RUNNING ON EMPTY – Solving Your Personal Energy Crisis
by Lynn Hinderliter, CN, LDN
It is a rare and fortunate person who has never reached the end of the day – or paused half way through it – or got out of bed in the morning – and thought: I just can’t do any more – I’m EXHAUSTED’. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common complaints I hear. Remember, though, that persistent debilitating exhaustion should be checked out by your Doctor – it may be a sign of something seriously awry.
Lack of Energy is not a simple problem, and determining the possible cause of fatigue is more than half the battle.
Sometimes, the stage of life one is at can point to the most likely reason:
- a young person complaining of fatigue, absent any medical condition, might look at lifestyle and dietary connections – a nutritious breakfast and a good multi-vitamin can make all the difference.
- In the middle years, stress, hormonal imbalances and digestive issues may need to be addressed.
- Many medications cause fatigue.
- More mature sufferers should consider a possible cardiovascular connection, energy failure at the cellular level.
However, any of the following conditions can cause fatigue at any age – more information on each as you continue to read.
* Adrenal exhaustion
* Thyroid problems
* Faulty Diet
* Faulty Cellular chemistry/cardiovascular
* Missing Nutrients
* Essential Fatty Acid deficiency
* Toxicity/Elimination problems
* Digestive/Absorption problems
* Viral overload/Infections/Inflammation
* Chronic fatigue – Guest article by Dr. Lindsey Duncan.
The age we live in now differs from all that has gone before because rather than occasionally being subjected to one BIG shock, we experience a series of small shocks all day every day. For most people in the past – times of war, famine or other unique circumstances excepted – life was pretty humdrum: you lived where you lived, did what you did, and day succeeded day. Not so for us moderns!
We deal with environmental toxins, fear of petty crime and urban dangers, drugs (to include medical, alcohol, over the counter, recreational, caffeine), unhealthy foods eaten in a rush, or missed meals, mental and emotional stress from our families and at work, financial worries, insomnia, traffic, time constraints, allergies – the list is endless. The demands on our body’s reserves are pitiless and incessant.
All of these stressors adversely affect the adrenals.
While they may not be stimulated to the level of fight or flight reaction stage which causes the production of epinephrine and norepinephrine, they are continuously stimulated to increase their production of Cortisol. This low-level stimulation over a period of time will exhaust them: both high (long term, continual stimulation) or low (eventual failure to respond) levels of Cortisol are devastating to many body systems.
Chronic Stress response, therefore, can lead to problems with energy production, regulatory problems with bone, the kidneys and fat storage, and altered immune function.
Eventually the Adrenal glands, the Major-Generals of Stress Reaction, will no longer respond to the cry for action: they are depleted beyond the point of function. The situation is made worse by a lack of the nutrients essential to proper adrenal function, and also by a shift in the acid/alkaline state of the body. Both your body and mind can experience this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
What are some possible clues that you may have Adrenal Problems?
A simple home test for adrenal failure is to take your blood pressure while you are lying down, then take it again after rising to your feet. If it is lower when you are standing up than when you are lying down – this may suggest a problem. Suspect this if you get dizzy when standing up suddenly.
An effective saliva test is available reasonably.
I also offer an even more sophisticated system, which measures Adrenal response at 4 times during the day, together with the marker that can tell whether your immune system is being affected by infections, allergies and/or environmental toxins. (these test are not longer available)
(This is an excerpt from my article on Stress and the Adrenals: more about the Adrenals, Stress, and how to address it here)
Persistent allergies and intolerances, whether from food or from environmental factors, can contribute to lack of energy.
- Allergies can cause sleep problems through nasal congestion and disturbed sleep patterns which undermine our rest.
- Allergies are health stressors which drag down our systems and cause fatigue.
The Coca pulse test can help you identify food allergens/intolerances, and avoiding those foods will bring about an improvement. Adding digestive enzymes, and histamine lowering substances such as vitamin C, bromelain and quercetin can also help correct this underlying and subtle attack on your defenses.
(Read a more extensive article on Allergies here.)
The Adrenals affect the thyroid directly through an excess of Cortisol which stimulates rT3, an inhibitor of T3, or through a deficiency, causing high levels of DHEA to interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3.
There are also indirect connections, through immune response for example.
