I’m hoping you can help me. I have very low energy to the point where I sleep about 14 hours a day. It’s been happening for about a year now, since about March 2019. I don’t eat any garbage, all-vegetarian homemade food. No take-out or junk foods. I try to avoid sugar. Coffee used to help me and now it doesn’t. I eat a lot of smoothies because I’m too tired and weak to cook. I’ve had my iron tested and that isn’t the issue. I wonder if you know of anything that can help. Thank you for the great articles!
Thank you for your feedback and query! I do have some ideas to explore.
First, it’s imperative we rule out any possible psychological and emotional roots to your problem. Somnolence (excessive sleepiness) can be due to extreme stress, grief, or trauma - a form of emotional burnout if you will. You may be surprised to learn that we may not even realize we are suffering from these. Much like the frog in boiling water analogy, we don’t always see how much stress or strain we’re under when it increases slowly over long periods of time. Our bodies are so wonderful at adapting, especially if we have a high-stress threshold (usually acquired from early trauma). In such cases, extreme strain can seem “normal” and we don’t understand why it would cause so much of a drain. So it’s important to check with those around you or a professional psychologist or counsellor if you suspect this could be a cause. I’m not talking about pathologizing your suffering, as that is not something I feel that serves us. But, is there anything on your plate that takes superhuman effort to cope with? Is there any pain or grief that requires a lot of emotional work for you to avoid or carry? Any of these can be a trigger for fatigue. And if these are applicable, I encourage you not only to explore the other biochemical issues below but also seek a psychologist or counsellor who is able to help support you emotionally to address these underlying issues, too. I have found a lot of peace in working through A Course in Miracles, which is an instruction manual for metaphysical healing, regardless of our religious background.
Now, the biochemical causes for fatigue are many. I’ll go through them systematically.
As your doctor pointed out, low iron can cause fatigue symptoms. This can be because a person does not take enough in or is not absorbing it properly from what they do consume. Some people are genetically predisposed to this. Iron is essential for helping to transport, store, and use oxygen in the body. In addition to fatigue, it can manifest via lightheadedness and headaches, foggy thinking and lack of focus or memory, problems with body temperature, low immunity, and an inflamed tongue. Clients who have this as adults typically know it and know the symptoms by the time I see them. Once it’s identified, nutrition and homeopathy in tandem are the best way to address this, as common iron supplements are poorly absorbed and don’t address the underlying problem.
Many people, especially vegetarians/ vegans are chronically low in vitamin B12, as are those who’ve had bowel surgery that has impacted the site where B12 is synthesized. Also, acid-blocking drugs commonly cause this condition, in addition to a host of other health woes. Over time, low B12 can cause folate levels to drop, so the condition worsens. It’s so common there are injections you can get if you are chronically low. A deficiency in B12 can cause pale or yellow skin, pins and needles sensations, poor balance and coordination (think someone who falls a lot), an inflamed tongue and mouth ulcers, breathlessness, dizziness, disturbed vision, mood swings, and of course, extreme weakness and fatigue. The easiest way to ensure you have enough B12 is to eat a quality omnivore diet or supplement with the right form. Most people do better with methylcobalamin, but there are some for whom that type does not work. Blood tests help you determine if you are low in this nutrient.
Low B Vitamins:
Just as you can be low in B12, you can be low in the other B vitamins. They are required abundantly during times of stress and they are required for making energy from carbohydrates. Many people who consume a vegetarian or vegan diet are deficient in a variety of the B vitamins, as are most people with addictions and those living with chronic stress. However, supplementing with these is not as easy as purchasing a B complex, as there are some differences between the B complexes that make them more or less absorbable to different people, depending on whether you have a certain gene. It’s best to get professional help with this to discern the B vitamins that are best for you or take desiccated liver pills. I know it can be very difficult to get your head around as a vegetarian, but it works, unlike any B supplement I’ve tried. If this is your problem I can confidently say the desiccated liver pills will address it.
Lack of Protein:
Protein is required for building muscle tissue, so low protein due to low intake or poor digestion causes weakness. As we age we need more protein and consume and absorb less, so keep this in mind. What many people don’t realize is that protein is essential for neurotransmitters in the body that regulate mood and drive, among other things. They also create muscle tissue, which keeps us young. This is why I advocate a higher protein intake than many nutritionists. When we eat protein our bodies have the building blocks they need to function and regenerate optimally. I suggest meat protein because I feel it is less inflammatory and superior, but if you cannot eat meat I suggest protein from eggs, from cricket flour, from collagen, and from a quality whey protein powder. These are preferable by far too heavily processed vegetarian or estrogenic soy protein substitutes.
