What is Fatigue?
According to a National Health Interview Survey, over 15% of women and 10% of men in the United States experience fatigue. Fatigue is a lack of mental or physical energy, low interest or motivation, and increased tiredness.
Common types of fatigue
There are various types of fatigue, commonly classified by the duration of symptoms, including:
Acute fatigue: less than one month
Subacute fatigue: one to six months
Chronic fatigue: over six months*
**Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is characterized by debilitating fatigue and symptoms lasting over six months.
A diagnosis of CFS/ME requires eliminating other possible causes of fatigue and identifying the following symptoms:
Cognitive impairment, pain, and/or sleep disturbances
Exhaustion following exertion
Immune, gastrointestinal, or genitourinary symptoms (e.g., longer recovery from infection, flu-like symptoms, and environmental or food sensitivities)
Symptoms of energy production or energy transportation impairment (e.g., respiratory fatigue, intolerance to extreme temperature)
Signs, symptoms, and complications
Symptoms of fatigue can range from mild to severe and significantly affect the quality of life. There are several possible mental and physical symptoms of fatigue.
Mental symptoms include- Difficulty concentrating - Impaired memory - Sleep issues.
Physical symptoms include- Lowered physical stamina - Weakness - Weight loss or gain.
Causes and risk factors
While CFS/ME has no known cause, fatigue may be associated with various underlying health conditions or result from certain dietary and lifestyle habits, including:
Certain health conditions (e.g., acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), cancer, dementia, fibromyalgia, heart failure, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease)
Certain medications (e.g., antihistamines, antidepressants, painkillers)
Depression and/or anxiety
Dysfunction of mitochondria (organelles in body cells that produce energy)
Endocrine (hormonal) conditions (e.g., adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism)
Excessive caffeine or alcohol intake
Nutritional deficiencies (e.g., B vitamins, iron, magnesium)
Sleep deprivation, insomnia
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Preventing and addressing fatigue
Various dietary and lifestyle approaches may improve energy levels and fatigue. Remember that fatigue treatment often requires addressing factors that contribute to your experience of fatigue, such as treating an associated health condition.
Support reactions that convert the energy from food to usable energy
Beef liver Dairy products (e.g., milk, yogurt) Eggs Fish and seafood (e.g., clams, tuna) Legumes Meat (e.g., pork, poultry)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
A component of the energy production process in the mitochondria
Broccoli Cauliflower Meat (e.g., beef, pork) Oily fish (e.g., herring, sardines, trout) Oranges Organ meats (e.g., heart, liver, kidney)
Essential for oxygen transport in the blood; used in enzymes required for cellular energy production
Dark chocolate Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, soy products) Oysters Spinach
Required for cellular energy production; mitochondria store high levels of magnesium.
Dark chocolate Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, soy products) Oysters Spinach
Omega-3 (DHA/EHA) Fatty Acids
The structural component of cell membranes; support cognitive and cardiovascular function.
Chia seeds Fish (e.g., herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines) Flax seeds Walnuts
It acts as an antioxidant; vitamin C deficiency can lead to altered mitochondrial function.
Bell peppers Broccoli Brussels sprouts Citrus fruit (e.g., grapefruit, oranges) Strawberries
Research shows that regular low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (three times per week over several weeks) can help mitigate fatigue and increase energy. Examples of low- and moderate-intensity activities include cycling, swimming, and walking...
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults sleep at least seven to eight hours per night. Maintaining consistent sleep and wake times and practicing proper sleep hygiene, such as dimming lights and limiting screen time in the evenings, can help improve your sleep.
Studies suggest that mindfulness interventions, such as one that combines mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), physical exercise, and stress management, are associated with reduced fatigue in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Other lifestyle considerations
Minimizing reliance on stimulants, such as sugar, coffee, tea, and energy drinks, can help maintain balanced energy levels. While stimulants temporarily increase energy levels, long-term consumption can negatively affect sleep quality and fatigue. Limiting alcohol consumption can also improve sleep and energy. Although alcohol does cause drowsiness, its consumption interferes with hormones and neurotransmitters essential to sleep quality, such as melatonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA-neurotransmitter).
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