Today’s post is one of the most requested I’ve had. Today, I am tackling the subject of fatigue and discussing its’ symptoms, its causes, and suggestions on how to manage it.
What is Fatigue?
Fatigue is defined as a sense of overwhelming tiredness– and one that doesn’t seem to go away completely even after a good night’s sleep. Fatigue is becoming more widely recognised than it used to be- it’s widely discussed as a problem in its own right and is commonly linked to digestive disorders too (for example, it is now recognised as a symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease- with Crohn’s and Colitis UK implementing a fatigue scale and is often discussed as part of Irritable Bowel Syndrome too) Brain fog is often discussed alongside fatigue and I have written about this separately
Read my guide to brain fog here.
What causes fatigue and how does it link to our digestion?
Fatigue can be caused by many things- nutritional deficiencies, disease activity, malnutrition, food intolerances, lack of exercise and you guessed it… our gut itself. Before we look at the relationship between our gut and fatigue- it’s important to note that obviously many of us with IBD and other digestive disorders suffer from anemia and B12 deficiency- which perhaps would be the most common cause of fatigue. However,
However, digestion, in general, is linked to fatigue. Why? Well, I am constantly talking about that many conditions that seemingly have nothing to do with our digestion are somehow connected to our microbiome. Let’s discuss chronic fatigue syndrome for a second. This is very similar to fatigue but occurs when there’s no link to medical conditions. Interestingly many people report to have chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive complaints but we’re not sure which way around is the cause.
However, recent research analyzed stools of CFS patients in two groups: both those with IBS and without it- and in both groups found a marked difference in their gut bacteria- with clear bacteria deficiencies and overgrowths of some kinds. The type of bacteria imbalance was different for both groups, which not only suggests that fatigue might be linked to IBS but even if you don’t appear to have digestion disorders, your fatigue could still somehow be linked to what is happening in your gut. Therefore, while the obvious starting point for you might be to consider deficiencies, it may very well be a deficiency of gut bacteria rather than a deficiency of vitamins and mineral!
Another way fatigue may link to our digestion is malabsorption. If our digestion is impaired, be that due to low stomach acid (if you’re interested in this, I explain in the video below from my Facebook page.)
having a flare up or certain intolerances, then it is less likely to be able to effectively break down and utilize the nutrients from food. This can lead to deficiencies, even if you are supplementing– since much of the time if we have issues with our gut bacteria, we may well have issues with our enzyme levels and stomach acid- all of which helps us break down food and supplements to maximise their benefits.
My top tips for improving fatigue
1.Make sure you are checked for nutritional deficiencies. The most common deficiencies for fatigue as a symptom are: vitamin D (read my guide to vitamin D and IBD here) Vitamin B12, Magnesium and of course Iron. Your doctor should be able to carry out tests easily to see if you are deficient in these key vitamins and minerals.
2. Supplement. You can then decide if you need to supplement- there’s lots of advice in my supplementing for digestion blog post. However, as mentioned above- proceed with caution as supplements may be less effective if the gut is lacking enzymes and stomach acid to use them effectively. One of the things I am learning more about is transdermal vitamins and minerals; which enter through the skin. These should potentially be much easier to digest- so it may be worth looking into these. For example, having a foot soak with magnesium salts rather than a magnesium tablet.
3.Balance blood sugar. Balancing our blood sugar is vital for helping with fatigue. What often happens with those of us with digestive issues, is that we eat sporadically- when we feel up to it- and often skip meals like breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day since we’ve already gone all night without food, so it’s crucial we get our blood sugar in check before breakfast. The easiest way to do this is ensuring your breakfast contains protein, fat and (where possible) fibre. Protein is crucial to balancing blood sugar but often skipped at breakfast where we just try to grab cereal or toast which is why something like wholemeal bread with peanut butter is always recommended over white bread and jam. Not that I’d particularly recommend either as a breakfast option- but the former will contain fibre and fat which would give a much slower release than the later, which would just be quickly absorbed sugar.
If you’re struggling with energy levels and don’t want to eat much in the morning, looking to a protein supplement may be useful. Try to create smoothies that add protein- such as nut butter and avocado. An example is my turmeric protein smoothie.
I’m a bit boring but I make this recipe or a variation of it most days. I know that the protein powder, avocado, and nut butter all give me a protein hit but also contain good fats which will slow my blood sugar down too. Try to think of this throughout the day- eating regularly and ensuring protein is also at every meal. If you struggle to control sugar intake, it can be worth looking into supplementing Chromium or Magnesium.
4. Exercise. Gentle exercise can really help with fatigue. Whether this be walking, yoga or swimming. Longer periods of exercise may worsen fatigue if the body is not well hydrated and supported with foods. My top tip for this is yoga- I wrote a blog post full of useful info on starting yoga if you have digestive issues. You can get 2 weeks worth of free classes too!
5.Hydrate With this hot weather upon us, it’s really important to stay hydrated but also to be conscious of maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium are key electrolytes and often if we just drink water when dehydrated, we can lose more of the electrolytes than we take in. My blog post on dealing with hot weather explains this well!
6.Look into adrenal fatigue. I’m planning a separate blog post on this, but if you’ve experienced prolonged periods of stress, your cortisol levels can be depleted due to pressure on the adrenal glands. This is a very simplistic explanation but might be a starting point for more research.
7.Probiotics? If we started post with gut bacteria, it is perhaps wise to end it discussing it too! If our gut bacteria is linked to fatigue, it only makes sense that probiotics could help. However, as you can see, there are many different strains and even between 2 groups of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, the bacteria balance varied. Therefore, unless you are in a position to test your stool for gut bacteria (which is possible but pricey), sticking with fermented foods might be better than supplementing probiotics.
Well, I’ve hit 1000 words and to be honest so fatigue is now kicking in for me! So, I’m going to leave this post here. I’d love you to share your experience of fatigue and how you manage it below. If you’ve found this post helpful then please do take a second to share it too!