Fatigue is a condition in which you feel exhausted all the time, even if you are well-rested. It is not a normal part of getting older — it is a symptom of something that is wrong. There are many different causes of fatigue, so you should see your doctor to find out why you feel so tired.
WHAT IS FATIGUE?
Fatigue is a very common complaint – it is a symptom and not a disease. In a recent survey – 57% of office workers said that they had “fatigue”.
Fatigue can be caused by physiological or psychological conditions, and sometimes it may be a mixture of both. When we are fatigued, we feel exhausted and lethargic all the time. Fatigue can also affect our physical and emotional states. Fatigue doesn’t just affect our energy levels, it can also affect our moods, motivation, ability to think clearly and concentration. You may find that you feel very low in energy after completing a task, or after exercise.
Fatigue is a symptom and is diagnosed when for more than 2 weeks you are constantly tired, despite being well-rested.
Fatigue occurs gradually, and you may not realise how much it has been affecting you until you begin to realise that you are not achieving as much as you used to be able to do.
Fatigue may be an underlying cause of other conditions, so it is important that you see your Doctor or Allied Health professional so that we can assist you and investigate further the causes of your fatigue.
In general – the first place to start with is blood tests, so that we can get an overall picture of how your body is functioning.
WHAT CAUSES FATIGUE?
In general, fatigue is caused by stress, anxiety, depression, a lack of sleep (new parents) or a virus.
Fatigue may also be a symptom of a physical condition such as:
- Anemia – low iron levels which affect how our body is oxygenated. This affects women, in general, more often due to menstruation, however, coeliac disease can also be an underlying factor.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – CFS is a condition, whereby due to an infection with the Epstein Barr virus – in the long term people who have had this virus may develop chronic fatigue syndrome. Here people are severely affected and may not even be able to get out of bed for days or weeks.
- An underactive thyroid – where your thyroid is not producing enough of the hormone thyroxine. This can also affect weight, body temperature, and energy.
- Coeliac Disease – causes fatigue due to Gluten. Gluten affects the digestive system and we cannot absorb our nutrients, leading to fatigue.
- Glandular Fever – again, caused by the Epstein Barr virus and leaves the person with a very sore throat and fatigue.
TREATMENT OF FATIGUE
Treating fatigue may be difficult, depending on the underlying cause of your fatigue. In general – it is recommended to remove stressors from your life and to assist to eat a diet high in protein, fresh fruit and vegetables and exercise.
Practicing mindfulness and listening to your body is extremely important as well.
Having a good sleep routine is extremely important as we need rest for our body to carry out the repair of our body. It is recommended that we get 8-9 hours of sleep if possible.
A good sleep routine means that you go to bed at around the same time each night. It is recommended that we don’t read on our I Pad’s or kindles, but read an actual book, or listen to some gentle music and do some deep breathing exercises.
If you find that you are a worrier or overthinker – in my experience, it has been helpful to have a journal or paper beside the bed to jot down what is going on in the brain. This way we can assist our brain to stop analysing things so much. After jotting down your thoughts – take 5- 10 mins to listen to some gentle music and breathe, or, do muscle tension release exercises, where you start at your toes and tighten and loosen all the muscles from the toes to your head. This helps to release any tension in the body and can assist with AC to sleep.
Also prior to sleep, I suggest having a warm drink of our Sleepy Tea, or a cup of Chamomile tea, about an hour before bed, as this assists our body to unwind and relax, preparing us for sleep.
CHINESE MEDICINE AND FATIGUE:
From a TCM viewpoint, the organs that are affected when we are feeling fatigued are the Spleen, Stomach and our Kidneys.
The Spleen and Stomach organs are our Yin and Yang pair organs and these organs oversee our digestion.
In general, the spleen likes to be dry, while the stomach likes to be wet.
If the spleen becomes “wet” this creates dampness in the body and can leave us feeling bloated, heavy, with a poor appetite and it can affect our ability to sleep. The “damp” also affects the ability of the spleen and the stomach to break down and food and “rotten and ripen” our food so that they extract all the nutrients from our food.
