Many people in this society admit they feel tired, mostly due to busy lives and long working hours, and once they relax they feel an even deeper sense of fatigue.
Unfortunately, there is no healthy quick fix; there isn’t a tablet to relieve tiredness. We live in a society that fuels itself on caffeine for fast stimulation but this is a short term solution and brings its own problems. Caffeine increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and sometimes exacerbates anxiety. It can create an addictive cycle of a surge of energy causing a slump afterwards followed by the need for another quick energy fix.
With this in mind, all aspects of your lifestyle need to be examined to ensure that every possible reason why you might be tired is addressed. This means looking at
• what you eat
• when you eat
• the amount of water you drink
• how stressed you are or have been, and
• whether you have convalesced long enough after a major illness
Diet, supplements and herbs
A rich and varied diet is a good start; you need to make sure that you are getting enough carbohydrates, fats and protein with adequate minerals and vitamins, so that your body is able to work as well as it can. There are so many different ideas nowadays about what is the right diet that it can be confusing to know what to eat. Personally, I don’t think there is one specific diet that suits everyone, and therefore it is important to know your own individual reactions to certain foods. Some people do find they have higher energy levels when they cut out wheat and grains and others don’t.
If you are feeling tired it is worth aiming for a diet that contains about 40 % complex carbohydrates, 20 to 25% protein and 25% fat. Complex carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body but one that people rely on too much. Carbohydrates provide a ready source of energy which is used quite quickly in the body, but fats and protein provide a much slower release of energy which can help with maintaining more constant energy levels. Protein and fat for breakfast can be particularly important as they provide long term fuel for the day.
It could also be worth limiting the amount of refined sugar you eat so that you avoid the energy crashes that come from high sugar food. If you are tired it is easy to reach for that cake or chocolate bar, but the energy it gives you is short lasting and you will soon feel a slump.
Monitoring your exact intake of vitamins and minerals can be hard so as a general rule I always recommend trying to eat food of every colour as frequently as possible to ensure you are getting the full spectrum of necessary nutrients. If you know that you have not been eating much fruit and vegetables for a while it could be worth supplementing with a good multivitamin for a month to give your levels a boost.
If you are vegan, vegetarian or a woman who has heavy periods and you are feeling tired you might be low in iron or vitamin B12 think about getting those levels checked. If you are low, I would recommend, depending on your deficiency, supplementing with bio-available iron or an absorbable vitamin B12 like methylcobalamin for a couple of months to get your levels back up, then concentrating on wholefoods to keep them there.
Vitamin D deficiency can also be a cause of tiredness, which can easily be checked with a blood test. During the summer we can make an adequate amount of vitamin D from direct sun, but in the winter this is not possible so a supplement would be needed.
Eating regular meals stabilises blood sugar levels which can help to prevent energy crashes. Food is your fuel and without it you will not go very far, so with that in mind it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to eat breakfast – particularly one high in protein.
The importance of staying hydrated
Also, staying hydrated is important as dehydration can cause you to feel tired. Each person’s water requirement will be different but thirst or dark coloured urine is a good indicator of dehydration.
The effects of stress and anxiety
Long-term stress can really take its toll on the body and is a very common reason for tiredness. The adrenal glands, that are situated on top of the kidneys, release the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol which help the body adapt to stress. This stress response evolved as a short term survival mechanism. It should not to be present on a daily basis, which can be the case when stressed. This long term stimulation will deplete the adrenals. Herbs like Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Astragalus and Siberian Ginseng are useful adaptogenic herbs that support the adrenal glands and help recreate stamina and resilience in the body without being overly stimulating.
Chronic anxiety and insomnia are also causes of fatigue and can be helped by taking magnesium and a vitamin B complex which can calm and relax the mind and body, whilst there is also a wide range of herbs that can be useful including Oats, Passionflower, Skullcap, Valerian and Vervain.
Hormones and tiredness
Another reason why you might be feeling tired is that you have an under active thyroid. In this case the other symptoms that accompany tiredness would be: feeling more cold, putting on weight and needing to sleep more. If you have any of these symptoms consider a visit to the doctor to get a blood test for thyroid function.
Other hormonal changes during premenstrual and perimenopausal times can also make you feel tired. During these times it is important to focus on eating well, and if this is not possible taking a good multivitamin, supporting your adrenals with herbs and taking time to rest and rejuvenate if possible.
Tiredness should not be by a permanent fixture in your life. By finding the specific reason for your tiredness and utilising the support that is available to you in terms of advice, nutrients and herbs, your energy levels should gradually improve.
[This article was originally published by Wild Oats Natural Foods, where I advise on herbs, supplements and nutrition]