweight

  • Grief

  • Taking medications like antidepressants or sedatives

  • Consuming too much caffeine

  • Unhealthy eating habits

  • Lack of physical activity or too much physical activity

  • Lack of sleep

  • Periods of emotional stress

  • Abusing alcohol or illicit drugs

Physical health conditions:


Thyroid imbalances:


Thyroid imbalances are very commonly associated with fatigue, and for a good reason! The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces hormones that control how your body uses energy. The thyroid controls your metabolism, which, as we know, is how your body turns food into energy and impacts nearly every function in your body.


Unfortunately, it’s not very difficult for your thyroid to get thrown out of whack and become imbalanced. When your body produces too little thyroid, a condition called hypothyroidism, your body struggles to produce enough energy to fuel you throughout the day and your metabolism slows down. Hypothyroidism is a very common cause of fatigue.


Beyond fatigue, there are several other symptoms commonly associated with hypothyroidism, these include:

  • Exhaustion

  • Sensitive to the cold

  • Weight gain

  • Depression

  • Memory problems

  • Stiffness, swelling, and pain in your:

    • Tongue

    • Eye region

    • Face

    • Muscles

    • Joints

  • Brittle nails

  • Coarse hair

Luckily, there are some ways to help balance your thyroid without resorting to supplementing with thyroid pills. These lifestyle changes include:

  • Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol

  • Exercise regularly

  • Practice mindfulness and other relaxation-promoting activities

  • Promote your gut health by:

    • Avoiding inflammatory foods

    • Eating foods rich in antioxidants

    • Increase fiber in your diet

    • Avoid non-nutritive sweeteners

  • Limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors:

    • Avoid canned foods

    • Prioritize organic foods

    • Limit your plastic use

    • Avoid non-organic cleaning supplies

Neurotransmitter imbalances:


The hormone and neurotransmitter dopamine can be the cause of your fatigue. Dopamine is used to communicate chemical messages within your brain and the rest of your body. It plays a vital role in many bodily functions, including motivation, learning, memory, and movement.


Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for dopamine to become imbalanced within your brain. Factors that can cause a dopamine deficiency include:

  • Medication like antipsychotics

  • Excessive stress

  • Underlying medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease

  • Obesity

  • Substance abuse

  • Poor diet

Dopamine is also very commonly associated with depression, and while a deficiency in dopamine cannot directly cause depression, it can cause symptoms typically associated with depression- like fatigue. Low levels of dopamine are often responsible for reduced motivation, low energy, hopelessness, helplessness, and decreased excitement for life. Other symptoms of low dopamine include:

  • Weight fluctuations

  • Reduced sex drive

  • Low moods

  • Sleep disorders

  • GI problems and constipation

  • Chronic back pain

  • Difficulty swallowing

One way to help mitigate your dopamine imbalance is by eating foods that contain tyrosine, the precursor to dopamine. This will help to promote dopamine production within your body. Tyrosine is commonly found in many different types of high-protein foods:

  • Fish

  • Chicken

  • Beef

  • Pork

  • Eggs

Nutritional Deficiencies:


Nutritional deficiencies can leave you feeling tired, even with proper sleep and rest. Deficiencies in the following nutrients have been linked to fatigue:

  • Folate (vitamin B9)

  • Vitamin B12

  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)

  • Niacin (vitamin B3)

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

  • Iron

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin C

  • Magnesium

Deficiencies in all of these nutrients are very common. 25% of the world’s population has low iron. 20% of Americans over the age of 60 are deficient in B12. Over 50% of the world’s population has low vitamin D.


When your body is nutrient deficient, your body starts to break down fat and muscle to meet energy demands. This will lead to the loss of body fat and muscle mass- which will trigger fatigue. Further, nutrient deficiencies will prevent your body from running at full capacity and cause fatigue and loss of energy.


Moreover, diets high in ultra-processed foods will further impair energy levels. One study found that excessive sugar and processed grain consumption resulted in 38% higher scores for fatigue symptoms when compared to those who ate a healthy diet. Another study found that diets filled with sugars and refined grains are linked to conditions like fatigue and insomnia.


The best way to know if you’re deficient in one of the nutrients above is by getting your levels tested.


Mitochondrial dysfunction:


In middle school, we learn the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. The mitochondria are actually responsible for making over 90% of the body’s energy in the form of ATP. The process of creating ATP is very complex and involves five multi-subunit enzymes or complexes. Each process requires different chemical and nutritional components to function properly. If one ingredient is deficient or missing, the entire process will be disrupted.


Thus, unsurprisingly, it can be very easy for your mitochondria to be thrown out of whack. Some common factors behind mitochondrial dysfunction include:

  • Certain pharmaceutical drugs

  • Environmental factors like heavy metals and toxins

  • Genetic factors

  • Aging

  • Chronic COVID-19

When your mitochondria are damaged or not working properly, they will struggle to produce enough energy to keep your body going throughout the day. Thus, the most common sign of mitochondrial damage is fatigue. This fatigue will last for more than 6 months and be unaffected by sleep or dietary changes.


Some other symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction include:

  • Lack of endurance

  • Swallowing difficulties

  • Poor balance

  • Digestive problems

  • Muscle pain and weakness

  • Diminishing motor control

  • Visual/hearing problems

  • Seizures

Luckily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help reverse mitochondrial damage, these include:

  • Calorie restriction promotes the growth of new mitochondria

  • Take supplements like spermidine and molecular hydrogen to support mitochondrial health

  • Exercise

  • Eat foods high in antioxidants

  • Limit your exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides

Mental health issues:


Chronic stress:


Imagine holding your arm out straight, grasping a rope. In the beginning, it feels easy- you could keep this up all day. But the longer your arm remains straight and gripping the rope, the harder the task becomes. Sooner or later, your arm will tire and your grasp on the rope will weaken. As you continue to hold on, the task will become more and more uncomfortable. Eventually, the physical act of grasping the rope will become too much and you’ll have to let go.


As it goes with stress. Temporary stress can be hard but bearable. But as you face stress every day, it will begin to take a toll on your body. You won’t be sleeping as well, your digestive system won’t work as well, you’ll get random headaches, and you’ll likely become fatigued. Fatigue is a very common symptom of chronic stress.


Other symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Brain fog

  • Changes in appetite

  • Emotional withdrawal

  • Insomnia

  • Low energy

  • Aches and pains

Chronic stress can actually cause structural and functional changes in your brain, leading to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to symptoms like fatigue. Chronic stress will also impact your metabolism and thyroid hormones- which we know can lead to feelings of fatigue.


Chronic stress can also cause a number of other damaging effects on the body, including:

  • Damage to blood vessels and arteries

  • Long-term heightened blood pressure

  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke

  • Build-up of fat

  • Increased appetite

  • Insomnia

  • GI issues

  • Weakened immune system

  • Weight gain

Some ways to help mitigate chronic stress in your life include:

  • Do regular physical activity

  • Call your friends and family more often for social support

  • Try meditation and breathing exercises

  • Use visualization and imagery


Chronic fatigue is a condition that can wreak havoc throughout your life. But the good news is- there are ways to mitigate it! The best way to know the true root of your fatigue is through comprehensive testing.


At the Johnson Center, we will undergo a thorough examination of your thyroid, adrenals, and mitochondria to find the cause of your fatigue. For more information on finding freedom from your fatigue, click here to contact us. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at thejohnsoncenter@gmail.com or call 276-235-3205.


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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