Not a day goes by in clinic where I do not have at least one person struggling with fatigue. Busy lifestyles, poor gut health, harmful bacteria and viruses, environmental toxins, high stress levels, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and poor food choices all play a role in decreased energy levels.
The link between the adrenals, stress and exhaustion
One common cause of chronic fatigue may be adrenal-related. The adrenal glands produce hormones which help regulate the immune system, stress response, reproductive hormones and metabolism. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include feeling tired despite having adequate sleep, craving salty and sugary foods and unexplained weight loss.
Adrenal fatigue is usually associated with high levels of stress and chronic infections. The adrenal glands respond to stress by releasing cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your heart rate and blood pressure as they prepare the body for a ‘fight or flight’ response to stress.
It is believed that exposure to long-term stress, like going through divorce, suffering from a serious illness, or the death of a family member leads to the adrenal glands getting burned out from the extended production of cortisol. This is when adrenal overload or fatigue sets in.
The usual treatment recommended for restoring healthy adrenal function includes a diet that is low in sugar, caffeine, and junk food. Supplementation of vitamins B5, B6, B12, vitamin C, and magnesium can assist in restoring adrenals. The effects of these and other nutrients on restoring energy naturally are further discussed below.
Supplements and practices for treating exhaustion
There are certain physical activities, nutrients and dietary practices that are known to help alleviate fatigue and exhaustion. They include the following:
- Magnesium: Magnesium plays a critical role in our health. About 60 per cent of the magnesium found in the human body found in bones. It is also present in the muscles, blood, soft tissues and other bodily fluids. It is essential for cellular functions and helps convert food into energy. It is also important for healthy genes, hormonal balance, muscle relaxation, nervous system support and many other health functions.
- Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant not only supports the adrenals but boosts the immune system, assists in pain tolerance and wards off fatigue. Research shows that people supplementing with vitamin C found their training to be 10 per cent easier. They also reported a reduction in overall fatigue by a whopping 55 per cent.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin is involved in the body’s energy production. One common symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is a lack of energy or fatigue. If levels are low as is common in vegetarian /vegan diets taking a B12 supplement can help improve energy levels.
- Vitamin B Complex: B complex vitamins include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pantothenic acid), biotin, B12 and folate (or folic acid).
- Vitamin D: It has been proven that vitamin D boosts energy at the cellular level. It is also essential for normal muscle functioning. You can increase your vitamin D levels by enjoying some sunshine and food such as fish, fish liver oils, fortified cereals and egg yolks.
- Fish oils: fish oils are known to reduce fat in the liver thereby aiding with efficient metabolism. They also offer numerous health benefits including fighting inflammation, improving cellular health, calming the nervous system and balancing hormones. N.B. Fish oils are one of the natural health supplements that can do more harm than good if not of good quality. Please ensure you only purchase fish oil supplements that are free from pesticides, radiation exposure, plastics, environmental toxins (dioxins and furans), heavy metals and oxidation markers
Dietary guidelines for improving energy
- Eat a wide variety of wholefoods avoiding any foods you are intolerant to or that produce unwanted symptoms e.g. brain fog, bloating, pain, sinus congestion, coughing or digestive upset.
- Combine healthy fats, protein and carbohydrate sources with every meal.
- Eat 5 cups of vegetables daily.
- If tolerated eat whole grains as compared to processed ones.
- Enjoy some (or all if you prefer) vegetarian meals and ensure you combine grains with legumes (beans) or legumes with seeds or nuts to form a complete protein.
- Ensure you consume enough calories for the kind of lifestyle you lead.
- Eat the best quality food you can afford. Remember you are what you eat!
Restore your energy by avoiding these foods
- Refined flour products: Simple carbohydrates like refined flour products (e.g. pasta, white rice, bread, pastry, baked goods) have little nutritional value. This is because they have been stripped of the bran and fibre thus stripping the b group vitamins. Nutritionists also say that regularly consuming white flour increases your risk of developing health conditions like fatty liver and raises the amount of bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. This in turn, can result in further health issues such as hypertension, mood swings, unhealthy weight gain and obesity.
- Honey, sugar, syrups, soft drinks: Just like refined flour products, sugary food sources (especially processed ones) have little to no nutritional value. What they do is cause energy spikes and crashes – leading to exhaustion. The also increase the risk of developing health complications like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
- Dried fruits, fruit juices: Just like fresh whole fruits, dried fruits and fresh fruit juices are loaded with vitamins and minerals. However, the sudden spike in sugar caused by eating these dried fruits or drinking fruit juices can lead you to a sugar crash afterwards or fatigue. Fruit is best eaten whole or with small amounts combined in smoothies or smoothie bowls for flavor.
- Coffee, tea, black tea, hot chocolate, alcohol & chocolates: Caffeine can disrupt sleep, thereby decreasing energy levels. It also increases the bodies production of stress hormones leading to overworked, tired adrenal glands.
Alcohol also has sleep-disrupting effects due to the strain it puts on the liver and detoxification pathways. Although alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy and lethargic it is not conducive to a full nights rest, it is likely to wake you up aaround 2am – 3am when your body goes into its second stage of detoxification. Moreover, excessive alcohol intake has serious consequences for the liver, and can contribute to metabolic disruptions.
