The morning sunshine illuminates your bedroom as you reluctantly get up to make a cup of coffee, but your body seems to not have waken up yet. You feel sluggish, slow, you barely drag your feet, but even if you succumb to the temptation to stay in bed longer, you feel no better after additional, and in any other circumstance unnecessary, hours of sleep. This is called lethargy, or sleepiness. Usually, lethargy is a healthy reaction of the body to the lack of sleep, but sometimes it is a state of being — no matter how much you sleep, you still feel like you need more.
Fatigue is another healthy reaction of the body to overtaxing it by doing work, physical or mental, and lethargy and fatigue often go hand in hand. However, in many people, fatigue and lethargy are not related to any amount of work they do or hours they sleep, although they may get worse with even the slightest exertion.
There is a legitimate reason a person may experience fatigue and lethargy, which is well known in medical practice, and that is if the body is sick. Usually, when we get infected by some kind of microbe, our body mounts an immune attack in order to eliminate it. Fatigue and lethargy are a natural and healthy response to the infection, because they allow you to rest and not expend any extra energy that your body needs to fight off the bugs.
That is so-called adaptive, or natural, cause of fatigue. But what is causing fatigue and lethargy when they last months or even years? Could there be bugs so resilient that our immune system struggles to eliminate them? Sometimes this is the case, but, most of the time, the picture is much more complex than just a pesky virus.
The number one cause of fatigue in the United States outside of seasonal infections is hypothyroidism. No, I didn’t count the number of patients, but in my personal practice that seems to be the case. More people are living with sluggish thyroid gland than they realize, and most of the time the fatigue due to low thyroid isn’t that profound to be raising red flags. You may attribute the sluggishness to exhaustion from daily hassle, driving your mother to appointments, taking care of your kids, and also being productive and courteous at work, and sure, such a busy lifestyle can make you feel tired by the end of the day. But what if you could handle all of that and still be full of energy in the evening, enough to go chase a soccer ball in the grass with friends and have dinner with them after? Humans have a remarkable storage of energy that is more than enough for everyday tasks, and then some! However, we just don’t get to tap into that storage because, most often, our thyroid isn’t producing enough hormone.
There can be different reasons the thyroid is sluggish. Stress, inactivity, poor diet, certain foods, fluoride in water and toothpaste, endocrine disruptors such as BPA, PCBs, flame retardants, pesticides, dioxin, fireworks, airbag systems, dental sealants, heavy metal exposure, plastic packaging, adhesives, heavy metals, etc. can all disrupt the delicate balance of thyroid hormones, creating fatigue. It’s impossible to avoid all of these endocrine disruptors, which by the way also throw male and female hormones out of balance, but some basic precautions can make a huge difference. Growing your own food is best, but buying locally-grown produce and cooking everything yourself from scratch is the best route to take to overall wellness, not just thyroid health. Remember that organic does not mean pesticide-free, it only means synthetic pesticide-free, but that does not necessarily mean some of the naturally-based pesticides are safe for you. Use glass containers whenever possible, and move away from plastics. There are safer plastics than others, such as HDPE and PET, but they are still synthetic and not good for the environment.
Certain foods are known to affect the thyroid: soy, gluten, and to a lesser degree cow dairy. It is a good idea to get on a detox diet for 30-60 days and eliminate the most common food allergens such as soy, gluten, cow dairy, chicken eggs, peanuts, corn, yeast and mushrooms, as well as all sugar and other processed foods. A detox diet will reset your system and clear it of the common food allergies, which helps about 90% of the people to get their energy back.
The second most common cause of fatigue and lethargy is food allergy, or, specifically, non-IgE food allergy. Seasonal pollen allergies can also cause fatigue. An allergic response is our immune system attacking a harmless substance thinking that it’s a pathogen. The immune system uses different antibodies to attack pathogens: IgE, IgG, IgA, and IgM. IgE reactions are called classical allergies with the well-known symptoms of itchy eyes, sneezing, and sometimes itchy or sore throat. Non-IgE allergies are those caused by all the other antibodies and other immune cells, most often by IgG antibodies. Non-IgE allergies, aka sensitivities, cause fatigue and lethargy which is sometimes so profound that one can’t get out of bed all day. In most people, food sensitivities that cause symptoms are random and unexpected such as avocados or chicken, and they may not coincide with the most common food allergies such as cow dairy and gluten, although sensitivities to these can also be present. The best way to find out non-IgE allergies is through a blood test, either Alcat or Alletes, I’ve had good experience with both. Airborn allergens can be tested in an allergy center via a skin test. Allergy drops or shots that contain small amounts of the allergen work great to naturally reduce the body’s allergic response or even cure it altogether. Try to avoid antihistamines and other synthetic chemicals that are created to suppress the symptoms.
