If You Are Tired All the Time
Do you fall out of bed, crash around 3pm, and sofa snooze before supper Registered nutritionist Jackie Lynch and author of Va Va Voom explains how you can put the spring back into your step.
There seems to be something of a low-energy epidemic going on all over the world; so much so, that TATT (tired all the time) has become a popular shorthand amongst doctors, often used to describe patients who consistently complain of tiredness when tests reveal no apparent medical cause.
In my nutrition clinic, I constantly see people who simply put up with their fatigue as if it’s completely normal to be dragging themselves out of bed in the morning; kick-starting themselves with coffee; wilting at their work-station; struggling with the dreaded mid-afternoon slump and snoozing in front of the TV in the evening. If they think about it at all, they usually put it down to their age and a busy life, but whether they’re 29 or 69, in most cases diet and lifestyle are the main culprits.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way, because it really is possible to make a big difference to energy levels in a very short space of time with the right nutrition and lifestyle. We already hold the key to our energy ignition — we just need to know how to switch it on and keep the engine running effectively.
In my clinic I have seen different types of tiredness, so it was important for me to explore how tiredness can vary. In Va Va Voom, readers can take quizzes to help discover their energy weak point: lack of strength and stamina; energy highs and lows; loss of focus and concentration; or a constant feeling of exhaustion are all different ways that people experience fatigue. Understanding the nature of your tiredness is the first step to finding the best diet and lifestyle solution.
It is important to understand the nature of your tiredness
In my clinical experience, there are four key areas that most commonly contribute to lack of energy, once medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, coeliac disease or iron deficiency anaemia have all been ruled out.
The principles behind my 10-day energy diet relate to these four areas:
• Chronic inflammation.
Studies have shown that a constant state of lowgrade inflammation can contribute to a general state of tiredness, as well as specific fatigue-related conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein and proinflammatory cytokines have been seen to be raised in individuals with fatigue.
Chronic inflammation can lead to different kinds of problems
• Blood sugar balance.
• Ensuring optimum levels of the macro and micronutrients required for energy supply and production.
• Limiting the factors that deplete energy, including alcohol, sugar, excess caffeine or dehydration.
Using of alcohol can make you more tired
Of course, there are numerous potential imbalances, deficiencies or biochemical factors that can impact energy levels but there are always a few obvious suspects to target as a first step in a clinical context.
Blood sugar balance
Any nutritional therapist will tell you that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to a therapeutic approach, but there is one area that will make a difference to almost anyone struggling with tiredness and so it’s usually my first port of call while I’m waiting for any test results. Balancing blood sugar is the equivalent
of Energy 101 — in other words, the basics in maintaining energy levels. Not only will it make a big difference to anyone who experiences energy highs and lows throughout the day and help to regulate sleep patterns, but as the approach includes increasing energy-boosting foods such as wholegrains and vegetables and avoiding some key robbers such as sugar and alcohol, the overall benefits can be considerable.
How does blood sugar impact energy?
Glucose is a primary source of quick energy for the body, which means that low blood sugar will leave you feeling tired, irritable, and unable to focus or
concentrate. The infamous mid-afternoon energy slump is all about low blood glucose and is usually a result of relying on sugary foods or refined carbohydrate to keep you going. High blood sugar releases the hormone insulin as an emergency response, with its highly efficient hoovering of the blood which will send the sugar off to be stored in the liver or in fat cells. As the blood sugar drops, stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, generating powerful cravings for a quick sugary fix and starting the whole rollercoaster process all over again. This battle of the hormones throughout
the day can be exhausting and if the blood sugar drops overnight due to unwise food or drink choices in the evening, sleep will be restless and disrupted, leaving you tired and unrefreshed in the morning.
Vegetables can increase blood sugar balance and make you more energetic
How to regulate blood sugar
The solution is simple: a combination of complex carbohydrate, (e.g. wholegrains and vegetables) and protein, (e.g. meat, fish, eggs or pulses) with every meal and snack. This provides slow-release, sustainable energy for the body which will help avoid the cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrate that lead to trouble. It also has the secondary benefit of featuring foods that are also rich in iron, B vitamins and magnesium, which are all essential for optimal energy production. That may sound relatively simple, but in my clinical experience, women tend to be very poor at eating enough protein and will often plough on through a busy day without any protein at all until the evening
meal. They’re also far more likely to skip meals than men, which will lead to further blood sugar issues, as the body starts to run out of fuel. It can take quite a bit of coaching and encouragement to address these ingrained habits.
The role of magnesium
When I observe a client experiencing tension headaches, a sense of clinging on by the fingertips or feeling tired but wired so that it’s difficult to switch off and relax, I think about magnesium. It’s the multi-tasker of the minerals and is discreetly responsible for over 300 essential chemical reactions across the body, which is why a deficiency can cause a range of different potential symptoms. Magnesium helps to regulate muscle function, supports our response to stress, influences blood pressure and nerve impulses, promotes a healthy digestion, is important for bone health, and even plays a role in DNA production.
