Are you constantly tired? Wake up feeling like you need another 8-hours sleep? Or just find you lack stamina? A few changes in your eating and lifestyle habits could make a big difference.
Causes of fatigue
Put simply, fatigue is a case of the demands on the body exceeding its ability to provide energy. This can happen for many reasons, such as:
Lack of essential nutrients needed for the biochemical processes in the body that produce energy, this could be due to lack of nutrients in your diet or the inability to absorb them from your food properly.
Inflammation causing the immune system to work hard (your immune system uses energy and so steals the energy you need for day to day activities). Inflammation might be due to infection, trauma, allergies, food sensitivities, indeed almost any disease process.
Stress: keeping the body ready for “fight or flight” requires energy and is tiring, as is an over-active brain. If stressed is prolonged, the stress hormones can interfere with the functioning of the main energy regulation system: the thyroid.
Lack of restorative sleep. If our bodies are not getting the rest they need they will be using more energy and contributing to fatigue.
Insufficient physical exercise: “use it or lose it” they say…if you don’t maintain your muscles, when you do need them you will quickly become exhausted.
Exposure to chemicals that requires the liver to work hard to break down and remove these “toxins” (here toxins refers to any chemical that can be harmful to the body such as alcohol, plastics, pesticides, heavy metals, moulds, medications, even excess hormones and other chemicals produced by the body itself). Or exposure to toxins that interfere with the way the body creates energy.
How the body makes energy
We all know that the source of our body’s energy is the food that we eat, but how does this actually happen? Every cell in our body contains hundreds of tiny energy generators, called mitochondria. Fat, carbohydrate and protein from food is transformed during digestion and later in the liver to chemicals that the mitochondria can transform via multiple chemical steps into the chemical ATP, the ‘fuel’ that is used to drive all of the body’s cell (and therefore the body’s functions). This process needs a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as oxygen to make it work. And there are several places where toxins can prevent this process from running smoothly. As energy is produced, a by-product is so-called “oxidants”. These chemicals can be very damaging to the body and can interfere with future energy production. The body makes “anti-oxidants” to counteract their effect.
What you can do
1. Remove energy depleters: avoid things that add unnecessarily to the energy demands of the body: drink clean water, reduce stress, choose your personal care, household and gardening products with care.
While sugar and refined carbohydrates are often thought of as a way of boosting energy, in fact, overall sugar reduces energy and can interfere with mitochondrial function.
Go easy on the caffeine: often when energy levels are flagging, we rely on tea and coffee to give us a boost. This energy rush is caused by the release of stress hormones which give a short-lived stimulant effect but is followed by an energy slump. Reliance on stimulants to ‘keep going’ can become a habit, it’s much better to provide the body with the nutrients it needs to produce a steady supply of energy.
When thinking about what depletes your energy levels consider the importance of your social interactions: are they encouraging or sapping your energy?
2. Focus on foods that provide the essential nutrients needed to run the mitochondrial powerhouses:
Magnesium, found in green leafy vegetables, brown rice, nuts and oatmeal, is used to release energy from ATP. Low magnesium is linked directly to fatigue.
B vitamins. The full spectrum of B vitamins are needed for our energy producing processes. Find them in meats, fish, nuts, beans and pulses, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Co-enzyme Q10 plays an essential part in the energy production process in the mitochondria. It also functions as an antioxidant, protecting the mitochondria from damage. Found in fish, organ meats and whole grains.
Iron is needed for transport of oxygen around the body and the production of energy within the cells. Foods rich in iron include: meat (especially liver), seafood, eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, pulses, dried fruit and pumpkin seeds.
Zinc, found in seafood, meat, leafy greens and seeds, chromium, found in whole grains and leafy greens and vitamin C, found in fresh fruits and vegetables, are all vital for good blood sugar control, which directly affects our energy levels.
Selenium in brazil nuts, cashews, onion, garlic and chicken, and iodine, found in fish, seafood and seaweeds, are essential for thyroid health, which also directly affects energy levels.
3. Eat foods that encourage normal immune function such as oily fish, olive oil and other fats in their natural state; avoid foods that encourage inflammation. One of the biggest contributors to inflammation is sugar and refined carbohydrates. If you have food sensitivities, you will need to avoid these foods. Working with a nutrition professional to identify these foods and to work out how to exclude them safely is a must.
4. Eating a wide variety of different coloured vegetables every day provides antioxidants that can help the body protect against the damaging oxidants
5. Support your body’s ability to remove toxins by drinking plenty of pure water, eating plenty of vegetables and fibre to encourage good elimination and not forgetting that sweating can also help eliminate toxins: you can stimulate sweat via saunas, steam rooms or exercise.
6. Exercise but don’t over-do it. Muscles contain large numbers of mitochondria to produce the energy needed to move our bodies. Lack of exercise can cause the number of mitochondria to decrease. One kind of exercise is particularly good at encouraging an increase in numbers of mitochondria: high intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of exercise takes very little time to do and can be adjusted to fit your capabilities. At a minimum, try to move every hour and, if at all possible, get outdoors.
7. Look after your gut health! Without good digestion you will not be able to absorb the nutrients that are needed to ensure your cellular engines are working optimally. And poor gut health adds to inflammation and stress, further sapping your energy.
8. Rule out medical causes of fatigue: if you are suffering from constant fatigue be sure to get your doctor to check for any medical causes.
– Caroline Rees PHD, Fold Nutritional Therapist