The Thyroid gland is the regulator of our metabolism, and therefore hugely important to how we feel, look and think, most particularly affecting our energy levels.
It is fascinating to look at the complex relationship between the adrenals, certain sex hormones, and thyroid function, but somewhat beyond my scope here. For more details , look for the link in RESOURCES.
The Immune system can be intimately involved in thyroid imbalances. In fact, uncomplicated low thyroid measurements could almost be considered a mild immune disorder, and a more serious manifestation is called Hashimoto’s disease: a number of factors might be combining to “cause our immune systems to make antibodies against our own thyroid glands. If you have a family history of low thyroid, diabetes, or other rheumatic/autoimmune illness, then almost any serious physical or mental stress might trigger the primed immune system into mischievous action against the thyroid, one of its favorite body targets.” Full text at http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/shamesautoimm.htm.
Imbalances in estrogen and progesterone can block receptor sites for thyroid uptake. It is therefore critical for women to determine whether their sex hormones are in balance before turning to the thyroid as the only problem, since addressing one without the other will often be ineffective.
Exposure to radiation is something we need to be aware of too, as our atmosphere thins. Smoking is a prime cause of thyroid problems of all types (see NEJM article at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/333/15/1001), and there is some evidence that suggests that eating too much soy may also be problematic. The fluoride connection cannot be ignored (more at http://thyroid.about.com/library/weekly/aa042801a.htm).
The important point is that before addressing the thyroid with medication, it can be worthwhile (if your health professional agrees)
first, to look at adrenal function and if necessary correct it
and second, to see whether supporting the thyroid with the nutrients it needs to function properly can make the difference.
Remember, once you are on synthetic thyroid, you are on it for life: the gland itself ceases to function altogether.
Nor is long-term use of thyroxine without its risks since it has been connected to osteoporosis. This seems to be a dose dependent reaction, since Thyroxine replacement that normalizes thyroid-stimulating hormone but does not completely suppress it appears to be associated with normal bone density. This is a very difficult balance to achieve, entailing continuous monitoring, and not a risk I personally would like to take until I had tried other avenues! There are warnings about its use where heart problems are present, and it needs careful monitoring in diabetics (more at http://journal.diabetes.org/clinicaldiabetes/v18n12000/Pg38.htm). Last but not least, treating with thyroid hormone therapy before testing the Adrenals can make the latter condition worse.
All of which is an argument for trying a more holistic approach first. It doesn’t seem sensible to take a synthetic hormone, when your body may simply be lacking what it needs to control its own production. The guidelines below for nourishing your thyroid might also serve as an illustration of how to correct a faulty diet.
If you have recently started taking Synthroid, you might consider asking your Doctor to switch you to Armour (http://www.armourthyroid.com/), which is a more natural form of the hormone. Doctors used to be reluctant to prescribe this because of perceived problems in consistency, but this is no longer a problem.
Addressing a Faulty Diet.
Eat foods high in carotenes, ones with rich color such as yellow vegetables, eggs, carrots, and dark green vegetables. Blueberries and other berries, mangoes, melons are also good choices.
Stay away from refined foods, saturated fats, sugars, and white flour products.
Don’t buy products, buy ingredients!
Choose 50 % of your foods fresh, (preferably organically grown to avoid more chemicals) since live foods contain their own enzymes and help the body to balance metabolism. These would include sprouts, salads, raw vegetables.
Generally, if you have low thyroid function, avoid brussel sprouts, rutabaga, turnips, cauliflower, African cassava, millet, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, peaches and pears as they are considered goitrogenic, or thyroid lowering. (Cooking them may possibly deactivate the enzyme responsible for that effect.)
Choose these foods that nourish the thyroid: fish, sea vegetables (kelp, kombu, dulse, hijike, wakame, nori and others). Choose foods rich in zinc and copper, such as: beef, oatmeal, chicken, eggs, mushrooms, seafood, dried beans, spinach, all kinds of seeds and nuts, brewer’s yeast and raisins.
If you are hyper-thyroid, reverse those instructions.
- Consider juicing for extra impact, using beet tops, celery, apples, ginger, carrots and parsley.
- Consider concentrated powdered green foods with sea vegetables – here are some possibilities:
Supplementation is important: I recommend either THYMATE as a multivitamin, because of its immune balancing properties, or the powdered Life Essence because of its Superfood content and easy absorption.
