Who is the better friend-the person who doesn’t tell you that you have food between your teeth when you are about to give a speech or the one who lets you know and thereby saves you from embarrassment? For me, a good friend lets you know when something is wrong, even if it may be a bit uncomfortable.
Similarly, fatigue is your good friend, letting you know that something is wrong and needs attention in order to minimize any further health consequence.
Recognizing that fatigue is not normal is important. The underlying reasons for fatigue, which can have more serious effects if not treated, include stress and adrenal fatigue, hormonal deficiencies, dietary/nutritional issues, poor sleep quality or duration, lack of exercise, medication effects, and brain chemistry imbalances. It is important to recognize each of these, if left untreated, can lead to more serious consequences.
In this issue, I will briefly introduce each of these barriers to vibrance and will delve into each in greater detail in subsequent issues.
Chronic stress and resultant adrenal fatigue have reached epidemic proportions in this country. Over 80% of my patients check off stress as a major issue in their lives. Constant, relentless stress wears out our adrenal glands which produce the stress hormones hydrocortisone and epinephrine. These hormones, which are a critical part of our “fight or flight” response are released any time we feel stressed, regardless of the cause. Normally these hormones help power us through our days, but when constantly stressed, we become increasingly fatigued, mentally foggy, irritable, and desperate for a sugar or caffeine fix.
Another common cause for fatigue is insomnia. There is a reason why “the early bird gets the worm”- getting quality sleep helps us wake up refreshed and alert, yet one third of all Americans suffer from insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea is an increasingly common condition worsened by excess weight that results in frequently interrupted sleep and leads to daytime fatigue for both the sufferer and his/her partner. Hormone deficiencies – typically estrogen in women and testosterone in men – can lead to night sweats that interrupt sleep. Low progesterone levels in women may also cause insomnia due to the inability to relax the mind and body enough to get to sleep.
The typical American diet can also be a factor in fatigue during the day and with sleep issues. Meals loaded with carbohydrates, desserts and snacks cause our blood sugar to spike and then plummet to a low blood sugar state (hypoglycemia) which makes us feel tired and at night can lead to trouble staying asleep as the body responds by waking us feeling hungry.
Depression and brain chemistry imbalances associated with it frequently leads to fatigue and should always be considered. Exercise is often an effective treatment for depression and can improve energy levels even when there is no depression.
Remember, fatigue is your body trying to talk to you; it is your friend. Don’t ignore it with caffeine without considering the cause. In future issues of Desert Health®, we will explore the causes and solutions to fatigue in greater detail.
Dr. Clair is an integrative medicine doctor and founder of Vibrance Rejuvenation Center in Rancho Mirage. He can be reached at (760) 324.4872.