- Foods you are addicted to or allergic or sensitive to: Food addictions such as sugar, salt and fat cravings lead to nutritional imbalances and can lead to health complications. Food allergies or sensitivities meanwhile can lead to nutritional deficiencies since the body cannot digest certain foods without producing an inflammatory response. Either way both conditions negatively impact food absorption and energy production in the body.
- Fruits for breakfast: Consuming too much fruit may lead to bloating primarily because of the sugar content and fibre. It can leave you feeling bloated, tired and exhausted all day.
- Rushed and hectic meals: Meals are meant to be enjoyed in peace. Rushed eating can lead to indigestion which, means the body is unable to process the food you ate. Nutrients are not absorbed and utilised as they should be. You may experience tiredness and fatigue after rushing through your meal instead of feeling satisfied and energised.
- Deep-frying and browning and using hydrogenated oils: Stay away from hydrogenated oils present in candy bars, margarine, cake mixes, and processed foods as well as coffee creamers. If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), you need to avoid them completely as hydrogenated oils are linked to inflammation just like sugar.
The best forms of exercise to improve energy
- Yoga: With the movements and various positions in yoga asana practice energy flow is stimulated. Blockages to energy flow are also reduced or removed. Aside from the energising benefits of yoga, it also helps with relaxation and stress management especially when done in combination with meditation.
- Toning: Exercises meant to tone the muscles, especially when done in combination with cardio workouts will not only help reduce stress levels but also increase energy and stamina and improve self-confidence.
- Stretching: Stretching helps improve circulation, which is why it is a requirement in certain intense cardio activities like running and bike riding. By stretching before engaging in exercise you not only get to do more with the energy supply you have, but it also increases physical endurance.
- Other low-impact exercises that do not overexert the adrenal glands: Walking, bike riding, planking, swimming, rowing and elliptical training are all excellent examples of low-impact exercises.
Other lifestyle improvements for better energy
Aside from exercise, dietary changes and avoiding food and substances that can negatively impact your energy levels there are other lifestyle changes or practices you can implement to restore energy naturally.
Ensure you get adequate sleep
It’s easy to understand that if you do not get sufficient, good quality sleep that you’ll be feeling down and tired the next day. Sleep is the period when the body repairs and detoxifies itself. It is also the time when memories are stored, and hormones are released to regulate metabolism and energy. The best kind of sleep is uninterrupted or restful so as not to experience fatigue the following day. Note that after a refreshing, invigorating sleep, you wake up cheerful, alert, and energised. People (such as international pilots and cabin crew) who do not enjoy the luxury of regular sleeping hours can also benefit from napping in between longer periods of sleep. Naps can help reduce tiredness and boost energy and alertness.
Try to establish a regular sleep schedule and practise sleep hygiene
If you have normal work hours try to avoid sleeping at the wrong time. Doing so can upset your body’s normal circadian rhythm and can lead to chronic fatigue and a reduction in energy levels. This means avoiding sleeping in the daytime when you can sleep to a normal schedule like 10 pm to 6 am. Where possible avoid pulling all-nighters or losing sleep at night because of work or socializing. Night sleep is still the best. However, if you are a shift worker, you can retrain your biological clock so you can sleep better. You should practise sleep hygiene as well by taking note of the following for your bedroom and sleep time:
- Temperature: It should neither be too hot nor too cold in your sleeping area.
- Darkness: The darker your room the more conducive it will be for sleep. If you work at night and find it hard to sleep during the day, install blackout curtains to keep the light out of your room.
- Quiet: Noise disrupts sleep, so the quieter your sleeping environment is, the better quality sleep you will enjoy.
- Comfortable bedding: It goes without saying that you need a comfortable, relaxing place to sleep. There should be sufficient space for you to lie down and stretch out.
- Reduce screen time closer to bedtime: As much as possible avoid using your smartphone in the bedroom. The blue light emissions (or any light), as well as the content of what you see on your device can have an impact on your sleep.
Manage your stress
Stress affects all aspects of our lives so how are you to increase energy and motivation if you are experiencing stress?
Aside from exercise, meditation, engaging in leisurely activities, and maintaining a healthy diet, there is something else to consider. Forming and keeping healthy relationships can help alleviate the pressure you feel with life, whether that pressure involves school, work, or personal problems. Try to establish a good support network with whom you can vent your feelings and get valuable insights and advice.
Take time to nurture yourself by watching your favourite movie, listening to music or reading a good book. Give yourself time to relax. Pamper yourself and practise self-care; get a massage, a manicure or see whatever kind of therapist that you connect with. Do your best to manage your time well so you needn’t rush through activities.
Here’s to a new energetic you!
Please feel confident you that improving your energy levels is not an impossible task.
By knowing what factors cause fatigue or exhaustion, you can avoid letting these things overtake your life. Most of the tips shared here are simple and easy to implement.
Of course, if you have implemented all of the above and your exhaustion is chronic, please reach out. There is an answer, you just haven’t found it yet! It is possible to feel energetic and well again.