Add Kelp tablets, and consider L-Tyrosine and a raw Thyroid glandular.
Faulty Cellular Chemistry
Energy for all our body systems is produced at the cellular level, in tiny organelles called Mitochondria. Put simply, if they cannot or do not get what they need – no energy is output. Our body’s complex machinations are pretty much devoted to this one end, because without these little factories consistently maintaining production, everything about us is inefficient: inefficient heartbeat, thought, movement, digestion, elimination all leading to system and organ breakdown and eventually death.
Failure in energy production at the cellular level is felt soonest in the body systems with the highest energy requirements: the heart, brain, and muscles
Ribose and cellular energy in the heart
Carnitine and Heart energy – http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/carnitine-l-000291.htm
I experienced a recent episode of PVCs – premature ventricular contractions – which coincided with a fall in my energy levels: fortunately a respected researcher friend of mine had just introduced a combination to the market place, which cleared up both problems for me within a short while. You can see them here, and I cannot recommend this combination of Ribose, Carnitine and the very latest highly absorbable form of CoQ10 too highly!
It is interesting to note that failing to recoup ones energy levels in a reasonable amount of time after exertion, is now considered to imply risk for cardiovascular disease. http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/full/68/3/402?ck=nck
One of the most important requirement for successful cellular respiration is a balanced pH. Nutrients cannot enter the cell in the presence of highly acidic or alkaline body fluids, nor can the cell rid itself of wastes. In fact, if pH deviates either too far to the acid side or too far to the alkaline side, cells can become poisoned by their own toxic waste and die. (See my article on pH for the full story). Note the connection with stress.
Sharon Hesterlee, Director of Research for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, explains it like this:
“When key components of the respiratory chain in the mitochondria are missing or defective, the result is kind of like the aftermath of a train derailment. First, because a component of the assembly line isn’t working, electrons aren’t delivered. ATP isn’t made efficiently and the cells lack the energy to perform their normal functions.Second, all of the steps behind the point where the problem starts become backed up — often leading to abnormal chemistry that produces toxic charged molecules. These byproducts include free radicals and excess metabolites, such as lactic acid, that can be harmful in large quantities.These observations lead to three prime suspects as causes of the symptoms of mitochondrial disease: energy deficit, free radical generation and the buildup of toxic metabolites.” (Lynn: my emphasis)
(full article at http://www.mdausa.org/publications/Quest/q65mito.html)
Lactic acid build-up is a true a villain for energy production generally, and for its repercussions on brain function specifically. Fortunately there is a nutrient so effective at addressing it that it has also been developed as a “drug”. That nutrient is Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC), which can be produced in the liver from 2 amino acids (Lysine and Cysteine) but is often not available in sufficient quantities because its synthesis requires not only those amino acids , which are frequently in short supply, but several vitamins which our diets are often inadequate to provide: B6, Folic acid, Pantothenic acid, Biotin and C.
The Acetyl form of Carnitine is more expensive than plain L-Carnitine, but also more effective for energy related problems because it is better assimilated, and has been shown to pass the blood/brain barrier more efficiently. (This, of course, accounts for the studies that have found an influence on Alzheimer’s, where lactic acid build-up in the brain is being studied as a causative factor – more at http://www.nutritionreporter.com/carnitine.html).
ALC has been shown to boost the activity of an enzyme, carnitine acetyltransferase, which increases the burning of fatty acids for fuel in the mitochondria. It is therefore helpful at 2 levels, one as a remover of waste, and two as a provider of fuel – both positively affecting energy levels.
Add Creatine, which is converted in the body to a source of energy called phosphocreatine. There are some studies which suggest it may be helpful in muscle wasting, which is essentially a result of loss of energy in the cells.
Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency/Imbalance
Fat is the major form of energy storage. However, one can’t just say “fat”, because it is the KIND of fat chosen that is crucial to health. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids convert to energy much more efficiently than saturated fats (the subject of a study sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) – see RESOURCES).