Leaky gut and disbiosis are the third cause of persistent fatigue and lethargy. Leaky gut is also called high or increased gut permeability in scientific literature, although researchers are slowly adapting the holistic medicine term “leaky gut”; it’s a condition where the lining of the small and large intestines become porous or leaky, permitting substances into our bloodstream that aren’t supposed to get through the lining. Disbiosis is a state of imbalance in the large intestine, where bad bacteria outnumber the good healthy gut flora. Disbiosis and leaky gut go hand in hand, and it’s unclear what causes what — it’s the chicken or the egg debate. Both are known to wreck havoc on our systems by causing massive systemic inflammation. Leaky gut and disbiosis are caused by junk foods, sugar, gluten, chemicals in foods, heavy metals, GMO corn and soy, stress, inactivity, antibiotics, and the excessive use of anticeptic and antimicrobial soaps, gels, and surface cleaners. A good detox diet helps to eliminate the toxins that cause leaky gut and disbiosis, and thus improves energy and vitality.
As you probably noticed, stress is an underlying cause of most of these conditions, and for a good reason. A short-term stress response is a healthy and adaptive mechanism that ensures our survival, but too many of us are stressed every day without any breaks. Chronic stress puts undue strain on the body, and after even a few weeks begins to disrupt various systems, starting from the gastrointestinal tract, causing low stomach acid which produces acid reflux, damaging the intestinal lining, bringing the immune system into disarray, slowing down peristalsis, and producing disbiosis. A few weeks later, the suppressed immune system results in infections and allergies, and a few months or years later constant every day stress leads to adrenal fatigue, multiple food sensitivities, and autoimmune conditions. Stress also increases blood pressure, damages blood vessels, rises blood sugar, puts strain on the heart and kidneys, and on the liver indirectly through disbiosis, and later in life may cause neurological disturbances. There is no place for stress in a healthy lifestyle.
Lyme disease and its coinfections are another significant contributor to fatigue. Although they are technically infections, Lyme disease and coinfections aren’t ordinary kinds of bugs, and often they are extremely difficult to get rid of. Lyme disease symptoms are often non-specific and only a portion of the patients bitten by the deer tick show the target-like rash around the bite area. Therefore, it is quite difficult to diagnose, and some people don’t realize they have had Lyme for years. Lyme is treated with antibiotics in the medical practice, and in holistic practice, simply going on a detox diet and strengthening the body with exercise, herbs and vitamins, helps to bring up the body’s immunity so it can fight the infection itself.
Chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, organ dysfunction, cancer, and degenerative neurological conditions may cause fatigue in later stages. Sometimes, fatigue is caused by the medication for these diseases. Many chronic diseases improve with proper diet and exercise regimes, and again, a good detox diet is a fantastic tool in these cases.
One cannot write an article about fatigue without mentioning depression. It is a quite common condition of imbalances in brain chemistry, and it has been linked to inflammation, leaky gut and disbiosis, so, again, a detox diet benefits most people with depression. Essential oils, herbs, stress reduction, and behavioral therapy are also very effective in helping depression.
Perhaps an unexpected culprit of fatigue on this list is breast implants. Many women experience non-specific symptoms after going through the surgery such as fatigue, lethargy, muscle or joint pain, brain fog and difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, weight problems, and others. The solution is to properly remove the breast implants and all of the encapsulation material. The symptoms subside in a few months after the removal surgery with a proper diet and a clean lifestyle.
Finally, deficiencies such as anemia and low vitamin D is a real problem in the world today. Some of these deficiencies may be tricky such that just taking iron and vitamin D may not solve the problem. Usually, a well-balanced diet can fix deficiencies unless there is a health condition that prevents absorption of nutrients or uses them up unusually quickly. Each individual case may need a special treatment plan, and there is no one size fits all approach here.
This covers the most common causes of persistent fatigue and lethargy, and in many people there may be several offenders, since many of them are related. For example, stress causes gut disbiosis, leaky gut, autoimmune problems, non-IgE allergies, and even thyroid problems, so just by moving towards a more relaxed lifestyle that is fulfilling and yet not cluttered with various commitments can work wonders on the health and vitality of your whole person, not just your body. Sometimes switching careers, moving away, or getting a hobby can do the trick. But if you feel that your stress is inescapable, think again. Is the thing that is causing you stress worth your health? Some serious meditation on the subject may be in order.
Fatigue is not a part of life, neither it is a natural result of aging. Our bodies should naturally be able to handle daily tasks and have energy to spare! Any disturbance in our natural vitality is a symptom of some kind of imbalance that, when corrected, will bring us back to our youthful enthusiasm, readiness and ability to take on the challenges of day to day life. Nature is abundant in potent solutions to these imbalances, we just need to reach out and accept them.