People complain of feeling drained and exhausted so often that doctors call fatigue the number one health complaint. Find out how to feel better, naturally
Feeling bone-tired, as so many people do, is disheartening, demoralizing, and frustrating. You want to race like a thoroughbred, but you feel stuck in the mud. Half the time you’re struggling just to stay awake. Life is passing by, and you can’t keep up with it. Willpower doesn’t work, so what does?
Sometimes your best bet is a total energy makeover—changes in the way you eat, drink, and exercise. Certain supplements can also help. Or maybe your solution is simple: sleep, beautiful sleep. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have your doctor test your blood for hypothyroidism, anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, and other conditions that can cause fatigue.
Often fatigue is accompanied by lack of motivation and low sex drive. A long list of medical conditions and lifestyle issues can contribute to fatigue, including lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, flu, obesity, allergies, infections, anemia, alcohol abuse, hypothyroidism, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS.
Quick cures for fatigue
• For a quick pick-me-up, put two drops of peppermint oil on a tissue or handkerchief, hold it to your nose, and breathe deeply. If you have more time, try adding two drops of the oil to bathwater along with four drops of rosemary oil for an invigorating soak.
• Lie on your back and use pillows to prop your feet at a level higher than your head or, better yet, lie on an adjustable exercise bench or other surface that slants. In India, yogis fight fatigue through such practices by encouraging blood flow to the brain, which is thought to boost alertness.
Eat to beat fatigue
• Eat a good breakfast along with several small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. That’s better than eating two or three large meals. Try to limit the size of your meals to 300 calories. This will keep your blood sugar levels steady and help prevent your energy from plunging.
• Go easy on foods high in refined carbohydrates—that is, lots of white sugar or white flour. These foods make your blood sugar rise rapidly, then crash quickly. French bread, spaghetti, and cake are not your best choices. You’ll end up feeling weak and tired.
• Eat more high-fibre foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat bread, and vegetables. These help stabilize blood sugar.
• Cut down on your intake of fatty foods. To improve the function of your adrenal glands—which influence the way you metabolize nutrients—you should have no more than 10 percent saturated fat in your diet.
• Cut an unpeeled potato into slices and let the pieces soak in water overnight. In the morning, drink the juice for a natural tonic brimming with potassium. Your body needs this mineral for transmitting nerve impulses and making muscles move, along with other vital functions, and some natural healers say deficiencies are common in people with fatigue.
• Eating spinach once a day is an old-time remedy for relieving fatigue, and we all know what it did for Popeye. You can’t go wrong. Spinach contains potassium as well as many B vitamins, all of which are important to energy metabolism.
Supplement your energy stores
• Ginseng is an age-old cure for that run-down feeling. Look for a supplement containing at least 4 percent ginsenosides, and take two 100-milligram capsules daily. This herbal remedy stimulates your nervous system and will help to protect your body from the ravages of stress. (Off-limits if you have high blood pressure.)
• Try taking 400 milligrams of magnesium every day. This mineral is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. It plays a role in changing protein, fat, and carbohydrates into energy sources. A mild deficiency may be the cause of fatigue in some people.
• Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain, which can make you feel more alert and less fatigued. Take 15 drops of ginkgo tincture in the mornings.
• Consider supplements of the amino acid carnitine (available for sale on the Internet). This amino acid helps fuel the activity of mitochondria, cell components that produce energy. It’s found in some foods, but most people don’t get enough in their diets. Follow the dosage directions on the label.
• Coenzyme Q10, a substance produced by the body, also helps your mitochondria make energy. Take 30 milligrams twice a day, at breakfast and lunch. (It’s best absorbed when taken with food.) Coenzyme Q10 is also found in certain foods, including nuts and oils.
• Take a daily multivitamin to ensure you’re getting the minimum amount of nutrients your body needs. Deficiencies can pull the plug on your energy stores.
• Sip water all day long, at least eight glasses. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because your “thirst alarm” isn’t always accurate. Even a little dehydration can make you fatigued.
• Keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum. The caffeine in coffee and some sodas can give you a short-term burst of energy, but following that “rush,” there’s typically a “crash.”
• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol depresses your central nervous system. It also reduces your blood sugar level.
How exercise can help
• Most days of the week, try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Not only does exercise help you shed pounds (carrying extra weight is tiring), it gives you an energy boost. People who exercise regularly also tend to sleep better.
• Consider taking up yoga or tai chi. These ancient forms of exercise allow you to get physical activity, but they also include relaxation components that can be reinvigorating.
• Slip in 10 minutes of low-level exercise when you feel sluggish. Usually people with fatigue have a decreased supply of adenosine diphosphate (ADP), an intracellular “messenger” involved in energy metabolism. Translation: There’s not enough “spark” in the engine. Almost any kind of activity will help—singing, taking deep breaths, walking, or stretching.
Get enough sleep
• Always get up at the same time, even on weekends. Your body will eventually get the hang of the steady sleep schedule.
• Go to bed earlier than normal if you need extra sleep. As long as you’re getting up at the same time every morning, it’s fine to have a flexible getting-to-bed schedule.
• Keep naps short. If you snooze more than half an hour during the day, your body will want more, and you’ll be groggy when you wake up.
When to see your doctor
If you feel tired “all the time” even after you’ve taken steps to treat fatigue, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you have fatigue along with sudden onset of abdominal pain, shortness of breath, or severe headache, seek immediate medical attention. Other chronic symptoms that might require a doctor’s attention are muscle aches, nausea, depression, fever, or difficulty seeing.