Fat molecules are made up of three fatty acid chains connected by a glycerol backbone. Fatty acids are basically long chains of carbon and hydrogen, which are broken down by progressively cleaving two carbon bits with oxygen and converting these to acetyl coenzyme A. For every two carbons in a fatty acid, oxidation yields 5 ATPs , but saturated fats have been converted to chains of hydrogen only, which oxygen cannot break to produce energy. http://muscle.ucsd.edu/musintro/energy.shtml
Below are sources of fatty acids:
|Name of acids||Rich sources|
|Palmitic||All fats and oils|
|Stearic||Lards, tallow , coconut|
|Oleic||All fats and oils – olive, macadamia, etc|
|Linoleic||Mostly in vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, canola and walnut|
|Arachidonic||Fish oils and animal fats|
Source of table, with thanks. http://www.bawarchi.com/health/fats.html
It therefore follows that eliminating saturated, trans and hydrogenated fats from our diets and replacing them with better choices can make a vast difference to our energy levels.
Our bodies are designed to eliminate “toxic waste” at regular intervals, and this for good reason: hanging on to it can be the root cause of serious health problems.
Slow transit through the intestine leads to the re-absorption of substances that the body needs to rid itself of, which then clog the cells and lower your immune system. This means that constipation predisposes to poor energy levels . Think of it as the exhaust system of your body: remember the banana in the tail pipe? http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_278.html
Consider a Detoxification program, either with or without a short fast. I personally aim for a short fast and cleanse every 3 months or so, and those whom I have encouraged to do the same tell me that even when on the fast, they have experienced an increase of energy. This must differ from person to person – perhaps depending on blood sugar control, because that is not my experience: my reward comes later!
This is where health is determined – where it all begins: if you cannot adequately absorb, break down and transport the nutrients in your food to the cells that need them, or if the diet you select does not rpovide themyou may as well forget about energy altogether. Food is the fuel that drives your engine, and it requires a fully functional digestive system complete with all the enzymes, juices and acids to cleave the food into the molecules the body can use.
The denatured foods and stressful lives common to all of us makes this very problematic: digestion is the function most commonly harmfully affected by stress, with devastating consequences not only for energy levels, but for our health generally. I have put a link in RESOURCES to a fascinating book that shows how our digestive system has a complete nervous system of its own, with all that means in terms of the importance of gut health to our over-all well-being.
I would recommend adding a basic digestive enzyme even if you have no obvious symptoms of digestive distress, and reading my article on Digestion if you do already have problems to determine what would be the best course of action.
The cost of insomnia does not stop at lack of energy and mental fog, we are debited at many levels because of the elevation in the stress hormone, cortisol, which follows sleep deprivation. Stress affects blood sugar metabolism and the immune system, as well as setting up a circular distress pattern: high cortisol makes sleep difficult, and lack of sleep causes high cortisol.
Viral Overload, Infections and Inflammation
This brings us full circle: the effect of viruses and infections on our system is to cause inflammation, and inflammation is an important hidden source of stress, which drags down our energy levels.
The mucosal barrier is our most important defense against ill health. When intact and functioning, it is the method by which nutrients are transported. It protects against invasion by toxins, microbes and other pathogens. It is called a “barrier” precisely because it is the only thing standing between what is outside our body, and what is inside. The mucous membranes line our eyes, our mouth, nose, throat and lungs, our alimentary, urinary and genital tracts.
The lining of the intestines is crucial in this defense: when there is war in the intestines, we are wholly affected. Poor dietary choices, food intolerances and stress contribute to the breakdown of the structure of the bowel wall, this in turn makes us susceptible to viral invasion, parasites (more common than we would like to think), bacterial imbalance, and chronic inflammation of the intestine.
In other words, stress leads to impaired immune function, which leads to impaired mucosal barrier defense, which leads to inflammation, which leads to stress. I need hardly tell you that loss of energy is right in there as a major symptom of this progression, but it is only a symptom. If we ignore it at this stage, we are on our way to the next stage of ill health, where lack of energy at the cellular level will eventually lead to tissue changes and disease states.
I can remember when this problem, which I have suffered from all my life, was considered “imaginary”. Anyone who has experienced the dizziness, nausea weakness, fatigue and disorientation that come with the condition knows it is far from imaginary!
Hypoglycemia is very tightly bound to diet: but it can also result from thyroid, pituitary and adrenal imbalances, and is experienced by sufferers from pancreatitis and liver disease. It is a consequence of poor carbohydrate metabolism, and can be to a great extent controlled by adequate protein intake, particularly first thing in the morning. Protein brings the blood sugar up gradually, and keeps it at a nice controlled level for an extended period of time: carbs cause the peaks and valleys associated with hypoglycemic “crash”.
