Hidden Causes of Fatigue

As fall rolls in and we start to see shorter days and less light, it is a natural time for us to nd ourselves slowing down, finding a pace that often feels quite different than the sunnier and busier summer months. Although we don’t hibernate like some of our mammal relations, fall and winter can be a time of fatigue for many.  An urge to stay home under the covers and in front of the fire can be a great break from a busy life and, in my opinion, a wonderful chance to take a mental break. However, feeling tired all the time is a different issue and should be examined if it is becoming a constant theme in your life.

Fatigue is the number one complaint of people seeking medical treatment in my office and is a common problem in health care. Many people notice drops in their energy at certain points in the day, eventually finding that their energy level is just always low. Many of these patients think they are “just getting older” and it is natural to fall asleep on the couch at 8 pm! Discovering why fatigue is a constant in your day is the first step in recovering energy levels.

So where to start? Get the basics done first and figure out if your levels of vitamin D, B12, ferritin, and thyroid hormones are balanced with blood work. A source of controversy is what is normal with these values?  Within Canada, you can have different normals depending on the province and the lab where your blood is drawn. In my small community of Vernon, BC you can have two very different ranges just based on which lab you had your blood drawn at in town! Conventional medicine views these blood test ranges as “normal” or “abnormal” but within each range is an “optimum” and that is what we are aiming for when discussing fatigue and probable causes. Make sure you bring copies of your lab reports to your naturopathic physician to have these levels evaluated for a more functional medicine opinion.

A potential culprit when evaluating fatigue is our adrenal glands. In the previous articles, we spent some time outlining what function the adrenal glands have and the potential health concerns that arise when the adrenals are out of balance. Feeling “tired but wired” is one of the first signs of an overstimulated adrenal gland.  This “wired” feeling can really be working for you at first, allowing you to multi-task and take on everything.  Eventually, high cortisol begins to create imbalances in energy and sleep cycles and the “tired but wired” leads to just pure “tired”. When at its worst it can feel impossible to acquire a deep sleep at night, unwind after a busy day, or stay focused on one task during the day. Squirrel brain anyone?

Adrenal fatigue has a myriad of effects on other hormone levels and when it peaks at an age when other hormones are changing it can contribute to that “getting older” feeling. Don’t pack it in just because you have hit 40! Make sure you have your physicians check the more obvious causes of fatigue and work with a practitioner who will check other hormone levels, digestive malabsorption, vitamin levels, and possible chronic health concerns that contribute to feeling tired. It’s natural to have times in the year where we naturally want to slow down, but don’t accept being so tired that you don’t have time to enjoy your family, friends, and hobbies! Get your blood tests and hormone evaluations, and emphasize healthy habits that rebuild your energy and ability to enjoy life.