We live in a society of extreme exhaustion. According to the CDC, 1 million to 4 million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. But it's estimated that of them, less than 20 percent have been formally diagnosed.
Chronic fatigue is characterized by a number of related symptoms, including:
- Constant or relapsing fatigue
- Fatigue that's not significantly helped by resting
- Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities and work
- Exhaustion and achiness after physical activities
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Waking up tired, even after a full night's sleep
- Frequent headaches
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes on your neck
If you're experiencing at least four of these symptoms, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) might be to blame. But the problem with the term "chronic fatigue" is that it's really only a description of how you feel — it doesn't explain why you are fatigued in the first place.
In functional medicine, the goal is to find out the root cause of problems like chronic fatigue. The reality is there isn't just one cause of chronic fatigue syndrome — it has many underlying pieces.
Still, there are a few steps you can take to start rehabbing your energy levels. Here are eight tips I recommend:
1. Wake up your cells.
Your body is made up of trillions of cells. The energy factory of your cells is the mitochondria, and several studies have found evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction in those with chronic fatigue. Another study, published in NMR in Biomedicine, found low levels of the powerfully healing antioxidant glutathione in the brains of patients with CFS.
What to do: Supplementing with L-arginine, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and CoQ10 are three natural ways to help increase glutathione as well as protect and boost your mitochondria and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your cell's high-energy fuel.
2. Get your BCAA on.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refers to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs compete with your "sleepy-time" amino acid tryptophan and prevent its transport into the blood, thus decreasing fatigue.
What to do: Talk to your health care practitioner about supplementing with BCAA to fight fatigue. A typical daily dose of BCAAs is around 20 to 30 grams of the three combined amino acids one to three times per day.
3. Heal your gut.
Your gut is your second brain. In fact, your gut and brain were formed from the same fetal tissue and are inextricably linked for the rest of your life through the vagus nerve and the gut-brain axis. Most of your serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter, is made and stored in the gut.
Leaky gut syndrome, or increased intestinal permeability, happens when your intestinal lining is damaged, allowing undigested food proteins and bacterial endotoxins to pass into the bloodstream, causing an immune response and inflammation throughout the body.
A study published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine found an increase in symptoms of fatigue and depression after endotoxin administration.
What to do: I recommend having labs done to evaluate your gut health. Endotoxins will raise immune labs, such as white blood cell count and inflammatory proteins such as C-reactive protein and IL-6.
Research shows that probiotics such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus can improve microbiome health. Bone broth is rich in collagen and glutamine, which are both helpful in healing the gut. Bone broth is also rich in glycine, which has also been shown to improve brain performance and energy.
4. Manage stress and increase restorative sleep.
Doesn't it feel like life gets busier every year? These hectic and stressful lives we live are doing a number on our sleep.
An amino acid called theanine has also been shown to improve sleep and allows you to feel rested and rejuvenated when you wake up. Low-caffeine teas like white tea or decaf green tea are great food sources for this sleepy-time medicine. I have a cup every night.
5. Balance your hormones.
What to do: It depends on your specific issue. Read my article on the subject for a complete list, and talk to a functional medicine practitioner for a perspective on your case.
6. Maximize your nutrients.
Low levels of iron, vitamin D, B12, and folate can all contribute to fatigue.
What to do: Get labs to check your nutrient levels. If you don't already, focus on eating a clean diet with a wide variety of nutrient-dense whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, organic meats, and healthy fats.
7. Boost your immune system.
Chronic infections (including Lyme disease) are a common cause of chronic fatigue but are widely undiagnosed.
What to do: In addition to getting tested for underlying infections, consider blends of Siberian ginseng, samento, sarsaparilla, guaiacum, astragalus, resveratrol, and cat's claw for their immune-strengthening properties.
8. Detox your life.
What to do: Bring detoxing foods into your daily diet. Garlic, cilantro, parsley, plantain leaf, spirulina, sage, and red clover blossom are some of my favorites. Whether you use them in smoothies, on salads, or with your meals, rotating these foods throughout your week is a great way to make meals your detoxing medicine.