In energy terms, magnesium starts your engine. If you have a deficiency, you’re likely to feel as if you’re running on empty all the time because it’s absolutely essential in the energy production process, activating the enzymes that spark the entire chain reaction. I find magnesium very helpful when I’m working with clients whose tiredness stems from the stress of a very busy life, because it helps to calm the nervous system. It can be very supportive for anyone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome because of its core role in
energy production and the part it plays in supporting muscle function, and it can also make a big difference to anyone who suffers from insomnia.
Magnesium is a set of minerals that helps you with sleep
How to boost magnesium levels
Good food sources of magnesium include wholegrain foods, leafy green
vegetables, and sunflower seeds. Including these in your diet every day can help to keep magnesium levels topped up. Supplements should not exceed 400 mg per day without the advice of a health professional and, to avoid the risk of potential harmful interactions, you should speak to your doctor if you’re taking any medication. One very relaxing way of increasing magnesium levels is to try an Epsom (magnesium) salts bath — add two to three handfuls of salts in the bath and relax for at least 20 minutes. The magnesium will absorb through the skin, relaxing the muscles, relieving tension, and setting you up for a good night’s sleep.
A group of individual nutrients, B vitamins work as a team to support a range of different functions in the body. A deficiency of one B vitamin is likely to indicate a deficiency of another and because they are so vital for our energy
levels, this can have a domino effect leading to tiredness and fatigue, which is
why it’s always an area I’ll explore in my clinic.
While most B vitamins are found in a range of everyday foods, they can easily be depleted by regular alcohol consumption — and because they’re involved in the stress response, we may use up large amounts when we’re under pressure. Studies suggest that B vitamin supplementation may help to regulate stress levels.
B vitamins support different functions of the body
B vitamins and energy levels
Vitamins B1 and B5 kick-start what is known as the citric acid cycle of energy production. Vitamins B2 and B3 are required for the effective functioning of the electron transport chain which is the part of the process that produces the most ATP energy molecules. Low levels of these vitamins means that the energy production process won’t get started and you won’t have the resource you need to keep going. Vitamins B6, B9 (folate/folic acid) and B12 support energy in a different way because they’re involved in the production of red blood cells, the transport of oxygen around the body, and the optimal absorption of iron, ensuring that our energy levels remain topped up at all times. A deficiency in any of these can leave you struggling with weakness and lack of stamina.
Boosting B vitamins
Most B vitamins are found in a broad range of vegetables and pulses, but your choice of cooking method is vital because they’re water soluble and you could lose 30-40 per cent of the B vitamin content if you boil them. Lightly steaming your vegetables is the best way to preserve the content when cooking. Vegans may be at particular risk of vitamin B12 deficiency6 because it’s usually only found in animal food sources, although it may also be in some fortified products such as nutritional yeast or Marmite. The synergistic nature of B vitamins means that it’s probably wise to opt for a B vitamin complex if you decide to supplement. It’s important to respect the dosage on the bottle to ensure you remain within safe limits and always check with your doctor if you’re taking any medication to avoid potential harmful interactions.
The impact of stress on energy levels is such that I believe proactively managing wellbeing is a crucial part of the energy equation. Our 21st century lifestyle and the communication explosion means that we’re often operating under extreme pressure. During their working day, many of my clients barely leave their desk and struggle to remember what they had for lunch because they’re glued to their screen so there’s no question of eating mindfully. My specialism, by definition, is food; but experience has taught me that if I don’t address the broader issue, it doesn’t matter how many B vitamins I recommend!
Two key areas that can also make a big difference in relieving stress and supporting energy levels are exercise and mindfulness. The impact of regular exercise on reducing stress levels is well-documented, and although it may seem counter-intuitive, moderate exercise can actually help improve energy levels when you’re feeling tired. I encourage clients to take a 15-minute walk at lunchtime because just stopping work for a short time can help to reduce the stress levels which inhibit energy production. I also advise stepping away from the desk every couple of hours to take 10 slow, deep breaths in and out. This will help to enhance the circulation of oxygen around the body as well as calming the nervous system and reducing stress levels. This can also be a helpful first step towards mindfulness meditation which encourages being in the moment and paying attention to the action of your breath. Studies have shown that mindfulness can contribute significantly to stress reduction and wellbeing.
Try to feel happy every day and then you will notice changes in life immediately
Smart phones and digital devices have allowed our work life to invade our home space with significant consequences for our stress levels. I recommend clients put away digital devices at least one hour before bedtime, to allow the body time to calm down and recognise that it’s time for bed. I also suggest leaving all digital devices outside of the bedroom because studies have shown that the blue light can disrupt production of melatonin, the hormone that governs our sleep cycles.
While it’s advisable to seek advice if you experience regular fatigue which is unrelieved by rest, there’s much you can do from a diet and lifestyle perspective to address everyday energy issues. Even if you need more specialist advice from a nutritional therapist, focusing on blood sugar balance, eating more vegetables, and practising mindfulness would be a very good start.
“Optium Nurtition” by Jackie Lynch