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Overcoming fatigue

Hi Dr. Hartman,

I have been feeling very tired lately even though I get a lot of sleep. A friend of mine suggested I try taking vitamin B but that doesn’t help at all. Is there anything else you can recommend I try to increase my energy levels and get me feeling normal again?

Thank you!

Linda S.

Hi Linda,

You are not alone in how you are feeling. Many of my patients describe debilitating fatigue when they first come in to see me. It is frusterating when you are sleeping well and still feel unrested in the morning. For many people, coffee temporarily lifts energy levels only to have it fall again a few hours later. For others, all caffeine does is make them feel jittery but still tired.

While supplements such as vitamin B complex or ginseng work for some people, they may do absolutely nothing in others due to fatigue being caused by many different conditions. This is most likely why the B vitamins that helped your friend did nothing for you. The best way to get your energy back for good is to figure out why it’s low to begin with. Disorders such as hypothyroidism, low iron, suboptimal cortisol levels (adrenal fatigue), hormone imbalances, and depression can all cause lowered energy levels. Further, lifestyle factors such as restless sleep, poor diet, and food sensitivities can also lower energy levels for many people.

In the meantime, some general foundation measures can help improve your energy without the use of supplements or medications. First, ensure you are getting a proper sleep at night. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of continuous sleep each night (if you are having troubles sleeping, you may want to check out my post on insomnia). Second, make sure your diet is based around protein, vegetables, and whole grains as protein and fat gives us sustained energy to keep us going between meals. When we eat refined carbohydrates such as pasta or white rice, this can cause our blood sugar to drop an hour or two later which for many people leads to an afternoon crash after lunch. Instead, make sure you are getting at least 20-30 grams of protein with each meal (caution if you have a kidney disease). Lastly, bring energy into your life by being energetic. If you work at a desk, get up for a 60 second stretch and quick walk at least every hour. Try to get out for a longer period of activity whether that is a brisk walk, a run, or playing soccer with some friends at least every couple days. This activity ramps up a sluggish body to get you feeling awake again!

If you are concerned that there is something causing your fatigue other than general food and lifestyle causes, talk to your naturopathic doctor or medical doctor to get a proper workup to investigate the other causes of low energy.

Yours in health,

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Dr. Nicole Hartman

About Dr. Nicole Hartman

Dr. Nicole Hartman is a naturopathic physician, a world traveler, a hiker, and a blogger. She focuses her practice in digestion, women's health and weight loss and takes an integrative, evidence-based approach to healthcare.