Chronic Fatigue

The unsuspected lifestyle causes of chronic fatigue

The season of endless dinner parties and reunions is over, and you are able to get that much needed downtime and go back to your usual routine, but how come you still feel tired? Why does that feeling of fatigue remain and affect your day-to-day activities?

If you’re feeling exhausted and tired for a long period of time even after taking some rest, you may have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It is also associated with that feeling of lacking energy to do any activity. While the causes of CFS are unknown, it is usually associated with certain medical conditions or can be triggered by one or more psychological and/or mental factors.

Tired of being tired?

The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice describes chronic fatigue as “a sensation of exhaustion during or after usual daily activities.” What’s worse, you may not even have the physical and mental energy to begin any of these activities.

Dr. Peter Rowe, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins who treats children with chronic fatigue, explains its key feature as the “inability to tolerate both physical and cognitive exertion.”

“Everybody’s had some experience of fatigue, but this is so much more than that,” he says.

Investigating the root cause

In the United States, an estimated one million people are believed to have CFS. The numbers may be due to the difficulty in identifying a single cause.

Experts point to various culprits, including what you eat, where you are, as well as how much sleep and stress you have. Consider the following factors:

  • Your nutrition. Your diet is a factor as studies link chronic fatigue to the lack of nutrients, including B vitamins, CoQ10, Carnitine, Amino Acids, Vitamin D, Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Magnesium, and Zinc. For instance, low levels of amino acids may also diminish cellular energy production via the Kreb’s cycle, as manifested in clinical fatigue.
  • Your environment. Exposure to toxins such as Mercury was found among patients with chronic fatigue.
  • Your hormones. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands, or adrenal glands.
  • Your gut.  Some studies that examine the bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract have shown that presence of specific microorganisms may cause chronic fatigue.

Because it’s caused by a range of factors, chronic fatigue can manifest in various ways. Aside from being afflicted with bodily pains, others experience more than the physical consequences. Common complaints include headaches, tender lymph nodes, sore throat, muscle pain and joint pain, in addition to exhaustion and discomfort after physical exertion.

Taking control of chronic fatigue

A challenge for doctors is that most symptoms are similar to other health ailments, and no single cause has been identified. That’s why the usual diagnosis falls short of a solution.

For the evaluation of fatigue, a typical approach includes a detailed history,  physical examination, and conventional laboratory and other testing to rule out common causes such as viral infections, anemia, nutritional deficiencies, thyroid dysfunction, cardiovascular issues, or (more rarely) cancer.

In a US study of patients presenting to their family doctors with fatigue, only 27% of patients were given a specific diagnosis following work-up.* This leaves a large percentage of people (73%) continuing to struggle with the condition, leading to frustration for both patients and physicians.

Advanced systems-based testing is an added tool used to identify possible areas of dysfunction resulting to chronic fatigue, generally not detected in conventional diagnostics. These areas include in-depth nutritional status, environmental-toxin exposure, endocrine function, and gastrointestinal/immune function.  This provides additional valuable insight into the potential root cause of the condition.

Once armed with more information, you can then fill the gaps to address chronic fatigue. By knowing what holds you back, you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to move forward to a healthier and stronger new year.

*Source: Ment Health Fam Med. The treatment of patients with medically unexplained symptoms in primary care: a review of the literature. Dec 2010; 7(4): 209–221.

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