Published on womanandhome.com 6 August 2019
In 2015 it was reported that 1 in 5 visits to the GP were related to tiredness and fatigue; and based on current evidence, this statistic could be getting worse. At any given time 1 in 5 people feel unusually tired and 1 in 10 have prolonged fatigue (according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists). Women tend to feel more tired than men.
A study by Healthspan in 2018 reported that the average Briton spends seven and a half years of their life feeling tired.
What is going on?
21st Century living appears to be the main cause. Burning the candle at both ends, chronically stressed, poor eating habits and modern technology are all taking their toll on our health and our ability to feel well.
As a Naturopath I aim to help my clients achieve optimum health and to me this is a feeling of vitality. Vitality is a state of being full of life and energy. To achieve vitality there are a number of lifestyle factors that need to be considered and corrected and from experience it is possible to see almost instant improvements and relief from tiredness.
Number 1 in my toolbox is looking at people’s diets to see if meals are balanced to help achieve balanced blood sugar (glucose). Most people tend to eat imbalanced meals with too many starchy carbohydrates or too much sugary fruit and insufficient fat and protein. This will result in a spike in blood glucose, a corresponding release of insulin to utilise the glucose and very often a resulting dip in blood sugar levels. This “yo-yo” effect can have drastic consequences on our energy levels.
Number 2 is investigating people’s fluid intake. It is not just about the total quantity of fluid but what is being consumed. Tea, coffee and alcohol are stimulants. They stimulate the adrenal glands to release stress hormones and in preparation for the “fight or flight” response, glucose is released into the bloodstream. This tends to exacerbate the yo-yo effect I describe above –even more so if sugar is added to the drinks. So what may appear as an instant boost to energy very quickly has the opposite effect. A reliance on stimulants is exhausting to the body.
At the same time most people are not consuming enough fluid and the body may be dehydrated. Your body requires water in every cell and is involved in metabolic processes; delivering nutrients to cells and removal of waste. Your body is 60% water.
Most Britons do not get nearly enough sleep. Shift work and modern blue light from LED and mobile devices can play havoc with our natural circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle). 67% of Britons have disrupted sleep (waking in the night, unable to return to sleep, difficulty falling asleep). Blue light from mobile devices has a stimulating effect and may suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps promote sleep. In addition, the stimulating effect of TV and activity on our gadgets, plus stimulants like alcohol, disrupt our body’s preparation to fall asleep.
Of course our busy hectic schedules may put us into a near constant state of stress. I mention the “fight or flight” stress response above. Chronic stress will cause the near constant release of cortisol turning up the alarm state of the body. We are not designed to be on high alert 24/7. It will use up valuable nutrients and stored energy, it will impact on quality sleep and the consequences of this will add to fatigue.
Exercise can be a good and bad thing. I see many people undertaking very high impact cardio classes before or after (or both!) a stressful day at the office. This is likely to further fuel the stress response!
These are the tips I find most valuable in practice
Aim to consume three regular meals a day ensuring that each one has approximately 35% of the plate protein and fats (think nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, olive oil); 45% vegetables or salad and 20% (non refined) starchy carbohydrates. Not only will the protein and fat help to keep you fuller for longer but the addition of these slow the speed that the starchy carbohydrates are digested to simple sugars (like glucose) and released into the bloodstream. This “balance” of macronutrients helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. And the vegetables are delivering valuable nutrients and phytonutrients.
Aim to consume 2L fluid per day (slightly more when sweating) with the majority coming from water, herbal or fruit teas or very diluted cordial (if you do not like the taste of water). Limit your tea and coffee intake to 2-3 cups per day. Aim for several alcohol free days and limiting your alcohol intake to 14 units per week (both men and women).
Aim to create a night time routine, turning off gadgets two hours before bed and choosing less stimulating TV programs. Try to establish a regular sleep and wake pattern. Allow yourself at least 30 minutes to unwind before going to bed. Consider having an Epsom salt bath a couple of times a week as the magnesium content has a relaxant effect.
If waking in the night is a common problem, consider a small nighttime snack (such as two oat cakes with nut butter) as this may help avoid a dip in blood sugar and a release of adrenaline at 2 or 3am!
Find more calming, stress reducing exercise to do on a regular basis: yoga, pilates, tai chi, walking, dance classes, gardening are all good choices.
Download a meditation app and get into the practice of meditating at points throughout the day and especially before bed. Deep breathing is another beneficial practice.
Other potential causes of tiredness are nutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin D, B12 or iron.
Seek expert help
A qualified practitioner can help you identify the potential main causes of your tiredness. If a GP has ruled out there is nothing more seriously wrong, a Naturopathic practitioner will look to identify the root cause to ill health and help put in place a diet and lifestyle protocol that is tailored unique to you.
Caroline is a very experienced practitioner and is committed to helping her clients both in the community and corporate world lead a happier, healthier more active life. After twenty years in the corporate sector, she re-qualified as a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist setting up in practice in 2010. She has expanded her knowledge by training in Naturopathy, Iridology, muscle response testing and wellbeing coaching. She helped launch and is Chair of the Naturopathic Nutrition Association (NNA), the practitioner organisation for those who practice in accordance with naturopathic principles and sits on the GNC (General Naturopathic Council).