Unfortunately, hypoglycemics often crave the carbohydrates which are so bad for them, and enter a B-vitamin cycle where the high carbohydrate intake creates a bodily need for Bs (necessary for metabolizing carbohydrates), depleting them, and the subsequent low level of B vitamins creates a craving for the carbohydrates.
One of the first things you need to think of, then, if this is your problem, is extra B vitamins. Chromium can help control the craving also – take a look at Nature’s Plus Sugar Craver’s Formula.
What is the Answer?
How does one reverse this state of affairs? First, determine the cause of the energy drain. Then, follow the path I lay out for that condition, and lead your body back to the desired state of balance. Doctors are sometimes urged to consider horses before zebras – meaning that they should look to common causes of disease, before considering the rarer possibilities.
These are the horses: most of the time, energy levels will be restored if you repair, rebuild and regenerate the gastrointestinal tract, support and maintain adrenal function, identify and avoid stressors, maintain a healthy diet, supplement as necessary, and start an exercise routine.
Then, there are the zebras:
- Measure immune function so that progress can be determined. Check other hormone balances, and support systems affected as necessary.
- Identify and treat infections or viruses.
Helicobacter pylori needs to be considered as a source of possible occult infection, as do parasites in the bowel. Check for food intolerances. This step may require consulting your dentist, since infection often hides in the mouth, and mercury overload needs also to be considered. Address inflammatory conditions.
- Restore and support digestive health, and recolonize the colon.
Treat Candida if necessary. It is a very common problem, and often a significant factor in lack of energy because of its effect on bowel disease and its ability to colonize other parts of the body.
Make sure you are eating well and avoiding problem foods. Start the day with a good source of protein, and if you suspect you have a problem absorbing protein, add a digestive enzyme with protease and/or HCL. During the day, have high protein snacks available, I like almonds and walnuts, but there are other options depending on your other dietary restrictions.
This sounds counter-intuitive, I know, since the logical reaction would be to say “How can I exercise when I have no energy”. You will found that exercising, rather than depleting energy, will create it. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20061103/exercise-fights-fatigue-boosts-energy
This is not a problem with a short, easy answer. No, it involves us as individuals making the right choices, serving as our own de facto building contractor: checking the blue prints, using the best materials, avoiding shortcuts and pitfalls. But the reward is living your life with inexhaustible energy available on demand.
Fatigue and cardiovascular Disease – http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/aap/twr/2004/00000007/00000006/art00006
Fatigue – when to rest, when to worry – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fatigue/HQ00673
Causes of fatigue – http://www.emedicinehealth.com/fatigue/page2_em.htm
Fatigue and Anemia – http://www.y-me.org/information/treatment_side_effects/side_effects/fatigue_anemia.php
Simple Saliva test for DHEA and Cortisol levels
Chronic Fatigue and Fatty Acids – http://jcp.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/60/2/122?rss=1
Sleeping to Death – http://www.innovations-report.de/html/berichte/medizin_gesundheit/bericht-7739.html
Ever wondered about Worry Beads – http://www.yasou.org/geninfo/komboloi.htm
Teaching Kids to question sources early – http://www.organicconsumers.org/school/news/corpschool1002.cfm
Excellent Online Exercise work-out – http://www.global-fitness.com/at.cgi?a=204562
Information on a Simple Test for measuring Stress Levels (Cortisol and DHEA)
Information on a Simple Test for measuring Stress Levels (Cortisol and DHEA)
A more complete test for Adrenal and Immune Function ADRENAL RESPONSE
Details of the relationship between the Thyroid and other hormones. – http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/shamesadrenal.htm
handy description of Essential Fatty Acids and their role in energy production etc. – http://bioweb.wku.edu/courses/biol115/Wyatt/Biochem/Lipid/lipid1.htm
Differential Metabolism of Dietary Fatty Acids – http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct/show/NCT00059254?order=44
Carbohydrates, Digestion and Energy – http://www.fao.org/docrep/w8079e/w8079e0k.htm
Overview of Mercury filling problems – http://www.holisticmed.com/dental/amalgam/
Books and pamphlets on the subject of Mercury Toxicity – http://www.hugnet.com/
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