What is fatigue and how do I get over it?


1st Jan 2015 Wellbeing

What is fatigue and how do I get over it?

Feeling dog-tired, as so many people do, is disheartening, demoralising and frustrating–but can be resolved.

What is the Cause of Fatigue?

If you're struggling just to stay awake, life is passing by and you can't keep up with it, willpower won't fix it, so what does? Thankfully, there are plenty of remedies, from food and drink to exercise and supplements.

If you feel ‘tired all the time’ even after taking steps to treat fatigue, make an appointment to see your doctor. Fatigue can be a symptom of thyroid problems, depression, diabetes, anaemia and many other conditions. If you have fatigue along with the sudden onset of abdominal pain, shortness of breath or severe headache, seek medical attention immediately.


Fatigue treatments: food and drink to try

Eat more high-fibre foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread and vegetables. These help to stabilise blood sugar.

Cut a washed, unpeeled potato into slices and leave the pieces to soak in water overnight. In the morning, drink the juice for a natural tonic brimming with potassium. Your body needs this mineral for transmitting nerve impulses and making muscles move, along with other vital functions. In fact, some natural healers maintain that deficiencies in potassium are common in people who suffer from chronic fatigue.

Eat a good breakfast along with several small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. This is better than eating 2 or 3 large meals.

Eating spinach once a day is a time-honoured remedy for relieving fatigue and we all know what it did for Popeye. Spinach contains potassium as well as many B vitamins, all of which are important to energy metabolism.

Sip water all day long, at least 8 glasses. Don't wait until you're thirsty, because your ‘thirst alarm’ isn't always accurate. Even a little dehydration can make you feel tired.


Fatigue treatments: Food and drinks to avoid

Cut down on your intake of fatty foods. To improve adrenal gland function, which influences metabolism of nutrients, limit the saturated fat in your diet to 10 per cent.

Go easy on foods high in refined carbohydrates–that is, lots of white sugar or white flour. These foods make your blood sugar rise rapidly, then crash quickly. French bread, spaghetti and cake are not your best choices. You'll end up feeling weak and tired.

Keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum. The caffeine in coffee and some colas can give you a short-term burst of energy, but following that rush, there's usually a ‘crash’.

Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. It also reduces your blood sugar level.


Exercise to reduce symptoms of fatigue

Most days of the week, try to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Not only does exercise help you to shed unwanted kilos (carrying extra weight is tiring), it also gives you an energy boost.

Consider taking up yoga or tai chi. These ancient forms of exercise allow you to get physical activity, but they also include relaxation components that can be reinvigorating.

Fit in 10 minutes of low-level exercise when you feel sluggish. Usually people with fatigue have a decreased supply of adenosine diphosphate (ADP), an intracellular ‘messenger’ involved in energy metabolism. Translated, it means there's not enough ‘spark’ in the engine. Almost any kind of activity will help–singing, taking deep breaths, walking or stretching.

Lie on your back and use pillows to prop your feet at a level higher than your head or, better still, lie on an adjustable exercise bench or other surface that slants. In India, yogis fight fatigue through such practices by encouraging bloodflow to the brain, which is thought to boost alertness.


Natural remedies for fatigue

Ginseng is an ancient cure for that rundown feeling. Look for a supplement containing extracts standardised for ginsenoside content (in the case of Korean or Panax ginsengs) or standardised to contain 300mg to 1g of the dried root equivalent content (in the case of Siberian ginseng). Take according to manufacturer's instructions. (Caution Don't take ginseng if you have high blood pressure.)

For a quick pick-me-up, put 2 drops of peppermint oil on a tissue or handkerchief, hold it to your nose and breathe deeply. Or try adding 2 drops of the oil to the bathwater along with 4 drops of rosemary oil for an invigorating soak.

Ginkgo improves bloodflow to the brain, which can make you feel more alert and less fatigued. Look for a product that is standardised for content of ginkgo flavone glycosides, and take according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Supplements for fatigue

Try taking 150mg of magnesium (preferably as magnesium citrate) twice a day. This mineral is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. It plays a role in changing protein, fat and carbohydrates into energy sources. A mild deficiency may be the cause of fatigue in some people.

Consider taking carnitine supplements. This amino acid helps fuel the activity of mitochondria, cell components that produce energy. It's found in some foods, but most of us don't get enough in our diets. Take according to manufacturer's instructions.

Coenzyme Q10, a substance produced by the body, also helps your mitochondria make energy. Take as tablets or capsules, according to the manufacturer's instructions. It's best absorbed when taken with food. It may take 8 weeks before you notice any effect. Coenzyme Q10 is also found in certain foods, including nuts and oils.

Take a daily multivitamin to ensure you're getting the minimum amount of nutrients your body needs. Deficiencies can deplete your energy stores.


Sleep habits to treat fatigue

Always get up at the same time, even at weekends. Your body will eventually get the hang of a regular sleep routine.

Go to bed earlier than normal if you need extra sleep. As long as you're getting up at the same time every morning, it's fine to have a flexible going-to-bed schedule.

Keep naps short. If you snooze for more than half an hour during the day, your body will want more and you'll feel groggy when you wake up.

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