Concerns, causes, and solutions
Monique Hallee, BScHK, ND
Feeling more sluggish than usual? Whether you're a man or a woman, a hormone imbalance could be making you feel more tired than usual. Check out these natural strategies to get re-energized.
Let’s face it: life is busy. Some of us may need a little boost to survive the season, but if you’re feeling more tired than normal, it’s time to start paying closer attention to your health. Fatigue can sometimes be due to more serious health concerns. Learn how to fight fatigue naturally.
A lack of iron or certain vitamins can cause a deficient amount of red blood cell activity, resulting in anemia, whose primary symptom is fatigue. There are different types of anemia, but all result in less oxygen being delivered to the body’s cells.
For fatigue, testing ferritin (iron stores) can be just as valuable as testing for overt anemia. For women who menstruate and have ferritin values less than 50 mcg/L, iron supplementation has been shown to improve fatigue, even in absence of anemia.
While we all lose a bit of iron each day from our body’s natural processes, menstruating women are at higher risk, with a 130 lb (60 kg) woman losing an extra 2 mg of iron during a six-day menses.
Fatigue is a major symptom of hypothyroidism. The hormones of the thyroid gland, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), tend to be low with hypothyroidism. Despite this, testing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is typically the standard for diagnosis.
TSH is the hormone released from the brain, which allows the thyroid to function. Because each hormone can have a different balance, some doctors believe in testing all three markers to prevent misdiagnosis of thyroid issues.
Women who suffer from fatigue along with irregular menstrual cycles or fertility issues may benefit from further investigation. Hormones such as luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, and prolactin can be elevated in women with such concerns and can also suggest an increased likelihood of hypothyroidism.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), made in the adrenal glands, is a male hormone also present in females. It maintains a balance with the stress hormone cortisol, which is also made in the adrenal glands. The balance of the two hormones has an effect on our immune system. Supplementing with DHEA is known to improve fatigue and other symptoms.
Stress can have many different causes and effects on the body. Physical stresses (such as temperature) can promote lethargy, while mental stresses (such as those from work) can lead to loss of motivation and focus. The particular chemical messengers released from stress can influence many other bodily functions, including sugar metabolism, blood pressure, mood regulation, and inflammation in the body.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can produce fatigue, lethargy, or drowsiness along with other symptoms such as weakness, anxiety, and confusion. Hypoglycemia can affect anyone, but particularly those with conditions such as diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS can mimic diabetes by creating resistance to insulin. Unlike diabetes, fasting blood sugar levels can be normal in PCOS. Along with dysregulation in blood sugars, other key features of PCOS relate to hormone imbalance: irregular cycles, fertility problems, and excessive hair growth from high levels of male sex hormones.
If you already have an existing condition causing fatigue, such as diabetes, seek a trained professional to help you understand more about possible causes and the treatment options that best suit you. For those who simply need a boost in energy or mood, consider these lifestyle changes.
Minerals and vitamins are known to contribute to neurotransmitters and other features of healthy brain function. Aside from iron and B vitamins used to prevent anemia, vitamins A, C, and D have been shown to improve fatigue, along with various minerals.
Consuming a meal with a higher protein-to-carbohydrate ratio will satiate longer than a meal that has a lower ratio. Reaching for protein over plum pudding can be important for those who continuously snack to feel satiated, or those who experience sugar crashes.
We already know that hydration is critical for performance and survival. Dehydration can cause physical changes to the brain and cause it to work less efficiently, causing lower concentration levels, degraded mood, and fatigue.
Although it seems obvious, sleep can help counter fatigue more than you might think. Sleep balances blood sugars and controls stress hormones. Sugar and food cravings tend to increase after poor quality sleep, which could start a pattern of hypoglycemic episodes or weight gain, if the pattern is prolonged.
Herbs that fight fatigue are known as adaptogens, meaning they are capable of helping the body adapt to stressful conditions by improving attention and endurance. One example is Rhodiola rosea, which has been studied for its effects on the heart and hormones of the body, among other things.
Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) is another herb commonly studied because of its many medicinal uses. It has been reviewed for use in cases of chronic fatigue and stress and has shown positive results.
Many health food stores will carry products designed to improve fatigue. For those who are not already aware of which formula(s) work for them, it is best to seek the advice of a naturopathic doctor or other professional. They can help warn you of any side effects or interactions. A health care practitioner can also determine if the cause of your fatigue needs more critical care.
Try adopting these researched strategies for sleep to see if you’re more rested in the mornings.