Eric Bakker N.D.March 30, 2022

Feeling tired from time to time is normal, but many people today suffer with regular fatigue levels ranging from mild to incapacitating.

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Tired All The Time?

Every day in my naturopathic practice, at least half of all clients say that they suffer with fatigue. I commonly hear people mention they are tired, and make statements like: “I’m so tired, and I push myself to keep ongoing.”, “I get so tired in the afternoon.” Or: “I feel completely drained. Even when I wake up in the morning, I wish I could stay in bed until lunch.” “I can’t move until I’ve had my coffee in the morning.” Comments such as these are much more commonplace than they were even ten years ago, with many women now having to work full or part-time jobs alongside their partners, as well as having to run the household and tend to their children. It is no wonder that so many people complain about fatigue. Studies show at least 50% of adults who seek medical treatment, self diagnose themselves as being afflicted with fatigue.


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One major thing I’ve learned over the years from seeing many patients is that they all want and need more energy, and by that I mean real energy and vitality, to enjoy their lives to the full. Have you noticed that on the days you feel most tired, how down and out you can feel? Ongoing fatigue can have a terrible effect on many systems of your body.

If you were to examine your lifestyle right now; you may well recognise some of these three types of fatigue I mention below. They are: physiological fatigue, pathological fatigue and psychological fatigue. I have not found a person yet who does not suffer from the ravages of stress, and we can attribute the root cause to one or a combination of these fatigue categories:

1. Physiological Fatigue

Can be from sports, exercise or after a hard day’s work or tramping.Your muscles must have ample levels of glycogen, glucose and oxygen. These fuels “power up” your body and enable it to carry out any tasks you wish to carry out. However, waste materials which are the necessary by-products of energy production, such as lactic acid, sarcolactic acid and carbon dioxide gradually build up in your bloodstream. These toxic metabolites are so powerful that if the blood of a tired animal was injected into an energetic animal, that animal too would quickly succumb to fatigue. Maybe you expect too much from yourself, and you are just plain doing too much, not giving your body the rest and recuperation it so badly needs! Many people go to bed at 11.00pm or later, and only sleep until 6.00 or 7.00 am. Some stay up all night.

Are you sleeping enough?

A study done at the University of Chicago found that people who were living at the beginning of the twentieth century benefited from an average of nine hours of sleep. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it has become apparent that we get just around seven hours each night on average. Perhaps many of us actually suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation.
I recommend taking additionally on what you are already doing 1000mg calcium and an additional 500mg of magnesium and 500mg potassium each day for sleeping problems.

Many women lack calcium as it is, and under stress, almost everybody will have a magnesium deficiency to some extent. Interesting studies done in America years ago revealed that when the urine was checked of many species of animals, including humans, under stress, magnesium wasting was apparent at levels under the severity and duration of the stress. Potassium deficiency has become much more apparent in recent years, with many people opting for a more processed diet, lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. And an American researcher, Dr. Palma Formica, studied over 100 patients who were complaining of ongoing tiredness. She recommended they supplement their diets only with additional potassium, magnesium and calcium supplements and found that many felt quite rejuvenated indeed.

Herbal help for the initial stages of stress

Withania. To mildly sedate. Unlike most other herbs which allow you to cope with stress, withania is slightly sedative rather than stimulating. It might be one of the most appropriate herbs to use in a person who is “hyped-up”, finding it hard to relax and slow down. This is a good herb for an anaemic person and is one of the most commonly prescribed herbs to build up a “depleted” person. Good for a breastfeeding mother, a busy mother with children trying to juggle a job or a person who is in the initial stages of stress and feels depleted.

Korean ginseng. To mildly stimulate. Korean ginseng in particular, is quite a good herb for the initial, or “alarm” stages of stress. For long-term use, it is probably best suited to older people, although we can certainly use effectively in the short-term for adults of any age and for adolescents who suffer from acute stress. I find it probably the best herb for an elderly person who needs “building up” after a long illness, or perhaps move into a retirement village or loss of partner. Korean ginseng is quite a powerful herb, and also has the potential to increase blood pressure, so your practitioner must monitor you ideally for the best outcome.

Co-Enzyme Q10 helps with stress    

Your heart pumps about 100,000 times every day and has high demands on the cardiac muscle cells, which perform their function effortlessly. It is just amazing how much stress affects the heart, with smoking and stress being the two principal causes of heart disease. You’ll find that the highest amounts of Co-Enzyme Q10 in the cells of the heart muscle. Japan leads the world in using Co-EnzymeQ10, where it is prescribed by doctors to millions of heart patients, improving cardiac efficiency and giving significant benefits. An amazing 75% of heart patients significantly show lower levels of this enzyme than normal. A major advantage of CoQ10 is that it has no known adverse effects, even after continuous use at very high doses, using many more times the therapeutic levels in clinical trials.

