When last did you describe yourself as tired? Or, more pertinently, when didn’t you? Fighting fatigue is something most of us do daily. According to a Korean study, chronic fatigue is one of the most common conditions in modern societies, with about 10% of people worldwide suffering from it.
More and more of us are pitching up at our doctors with tiredness on the radar, but often it’s not one major cause, but a series of lifestyle glitches that come together to create that signature tired-all-the-time feeling. “I always do blood tests to rule out anaemia or thyroid problems,” says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, “But it’s usual for these to come back as normal.” So what’s causing this chronic fatigue and how do we sort it? We have to start by looking at the tiredness blueprint.
What kind of tired are you?
The signs and symptoms of tiredness are similar; a look at your lifestyle could give you better insight. Take a look at which description fits you best:
Tired, teary and craving
“These are all symptoms of fluctuating blood sugar, and too much caffeine and sugar,” says Dr Glenville, author of The Natural Health Bible for Women. “These affect energy levels and mood.”
A low GI (glycaemic index) diet will help you put the brakes on blood-sugar highs and lows. “All forms of carbohydrates end up being broken down into glucose (your body’s fuel), but it’s the speed that’s crucial,” says Dr Glenville. Refined foods like sweets and white bread give unsustainable, fast energy, whereas high-fibre unrefined carbohydrates – such as brown rice, rye, and wholewheat products – give you long-lasting energy because your body can digest them slowly.
Eat little and often
“Focus on eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon,” suggests Dr Glenville. “This will keep your energy and blood sugar stable.” Include unrefined carbs, and proteins – like beans and lentils – in every meal and snack.
Pop a pill
Try Herbex Appetite Control Chewies, R99.95 for 40, to balance your blood-sugar levels. Available at Dischem.
Tired, fuzzy and grumpy
… Perhaps with a sex drive that’s diminishing, and a waistline that’s expanding?
You’re not getting enough sleep. “We live in a culture where many people operate according to the principle that ‘If you snooze, you lose’,” says GP Dr Holly Phillips, author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough. “Many women skimp on sleep to get more done. They’re tired, but try to ignore their fatigue. Eventually, it will catch up with them and they will end up feeling wiped out.”
Max your magnesium
“It relaxes muscles and nerves,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson. This helps you to unwind and feel calmer. Try Foodstate Magnesium Complex, R159.95 for 30 tablets. Available at Dischem.
There are many strategies to undertake when it comes to sleeping better. Try the ‘mind dump’ technique, writing down everything on your mind before bedtime to help alleviate stress. Stick to low lighting around the house, and avoid cell phone and laptop screens at least 30 minutes before sleep. Try stick to the same sleep routine each day.
Tired, pale and lethargic
… And maybe a little dizzy, too? Sounds like your iron levels are low. “Iron-deficiency anaemia is one of the leading causes of fatigue,” says pharmacist Shabir Daya.
Use the right supplements
“Iron supplements help restore levels in the bloodstream,” says Shabir. Try Clicks Healthbasics 15mg Iron Mineral Supplement, R75.99 for 100 tablets. Available at Clicks.
“To get the most from iron-rich foods, cut down on caffeine, which slows down iron’s absorption; and up vitamin C, which helps the body absorb it,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.
Tired, blue and anxious
… And feeling overwhelmed? Your fatigue could be due to mild depression. “Depression is much more than just a psychological disorder, and presents itself with many concerns, including fatigue, impaired concentration, lack of appetite, and headaches,” says Shabir.
Try a supplement
“I recommend ones containing magnolia extract, which physically relaxes muscles,” says Shabir. Try Solal CalmLite, R244,95 for 60 capsules. Available at wellnesswarehouse. This mix contains a blend of magnolia and amur cork tree barks.
Get mental rest
Try therapies that relax you. We like conscious breathing and mindfulness, but here are a handful of ways to help you unwind.
Tired and gaining weight
… With stiff joints, and hair loss? Your thyroid could be under performing. “Low thyroid-hormone symptoms can go undetected because of their subtlety,” says Shabir. “Most of them are common symptoms we encounter every day – including fatigue.”
If you’re feeling like this, then a blood test at your GP is essential. Do not self-medicate.
Up iodine-rich foods
This is a good move while you get things sorted. Shabir suggests asparagus, dark-green vegetables, and artichokes.
Low thyroid function makes everything, including your metabolism, more sluggish. Up your energy with exercise. Commit to 30 minutes a day of walking, swimming, or cycling. Or try yoga, which has a stimulating effect on the endocrine system, including the thyroid gland.