Tiredness and fatigue are very different. With chronic fatigue, we are looking for clues and certain telltale signs. Treatments have to be very specific to the cause.
Tiredness and fatigue are very different. We all get tired from time to time. If we have a particularly challenging period, we might feel tired for a week or even two. But chronic fatigue is a medical condition that saps your vitality, your energy, and even your ambition. It can be hard on those around you, as well.
When I treat a patient who feels unusually tired I will examine aspects of their daily routine to help them find ways of dealing with workplace stress, food choices, recreational pursuits, and relaxation techniques. I might recommend meditation or yoga or even regular walking.
With chronic fatigue it is vitally important to conduct a thorough medical history because we are looking for clues and certain telltale signs. There are many potential causes, and treatments have to be very specific to the cause. For example, at the most basic distinction there is physical versus psychological. Sometimes a person may be depressed and not want to do anything. That looks like chronic fatigue, but in reality there are psychological and emotional issues that are in play.
One common culprit in chronic fatigue is lack of sleep or poor quality sleep. Other common causes can include anemia, hypothyroidism, and adrenal gland problems.
One common culprit in chronic fatigue is lack of sleep or poor quality sleep. People are often surprised to learn that sleep apnea can be part of their fatigue problem even if they are not overweight. There are mild forms of the condition where they may not gasp loudly, as is often the case if breathing stops completely. But because the brain is not receiving enough oxygen, they are still jolted awake so they are able to breathe. With sleep apnea, people often feel as if they didn’t sleep at all. If I suspect that is going on, I will have a patient screened. Sleep hygiene includes making sure the room is dark enough, avoiding computers, TV, and other electronic devices, having a regular bed time routine, and so on.
Other common causes of fatigue can include anemia, hypothyroidism, and adrenal gland problems. The thyroid gland regulates many aspects of metabolism, including heart rate, respiration rate, energy levels, and digestive function. Thyroid problems can be genetic, but can also be affected by nutrient deficiencies, medications, heavy metals and other toxins. Our adrenal glands are responsible for making important hormones and brain chemicals including cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Adrenal gland hormones give us energy and help us deal with stress. When the adrenal glands have problems, one potential result is chronic fatigue. The thyroid and adrenal glands communicate with each other, so it is important to support both thyroid and adrenal function.
Digestive problems can also contribute to chronic fatigue. If there is inflammation in the gut, nutrients in food may not be properly absorbed.
Diet can be behind chronic fatigue. Digestive system problems can also contribute to chronic fatigue. If there is inflammation in the gut, nutrients in food may not be properly absorbed. I’ve helped patients get soda, processed foods, and junk food out of their diet and seen their energy levels improve substantially. Those foods throw blood sugar levels off, causing first a spike, and then a crash. In response, people turn to coffee, energy drinks, candy, or sugary snacks. Their energy zooms up and then nosedives, and they wind up repeating the pattern over and over. Eventually, their organs become exhausted and fatigue sets in. One important element of regulating blood sugar is getting protein during the day. Proteins and fats slow digestion and even out our energy production. Healthful choices include beans, nuts, sunflower and other seeds, miso, organic eggs, low-toxin fish, organic poultry, grass-fed beef, lamb and buffalo.
Each of the potential causes of chronic fatigue can be treated once they are properly diagnosed. Fortunately, the naturopathic approach can help, because pharmaceutical medications have often shown little ability to improve the condition.
Each of the potential causes of chronic fatigue can be treated once they are properly diagnosed. Again, I go back to the extensive medical history being important, which is why I spend about an hour for patient visits. It takes time to ask questions and listen, but in the end, patients are happy to find solutions to their chronic fatigue. Fortunately, the naturopathic approach can help, because pharmaceutical medications have often shown little ability to improve the condition. As to how long it takes to recover, it really does depend on the cause. However, most of my patients do start feeling better relatively soon.
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Dr. Kathryn Taketa-Wong, N.D., L.Ac. 1221 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 348 Honolulu, HI 96814