It seems that a large percentage of the population suffers from low energy.
Feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and overall sluggishness are incredibly common, and unfortunately seem to be the norm. It appears that it is so common that many people rationalize their low energy and brush it off as “normal.” Unless you have stayed up all night with a crying infant or danced the night away into the wee hours of the morning, feeling tired is not “normal” – especially when the feeling is constant. Fortunately, it is very possible to determine the source of fatigue and improve your energy. You do not have to feel like you are dragging yourself throughout the day – life is challenging, but it does not mean that it is an excuse for feeling exhausted on a regular basis.
The first step is identifying the source of low energy. You can begin to assess your own energy levels and lifestyle on your own, but consulting with a Naturopathic Doctor will provide more insight. Naturopathic Doctors know what to ask and how to assemble the pieces of the puzzle that make up your symptoms. Here are a few things you will want to consider when trying to identify the cause of your low energy, and how to improve it:
1. Do I get enough sleep?
Sleep is an obvious potential source of low energy. Inadequate sleep can wreak havoc on your energy levels directly, but also through your digestive system, metabolism, and mood. Poor sleep affects every aspect of your quality of life, so it is important to ensure a good night’s sleep. The specific number of hours required is individually based, but the general recommendation is around 7 hours per night. If you get 7 hours per night but are still feeling sluggish, it could mean that you have poor quality sleep. Poor quality sleep is defined as having difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep throughout the night – which comes with their own causes (anxiety, menopause, heartburn, electronic use). Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor if you relate to this because there are many options to improve sleep quantity and quality, depending on the cause.
2. Do I feel stressed? Do I handle and cope with stress effectively?
Life is not easy – work, family, relationships, finances, commitments, and obligations have us stretched thin, all while keeping in mind that we need to exercise and eat well to stay healthy. Most people experience stress on some level, in their own way. It is a challenge to eliminate stress altogether because it is the world in which we live. However, it is how we deal with the stress that makes the difference. If you are feeling overwhelmed, tense, and pre-occupied, this can take a significant toll on your energy. Your body only has a certain number of resources, and if most of them are allocated to feeling stressed, that leaves very little for anything else. Herbs such as chamomile, lavender, and passionflower can be very gentle and effective for calming the nervous system. L-theanine, often referred to as “yoga in a bottle” is also incredibly helpful for slowing down racing thoughts and making stress feel less intense. Magnesium is a mineral that many of us are deficient in, and can be helpful for reducing muscle tension and headaches, often associated with stress. It can also be found in raw cacao powder and dates. Adaptogenic herbs such as Withania and Eleutherococcus (among many others) can be beneficial for managing your stress response and modulating adrenal gland function (the glands responsible for producing many hormones). Depending on how you experience stress, that will dictate which treatment is best for you.
3. Do I exercise enough?
It may seem counter-intuitive to recommend exercising when you are tired but lack of physical activity – and I do not just mean working out in a gym – can increase lethargy. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve circulation, mood, and metabolism – along with the more obvious benefits such as cardiovascular health and weight maintenance. Our bodies are designed for movement, whether that be walking your dog, playing with your children, or lifting weights in a gym. A sedentary (aka inactive) lifestyle is associated with poor diet, poor sleep, obesity, and poor overall health – all of which impact your energy. I rarely recommend specific exercise guidelines to my patients (unless required or requested) because I believe activity can happen outside of a gym. Get off one bus or subway stop early, take the stairs, or park farther away from the mall or grocery store. Incorporating physical activity into your day does not have to be difficult, expensive, or involve spandex clothing. Just move.
4. Is my diet lacking nutrients?
You are what you eat right? Right. The more you put into your body, the more you get out. Ensuring that you are eating a variety of foods to support optimal functioning is key to good energy. There are also situations when extra nutrition is needed. For example, pregnancy, recovering from illness/surgery or being vegetarian/vegan. These are examples of when you need to be extra conscious of what you are consuming in order to ensure your body gets what it needs. My best advice is to eat a rainbow. The more color something has often means more nutrients. Beige food makes you feel beige because there is no life in it. Fried foods, refined sugars and starches, and dairy do not provide the nutrients needed for adequate energy production. Think about consuming more greens (kale, spinach), purples (blueberries, eggplant), oranges (sweet potatoes, carrots), and reds (strawberries, tomatoes). Another benefit of avoiding beige foods is weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.
5. Do I drink enough water?
Water is essential for all bodily functions. Our bodies are mostly composed of water, so therefore in order to keep it functioning optimally, we need to hydrate. In a caffeinated world like ours, most people are not drinking enough water. For every cup of caffeine you consume (coffee, black tea, green tea, soda), you lose one cup of water. For example, if you drink 3 cups of coffee (regular-sized cups) and you drink 6 glasses of water – you, in fact, have only drunk 3 glasses of water to account for the caffeine that dehydrates you. Dehydration can zap you of energy. One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is waking up exhausted. The exact amount of water required is dependent based on individual needs, but the average recommendation is around 8 glasses per day. However, if you are exercising, drinking lots of caffeine, or in a hot environment then you may need to consume more. Herbal teas and water flavored with sliced fruit/vegetables are other options to ensure adequate hydration.
6. When was the last time I had laboratory blood work done?
This is a big one. A lot of times we sleep enough, manage stress, exercise, eat well, and drink plenty of water. So why are we still tired? Your blood work can tell you and your Naturopathic Doctor a lot. Laboratory testing has the advantage of objectively measuring what is happening inside your body – something that is difficult to assess without it. Often times, the cause of fatigue can be seen in blood work, and maybe relatively simple to resolve. The most common causes of low energy identified in laboratory testing are low iron stores (ferritin, hemoglobin), low vitamin B12, and low thyroid function. Keep in mind that most conventional doctors do not flag some results whereas a Naturopathic Doctor may. Therefore, it is always important to get a copy of your results, regardless of whether or not your doctor says everything is “normal.” Bringing your results to a Naturopathic Doctor allows he or she to interpret them based on what we define as clinically optimal or suboptimal.
There are many other potential causes of low energy and an even greater number of ways in which it can be improved. Feeling sluggish does not have to be your “normal” and you should not settle for feeling less than optimal. Consider what may be causing your low energy and speak with a Naturopathic Doctor for guidance on how to boost it and feel better.
Dr. Bianca Drennan ND, provides nutritional consulting and naturopathic medicine services at Pacific Wellness and is available for appointments five days a week. If you would like to detoxify and trim your body, improve your lifestyle or address certain health concerns please call us at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request to arrange your initial appointment. The naturopathic appointments are covered by most employee benefits.