When these 2 organs are affected, our digestion becomes affected.
This leads to a pattern of “Spleen Qi Deficiency” – where the spleen and stomach organ are not functioning at their correct potential – which leads to an imbalance in our digestion and one of the first effects is a decrease in energy.
Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and infections all influence these organs. In the long term, these begin to “drain” our organs energy.
The other organ that is affected is the kidneys. In Chinese Medicine, the kidneys assist to support our digestion through the Kidney Yang energy, which provides heat for the spleen and stomach to break down our food.
So, think of a fireplace that has a large fire and over the fit sits a cauldron full of soup to be cooked. The fire is our kidney yang energy. The cauldron is the spleen and stomach and the soup our food to be digested.
If we have a large amount of kidney yang energy – we have a large fire and we can cook our food easily and effectively.
Now, instead of a large fire, think of a pilot light on a stove, place that light under the cauldron in the fireplace – we can no longer “cook” our food effectively and in fact, it takes more energy to cook our food than what we get from it. This is the pattern of Kidney Yang deficiency. You may also experience, early morning diarrhea, a lack of appetite, being cold all the time.
All our organs in our body are interconnected. So, if one begins to decline and it is not corrected quickly, we can begin to drain the other supporting organs.
The kidneys and the Spleen and Stomach also provide all our “post-natal energy” – i.e. energy from our food.
Therefore – from a TCM viewpoint – to treat fatigue we look at the different patterns that occur and treating according to the pattern.
This is done via the history intake, pulse and tongue analysis.
The main aim of TCM treatment is to “tonify” the organs affected – the spleen, the stomach and the Kidneys. This provides nourishment to these organs and enables them to be built up and back to their optimal functioning level. As the organs gain energy – your fatigue will begin to get much better.
We treat fatigue based on your individual diagnosis, however in general treatment will consist of:
- Tonifying acupuncture points, including points to improve energy, digestion, kidney function, and reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
- Chinese herbal medicine – harmonizing and tonifying formulas are used to build up the organs, assist with digestion and support energy.
- Food as medicine – eliminating certain foods from your diet and eating according to your pattern. We use herbs, spices and general ways of cooking to enhance digestion and ensure that you are getting as much energy and nutrients out of your food. We use foods that are known to act on certain organs to build them up.
- Diet – in general, avoid fatty and greasy food, alcohol, soft drink, canned foods, processed foods, “old Food” such as leftovers that are older than 24 hours. Include lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, green leafy foods
- Supplements such as a high-quality multivitamin and a B vitamin to support your energy.
- Avoiding too much caffeine as this drains your adrenal glands and kidney energy.
- I found that when we were extremely tired, a good blend of teas to use were the ENERGY TEA and IMMUNITY tea together. As when we are tired, and exhausted, our immune system also becomes weakened, so it’s important to keep the immune system strong.
- I also used the digestive tea, to strengthen my digestive system and assist with energy levels.
Exercise is also an important way to manage fatigue and exhaustion. I recommend light exercise – walking, yoga, tai chi, qigong, Pilates. As we are already tired, we don’t want to fatigue the body any further. 30 mins a day is enough and in general, just moving your body assists with releasing hormones, and improving digestion. 30 mins doesn’t have to be all at once – you can break it down into 10 min blocks.
Mindfulness also helps – just stopping and checking in with your body. How do you feel? Is your body able to keep going, am I thinking clearly?
I find that for my clients, positive affirmations, a routine “time out” is a great way for them to check in with themselves and their bodies. Also, positive thinking and talking to your body, assist the body to improve and “feel Better”. Playing gentle music in the background is a perfect way to assist with relaxation and creating a calm environment.
A generalized treatment program would consist of seeing a TCM practitioner 1-2 times a week depending on the level of fatigue and exhaustion. In general, 6-8 treatments would be required, and I use Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine or my teas to assist with restoring energy levels, as well as exercise, diet therapy, food as medicine and other techniques to assist you.
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Written by Dr Julia Bartrop – Acupuncturist and Mother of 2