In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s not uncommon for people to feel tired on a regular basis, a YouGov study found that one in eight people in Britain feel tired all the time. In fact, many have come to accept fatigue as a normal part of life, blaming it on busy schedules and the demands of modern living. However, while feeling tired all the time may be driven by our stressful lifestyles; it could be a sign of underlying imbalances that need closer attention.
There are multiple factors that can deplete our bodies of energy and cause us to feel tired most of the time, and I believe it’s really important to look at what could be causing the fatigue. Sometimes, feeling tired all the time is a symptom of another condition that needs to be investigated.
One major contributor to chronic fatigue is prolonged exposure to stress, leading to burnout. The body’s stress response involves the release of cortisol, which provides a lot of health benefits when produced in the correct amount. However, when stress becomes chronic and cortisol levels are constantly higher than they should be, it can affect how the body functions. Imagine stress as a car driving at full speed; without adequate rest or refuelling, you will run out of fuel – our bodies are the same.
Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, brain fog, anxiety and depression – all of which will affect your energy levels. While some stress is unavoidable, we can add things to our diet and lifestyle to help the body adapt a little better to stress, and this is essential to maintain healthy cortisol levels and prevent burnout.
Wondering if it could be burnout that you’re struggling with? Here are some signs and symptoms:
- Feeling exhausted
- Feeling overwhelmed or becoming overwhelmed easily
- Frequent infections or feeling like you are constantly sick
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling tired even after long periods of sleep
- Low patience/tolerate
- Struggling to sleep
Nutrient deficiencies, particularly nutrients like folate, B12, and iron, can leave you feeling drained. Anaemia, a condition resulting from low iron, folate or B12 levels, directly impacts how well our bodies create energy and how well our red blood cells can carry oxygen around the body. Factors such as gut issues, heavy menstrual periods, inadequate nutrient intake, and stress all contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
A blood test is very important to highlight nutrient deficiencies so we know which deficiency is causing the issue. It’s become incredibly common for people to supplement with iron to help with energy without checking if they actually have low iron levels. This isn’t a good thing to do, as we only need to supplement with iron if we are deficient. Too much iron in the body can cause inflammation and, in excess, damage to organs.
Symptoms of anaemia include:
- Feeling weak
- Pale skin tone
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Easy bruising
- Heart palpitations
The thyroid, a small gland in your neck, plays a significant role in energy metabolism. Thyroid dysfunction, whether hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, can lead to persistent fatigue. An underactive thyroid slows metabolism, while an overactive thyroid speeds it up, both affecting energy levels.
The thyroid gland can be quite sensitive – meaning that a lot of other systems in the body can cause it to become off balance. For example, thyroid issues can worsen due to nutrient deficiencies, stress, blood glucose imbalances, inflammation and gut issues. Some important nutrients to support the thyroid include vitamins A, C, and B vitamins, as well as minerals such as iodine, zinc and selenium.
Lack of sleep
While it might seem obvious, insufficient sleep is a leading cause of fatigue. Sleep is crucial for the body to repair and regenerate itself. Chronic sleep deprivation not only impairs cognitive function but can also increase food cravings (for sweet things), affect blood glucose levels and increase stress levels – all of which make us tired! The tricky thing is stress can affect how well people sleep – getting them into a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and increased cortisol levels. However, there are a lot of lifestyle changes we can make to help improve sleep quality.
Blood Glucose Imbalances
One of the main signs of blood glucose imbalances is feeling really tired. After meals, especially if rich in carbohydrates, insulin levels rise to shuttle glucose into cells for energy. However, issues such as insulin resistance can affect how well this process works, meaning that glucose can’t get into your cells as well, so your body doesn’t have the fuel it needs to create energy. If you feel tired all the time, checking your blood glucose and insulin levels is essential, as a common symptom of both pre-diabetes and diabetes is fatigue.
Symptoms of blood glucose imbalances include:
- Feeling tired
- Feeling thirsty all the time (even when drinking adequate amounts of water)
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Episodes of feeling shaky, irritated or sweaty without food
- Slow wound healing
Mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses responsible for energy production. To create energy, our mitochondria need several nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, essential fatty acids and CoQ10.
Chronic infections (especially viruses), a low-fat diet, inadequate antioxidants, a high-sugar diet, stress, toxins and a lack of exercise can all damage mitochondria, meaning they can’t create energy as well as they should. This is why it can be common for people to feel tired all the time after a bad virus – the virus can deplete nutrients and damage mitochondria.
The good news is that we can help support and repair our mitochondria through exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes. Supplements can also be great to get a high dose of essential nutrients to help with how they function.
How A Nutritionist Can Help With Fatigue
As a nutritionist, my role is to guide individuals toward understanding and addressing the root causes of their fatigue – and also highlight that feeling tired all the time is not normal! Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, personalised strategies are essential. Here’s how I can assist:
Identifying the Cause
Fatigue can stem from various sources, as we have discussed. Pinpointing the specific cause is the first step to developing an effective plan. Some of the tests I like to run in clinic include:
This test is a urine sample that does a deep dive into your sex hormones, cortisol and melatonin levels, which are essential to help us get deep, restorative sleep. It can be a great one to see how your body is reacting to stress, as well as checking for sex hormone imbalances and melatonin levels. Cortisol should rise naturally in the morning to give us energy, and decrease in the evening to help us sleep. However, this pattern can get shifted, meaning we have lower than normal levels in the morning, and sometimes higher than normal levels in the evening. When the pattern of cortisol shifts like this, it causes you to feel tired in the morning, but struggle to sleep at night.
This is another urine test by Genova Diagnostics. It looks at molecules produced in the body in reaction to bacteria, yeast and fungi imbalances. It can also highlight any nutrient deficiencies and how well your mitochondria function. This is a great one for someone struggling with ‘unexplained’ fatigue and gut issues.
A comprehensive blood test will help rule out many factors that can cause fatigue. We can check nutrients such as vitamin B9 (folate), B12 and iron (to rule out deficiencies), electrolytes (which can give an idea into stress levels), white blood cells (to look for infections), thyroid function, blood glucose balance and inflammation.
Addressing the cause
Once the cause is identified, we can tailor a plan that includes dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and targeted supplementation. For instance, if nutrient deficiencies are identified, a well-balanced diet and appropriate supplements can restore optimal levels.
Persistent fatigue is not a normal state of being, and we have to investigate the underlying factors contributing to low energy levels. Whether it’s chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, thyroid issues, lack of sleep, blood glucose imbalances, or mitochondrial dysfunction, addressing the root cause through a comprehensive approach is the only way we can truly restore vitality. Don’t let fatigue become your normal—take charge of your well-being and rediscover the energy you deserve; book a call to get started!