The usual therapeutic dosage for CoQ10, for otherwise healthy people, is 50 to 150 mg per day, or more precisely, 2 mg of CoQ10 per kg of body weight. A study found that younger people or people with no obvious CoQ10 deficiency may derive benefit by using 10 to 30 mg of supplemental CoQ10 per day in one non-divided dose per day. Even though this supplement is expensive, clinical studies have concluded that daily doses of at least 30 mg per day are required to raise blood CoQ10 levels. Giving a dosage of 10 mg two to three times daily of 30 mg per day or greater can be of more benefit than a single 30 mg dose.

2. Pathological Fatigue

By this I don’t mean “disease”, this can be a warning sign of an underlying disorder, and will need to carefully examined by your health-care professional. Your blood pressure may be high, or there may be a problem with inflammation, immune dysfunction, or you may even have a problem with your thyroid or adrenal glands. A good check-up with your health care professional, whether it is a doctor of naturopath, should reveal any underlying disease. Often, one of your stress glands, (especially your adrenal or thyroid gland) can be affected, meaning they may have become depleted and tired. It’s not uncommon, and with salivary and blood testing of many patients’ hormone levels over the years, I’ve seen it in my clinic many times. According to your medical doctor, however, they’d likely call me “mad or stupid”, and that I’m making wild assumptions. Studies prove, however, that long-term exposure to stress may lead to many deleterious consequences, leading to various endocrine (hormonal) disorders. Also, stress leads to change in the clinical course or status of many endocrine conditions.

Adrenal function or thyroid function?

Get your adrenal glandular system and your thyroid checked out carefully. I’d recommend you consult with either a naturopath or a medical doctor with interest and experience in treating such cases of fatigue. Your average medical doctor (with no training or interest in natural medicine) will probably prescribe you antidepressants. An article published online in 2021 from Belgium mentions many as 40% of people who go to their doctor with burnout are prescribed antidepressants, while for longer periods of illness (six to 12 months), this figure increases to a staggering 47%.

Depleted adrenal glands can cause constant tiredness, irritability, poor blood sugar control, hypoglycemia, drowsiness, headaches, poor memory, and insomnia. People who experience physiological fatigue for too long deplete their adrenal energy. This, in turn, can place additional strain on the thyroid gland, which will become dysfunctional. Overactive adrenals can lead to insomnia as well.

How do you know your thyroid is not functioning well? Well, you are probably at your beyond the stage where you react to everything, and at first, you may have few noticeable symptoms, or you may just feel plain” tired and sluggish”.

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity. Be careful before self-diagnosing: the below mentioned signs and symptoms can also be caused by many other illnesses and may need checking out:

  • Fatigue
  • Voice can be hoarse
  • Eyes can be gritty, burning, itchy.
  • Skin dry, cold, rough and scaly.
  • Sex drive: none or poor.
  • Cholesterol high,
  • Skin itchy in various places.
  • Hair coarse, brittle and grows slowly or may even fall out.
  • Eyebrows thinning, losing outer 1/3 of eyebrow.
  • Sensitivity to cold, feelings of being chilly easily.
  • Constipation.
  • Difficulty in losing weight despite a strict diet, seems to be a common finding, particularly among women.

With thyroid depletion, I recommend the minerals iodine, selenium, zinc, copper, and the vitamins C, E, B12 and the amino acid tyrosine, which is an essential component of thyroid hormones. Tyrosine allows the body to produce stores of nor-adrenaline and build adrenal health up. A woman with an iron-deficient anaemia may have a problem converting inactive thyroid hormones (T4) into the active kind (T3). This could result also in hypothyroidism.
A hair analysis will reveal accurately what the person’s levels of trace and macro minerals are. It is also worth taking your temperature morning and evening before bedtime for two weeks to establish your basal body temperature. Healthy people have a temperature between 36.4 to 36.9 C.

Are you getting enough iron ?

They have claimed that world iron deficiency is “the world’s commonest disease”. You probably already knew that people at high altitude who are unaccustomed to the “thin air” quickly loose their energy. The reason for this is the oxygen deficiency they are getting. I can remember watching a TV programme of a soccer team trying to play a game of soccer at a very high altitude in South America. The results quickly became apparent, with signs and symptoms of dullness, mental sluggishness, and muscular weakness, lack of co-ordination, listlessness and apathy. Few people know that nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficient anaemia can have the same effect!

We have estimated that up to one quarter of women in NZ (USA is probably the same) may be iron deficient. A survey done in Florida, America revealed that 66 out of 114 women had either no iron reserves, or near to none. In another major study, 84% of women surveyed had a low iron store in their tissues.
To prevent fatigue to due iron deficient anaemia, ensure you consume plenty of foods high in iron, as well as have adequate Vitamin C and the B vitamin group in your diet, all important for allowing high uptakes of iron. As mentioned previously, the herb withania is a good tonic and boost for those with anaemia.

