What’s making you so tired?

At the peak of my struggle with fatigue I’d struggle to stay awake until my husband, Matt would get home from work around 8pm. I’d fall asleep on the couch and he’d carry my pathetic carcass to bed. I’d wake in the middle of the night, sometimes staying up until the sun rose then finally falling back to sleep until midday.

I’d get up in pain and unrefreshed. My “to do” felt like a joke compared to what I use to accomplish in a single day. Pacing myself meant breaking everyday activities of daily living into tiny discrete tasks that then took up an entire day versus maybe a fraction of the day.

Preparing a meal looked like this:

Write out list of things needed, (separate list for any heavy items left for Matt to buy separately when he has time to go to the store.) Drive to grocery store, hover around the entrance of store looking for parking spot until one becomes available. Park. Grocery shop, but complete within 15 minutes. Ask for help loading groceries into the car. Rest in car with seat reclined for 10 minutes. Drive home. Unpack groceries. Rest for an hour or two, take a nap. Wash and prep food, cut food while seated. Rest for an hour or two. Cook meal. Rest. Eat meal.

When you are fatigued everyday tasks feel like insurmountable challenges with no end in site. Chronic fatigue threatens your sense of self worth and effectiveness in your own life. It’s debilitating not just physically but emotionally as well.

How to figure to get to the root cause of your chronic fatigue?

Figure out if it’s Mitochondrial and/or Adrenally driven.

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I often see people or practitioners simply looking to adrenal dysfunction as the cause of what’s making you tired.

Failure to consider or identify mitochondria dysfunction can leave you still feeling tired and frustrated that you aren’t getting any better.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Mitochondrial dysfunction is commonly driven by: oxidative stress, inflammation, total body burden of toxins.  

Common Acquired Conditions Associated with Mitochondrial Dysfunction:

  • Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism

  • Cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis)

  • Diabetes (type I, II, & III)

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Myofascial pain

  • Migraine headaches

  • Autoimmune diseases

Top Dietary Tips to Improve Mitochondrial Function

Eat healthy fats from fresh sources like avocados nuts and seeds, and from cold pressed oils such as avocado oil, olive oil, and MCT oil from coconuts.

Limit your protein intake to ½ gram per pound of lean body mass. (I know, this is super controversial, but if your body is not fully digesting all the protein you ingest it can result in reactive oxygen species, which will increase the burden on the mitochondria). Here is an  example: if you’re 30% body fat, and you weigh 150 lbs, then you have 105 lbs of lean body mass, and should eat approximately 52 grams of protein per day.

Eat lots of colorful vegetables I suggest no less than 6 servings a day but upwards of 8-12 is ideal. If eating vegetables are hard for your digestive system consider eating more of them cooked or juiced, or consider taking a digestive enzyme supplement containing plant specific enzymes to breakdown vegetables.

Try intermittent fasting. To ease yourself into it, an overnight fast may feel most doable, try a 12 hour fast say from 8pm to 8am.

***Warning, if you have blood sugar handling issues, please seek the guidance of a functional medicine specialist to correct the imbalance prior to implementing any time restricted eating. Blood sugar dysregulation is a common feature seen adrenal dysfunction. Should one have both mitochondrial dysfunction and adrenal dysfunction like I did, implementing intermittent fasting can cause fatigue symptoms to worsen.

Cut out all the prepackaged processed foods, all the dairy, wheat, sugar in particular.

Adrenal Dysfunction

Adrenal Dysfunction is caused by overproduction of stress hormones caused by  excessive chronic emotional, physical, or psychological stress as seen in the common condition known as mommyhood: inadequate amount or quality of sleep, stressful job and/or personal life, and night shift work.

Common Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction:

  • Fatigue

  • Mild depression or anxiety

  • Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia

  • Low body temperature

  • Dry thin skin

  • Central weight gain

  • Low sex drive

  • Sleep disturbances

  • PMS, irregular or heavy periods, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and PCOS

  • Craving salty or sugary foods

  • Food sensitivities

  • Digestive issues

  • Chest pain and palpitations

  • Thyroid dysfunction

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1. Make time, every day for restorative or relaxation practices. None of these need to be for a long period of time, but it does need to be a regular practice for your parasympathetic nervous system to be activated and to heal the adrenal dysfunction.

  • Deep breathing 3-5 deep breaths before you start to eat each meal

  • Taking 5 minutes to meditate

  • Allowing yourself time to take an epsom salt bath

  • Stretch

  • Pray

2. Avoid caffeine, smoking, processed foods, high carbohydrate and sugary foods.

3. Laugh, do something fun everyday.

4. Sleep as much as your body craves (8-12 hours if need be)

5. Eat regularly and make sure meals and snacks have some protein or fat and fiber in them to keep blood sugar level.

6. Consider taking adrenal adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and holy basil.

7. Correct any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances common deficiencies include omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin C and D, selenium, and B vitamins.

8. Manage stress, get a counselor, change the jobs, delegate tasks or ask for help.

One of the hardest parts of chronic fatigue is knowing where to start.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at every turn.

The truth is it doesn’t need to be this way, and with a proper evaluation, testing and individualized plan you can regain your energy and get your life back!