This is another nutrient many people are deficient in. Almost all vegetarians and vegans I’ve seen are very low, but so are many others who consume a lot of cereal grains. I offer an in-office test to determine if it’s needed and in order to guide the dose, but I am also able to help people during lockdown to assess their zinc status remotely. Doctors can do a blood test, but high zinc in the blood does not mean high zinc in the tissues - and often means the opposite. Zinc is essential for learning and memory, immunity, sexual function, and a healthy appetite. When we are chronically low in it it can cause ADD and anxiety states and is often corrective with the right cofactors in these conditions. This loss of smell that is happening with COVID-19 is a known symptom of zinc deficiency, and viruses are known to gobble up zinc stores to replicate. This is surely why some physicians have been experimenting with zinc in addition to medications with great success in treating patients. Supplementing with zinc is easy and highly effective if you know the right forms to take.
A very common deficiency today, low magnesium can cause headaches, memory decline, confusion, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, excessive worrying, and burnout, among other symptoms. Some give-away symptoms are craving chocolate and having regular muscle twitches or cramps. Soaking in an Epsom salts bath can alleviate this almost immediately, but a better long term plan is to supplement. The form depends on the particular needs of the client. Read more about magnesium deficiency here.
Poor Digestion/ Absorption:
Low iron, B12, protein and zinc deficiencies all require a healthy digestive function to extract from food and synthesize. Problems with digestion and absorption often impact one or more of these and over time can create multiple food intolerances (leaky gut) and auto-immune disorders, which add to fatigue symptoms. If this is the case you need digestive enzymes with HCL. You can read more about that here.
These create an inflammatory response (often system-wide) that can create aches, pains, dysfunction on many levels, attention and thinking troubles, body rashes and skin troubles, and fatigue. The best way to discern these is to get professional help with testing. I offer this in my practice.
This is the state commonly referred to as prediabetes and it indicates that insulin has been sequestered so much that the cells have become intolerant to it. This is determined by blood testing, but it’s rather easy to see when it’s a problem because the person who is insulin resistant has fat around the liver and abdomen - often disproportionate to fat elsewhere - with strong carbohydrate or sugar cravings. Measuring your waist: hip ratio will tell you if this is an issue. Your waist should be substantially smaller than your hips or you are at risk and should seek a professional evaluation and guidance to correct it. This is one of the drivers of fatigue that I see most in my office.
When we sleep our bodies recharge and clean house, especially when we sleep deeply in a fasted state. Eating too much or too late stops our bodies from fasting at night and this disturbs sleep. It often shows up as waking around 2-4 a.m. with difficulty returning to sleep and extreme fatigue on waking later. Sleep apnea (often corrected by dietary interventions) and not getting enough sleep at night will also cause us to be excessively fatigued during the day. And consuming caffeine after 1 p.m. can cause sleep disturbances in sensitive individuals. If sleep is a problem for you regularly, I invite you to reach out to address it holistically.
This is a very common condition today. The thyroid controls temperature, metabolism, and energy. As such, low thyroid function is known to cause extreme sleepiness, foggy thinking, weight gain, chilliness, muscle weakness and joint pain, dry skin, hair loss, feeling blue, trouble with focus and memory, constipation, and irregular or heavy menses. Testing can reveal the level your thyroid is functioning at, but many people experience strong symptoms long before they meet the standard for a hypothyroid diagnosis, so it can be confusing. As such, the testing can rule it in but should not be used to rule it out by an astute practitioner. While I don’t diagnose, I have clients monitor symptoms and basal body temperature to assess the likelihood that the thyroid is impacted and treat accordingly. Diet and supplements must be used in tandem to address this condition.
These disorders are many, but the underlying condition always includes systemic inflammation, usually with many of the above issues at play. These individuals NEED professional holistic help in addressing the condition if they want relief from fatigue. In my experience, it requires nutrition and herbal/homeopathic interventions in tandem to address these conditions effectively.
Viral or Bacterial Infections:
These include Epstein Barr Syndrome, Mononucleosis, and Lyme Disease, to name a few. People suffering from these typically need to see a holistic/ integrative practitioner who specializes in them, as they are very complex and systemic. But all of the above can apply when this is the case and regaining your health when such a diagnosis is given is not impossible if you surround yourself with support and refuse to stop seeking and working towards a solution. In my experience, nothing is more powerful in these cases than dietary transformation.
I know this is a lot to explore, Sadie, but it may help you assess what you need to do next. Living without energy to function makes everything a challenge! I encourage you to get professional help if you can’t find answers on your own.
As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website and sign up for my free newsletter at nonienutritionista.com. In addition, I offer 1:1 health coaching for those who need more intensive support transforming their health.