Herbal help for adrenal or thyroid stress

The herbal medicine called rhodiola rosea would be my pick for the top herb for adrenal burnout, or a person who is moving into thyroid dysfunction. This popular plant in Eastern Europe and Asia has a reputation for stimulating the nervous function, decreasing depression, enhancing work-performance, and eliminating fatigue. Research in Russia indicates Rhodiola is good in cases of decline in work performance, sleep difficulties, poor appetite, irritability, high blood pressure, headaches and fatigue. We know Rhodiola to be an “adaptogenic” herb, which essentially means that it allows the body to better adapt itself to stress. Bladderwrack, or kelp, rich in iodine, is another good choice.

3. Psychological Fatigue

This very often comes from stress. Dr. Hans Selye, German endocrinologist who pioneered the work with stress and the body’s responses to stress in the 1930s, was able to demonstrate that a stress-induced breakdown of the hormonal system could lead to conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure, that he called “diseases of adaptation.”

Doctors are the first to admit that stress-induced diseases such as headaches, heartburn, insomnia, high blood pressure and various heart diseases occur routinely in people under stress. They has even linked indirectly the increasing incidences of cancer to stress. Exhaustion occurs when the capacity for resistance to stress (or the adaptation) becomes overwhelmed. Exhaustion of adaptive capacity results in many of the stress-induced diseases we know of today, like “chronic fatigue syndrome.” Studies show that antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs with CFS. There is “no known cause” apparently, according to medical science.

Herbal help for your brain:

Bacopa would be my pick for the top herb for ongoing mental stress. Bijapur, otherwise known as Brahmi, increases alertness, allays anxiety, improves concentration, memory and improves moods. It is a very useful herb where stress and nervous exhaustion are impairing mental function. This is the herb to use if you want to keep a “clear head” inspite of some ongoing stress which you simply cannot avoid temporarily.

Amino Acids: important in times of brain stress

  • Tryptophan

Protein may counteract some of the negative effects associated with excessive stress, specifically the tryptophan content of protein may increase the brain’s serotonin levels, excessive stress often causes serotonin depletion and this depletion of serotonin is one cause of symptoms like dull headaches, tiredness, irritability, feelings of anxiousness, sleeping disturbances and a heightened sense of pain.
And what foods are high in tryptophan? Try spirulina, dates, kelp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and, if you can tolerate them, dairy products.

  • Taurine

This sulphur-based protein, along with cysteine and methionine, protects the heart’s ability to maintain adequate potassium levels during periods of stress. A person with adequate potassium levels is less likely to show signs of stress such as irritability, anxiety, insomnia, memory loss, confusion, nervousness, cramps or twitches. Potassium keeps the heart beating to a nice, steady pace and rhythm. They also found taurine to play a role in maintaining adequate blood sugar levels when the pancreatic function becomes affected by too much wine, beer or spirits, carbohydrates such as breads, chocolate/sweet. Anxiety and depression are more common in taurine deficient individuals. Taurine is not present in any plant sources, and is found in most forms of fish, meat and human milk. Interestingly, cow’s milk does not contain any taurine.

  • Carnitine

Carnitine is a protein mainly found in muscle meats and offal, like liver and heart. I don’t know about you, but these foods are not exactly on my top 5 food list. Adequate levels of carnitine ensure good metabolism of fatty acids (stored fat) and prevent abnormal blood fat and triglyceride levels. Lab studies have confirmed carnitine’s ability to transfer fatty acids across cells, so that it can properly use them as a fuel source. Carnitine is present in only red meats, seafoods, poultry and avocado, making vegetarians deficient unless they eat avocados regularly.
Whilst particular nutrients and herbs will help boost energy production in times of stress, do not forget that it is important to get regular fresh air, regular exercise, sunshine, a positive frame of mind and a nutritious diet to function optimally in terms of vitality and health.

References:

  •     Saris, N.-E. L., et al. Calcium and magnesium: update on physiological, clinical & analytical aspects. Clinica Chimica Acta. 294:1-26, 2000.
  •     Braverman, Eric R. The Healing Nutrients Within. Keats Publishing, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA. 1997:165.
  •     Chaitow, Leon. Amino Acids in Therapy. Thorsons Publishers, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom. 1985:64.
  •     Block, W. Revitalize your intellect: Introducing Bacopa vitality, a new memory function enhancer. Life Enhancement. March 2000: 4-10.
  •     Fuke, C., et al. Coenzyme Q10: a review of essential functions and clinical trials. US Pharmacist. 25:1-10, 2000.
  •     Fulder, S. J. Ginseng and the hypothalamic-pituitary control of stress. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 9(2):112-118, 1981.
  •     Mishra, L. C., et al. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera : a review. Altern Med Rev. 5(4):334-346, 2000.

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