The Number One Reason You're Tired!
Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Problems with being tired have plagued me for what seems like a life time. I remember at the age of 16 waking up mornings and thinking, “Ok, I’ll just get through the day; I can do this.” This fatigue has only worsened through the years. I originally attributed it to age and stress. I mean, don’t we all get tired as we get older? Well, apparently, we aren’t supposed to get to the point of exhaustion, and while stress did play a role in my fatigue, I’m finding it was much more than that.
During my work hiatus, I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching things in which I have been interested but never had the time nor the ENERGY to do it. One of the things that I would see daily in my office was the woman who would complain of being so tired and unable to lose weight. Given that I had about 6 minutes to spend with each patient, plus I struggled with my own fatigue and weight issues, I didn’t have much to offer. I’d run the basic labs, but for the most part, the labs were frustratingly normal for these patients. I’d just tell them that “it’s life; do your best.” I also would tell them that if I found something that helped with these issues, I’d let them know. Enter Functional Medicine.
Functional medicine is a school of thought that we can look at the patient at the cellular level and rather than treating disease and symptoms with medications, we find out why the disease and symptoms are there in the first place. Traditional medicine just treats disease. That’s not a wrong thing to do, but it would be so nice to prevent the disease.
You’ve heard terms like “preventive medicine.” You go to your doctor; she examines you; she runs some basic labs; she tells you that you look good but you need to eat better and lose some weight. Out the door you go. Preventive medicine in the world of traditional medicine is to look at the patient to see if she has developed disease and try to catch it early enough. It really does not have anything to do with preventing the disease.
In my efforts to see if there is a better way and in looking at the philosophy of functional medicine, I have learned one HUGE thing. Ninety percent of symptoms and disease come from the gut! I did an initial eye roll too, but as I read and watched and learned, I realized, these guys are on to something. Biochemical pathways that I learned in medical school were being revisited but on a different level. What did not make sense then, did now!
Seriously, the gut is an amazing place. Its full of bacteria that when separated from the body, weighs about 4 pounds. The importance of this bacteria is coming to the forefront, even in traditional medicine. These bacteria are responsible for not only aiding in the digestion of our food but also in the health and optimal function of the cells that line our digestive tract. If these cells are not functioning appropriately then chronic inflammation sets up, leading to allergies and intolerances, symptoms consistent with not feeling well, autoimmune diseases, and diseases in general. Let me give you an idea. Do you have any of the following:
1. Digestive problems/unexplained pancreatitis
3. Chronic sinus drainage
4. Low energy
5. Depression/mood swings
7. Joint aches/stiffness
9. Weight gain
Well, I did and I know people who do. When I began to study why this list of issues could be caused from a gut that was not functioning correctly, I was stunned by what I learned. The science made sense. Now please don’t think I’m saying that if you fix your GI tract, that it will cure everything, but I’m certain that it will fix the majority of symptoms plaguing your life. However, being the stubborn and hardheaded, gotta prove it, person that I am, I did an “experiment.”
I have felt much better since leaving my very toxic job; however, some things that I attributed to my job did not get better. For a week, I decided to go on an elimination type diet. This is a diet to remove foods that may be contributing to some of the symptoms I listed above.
There are several types of elimination diets; I did a very basic one. I removed gluten, wheat, corn, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. By the end of the week, I felt really good. I felt less swollen. I had a great deal of mental clarity. I was sleeping without my melatonin. I did not have several bouts of diarrhea. I had more energy and was able to actually enjoy my walks without feeling like I needed a nap afterwards. I also did not need to go to bed at 8 or 9 pm. I would stay up until 11pm and get up at 6am feeling like I actually had gotten some sleep!
I was amazed that doing just those minor changes made that much difference. However, the skeptical scientist in me thought, “what if this was coincidence? What if I’m still just improving from more time away from a toxic work environment?” I decided to test this.
I had one raspberry-cucumber Moscow mule (I can get you the recipe for this if you like; just email me), Ritz crackers, cheese, olives, vinegar and salt potato chips, and butter pecan ice cream! About an hour after I finished, I could not stay awake. I had to go to bed. I was immediately OUT!
The next morning was horrible. I woke up with my eyes crusted shut. My nose was congested. I had loogies the size of Texas in my nasal cavity and throat. I coughed like a 20 year, 2 pack per day, smoker. I was dizzy. My ears were stopped up. I had a headache. I could not think or concentrate. It was hard to talk. I gained 3 pounds over night. My skin was tight and swollen. I was bloated and nauseated. I certainly was not interested in eating.
My mouth was terribly dry. I was so tired; no, I was freakin exhausted. It was a chore to get a bath and put on clothes. I had a meeting to which I needed to go. I wanted so badly not to go. I felt like I was driving impaired.
I knew immediately that I had to share this experience with y’all. However, I could not even figure out how to start writing. My brain was so chaotic that all I could do was lay on the couch and watch Netflix.
This is how I felt prior to leaving my job. Was it just the stress? I don’t think so. It was also my diet. These foods were my go to in order to handle stress. Cakes, cookies, chips, ice cream, French fries, wine! I now wonder if I knew then what I know now, would I have been less exhausted.
I know some of you are like, “well, duh, if you eat right, you’ll feel better.” Yes, but what does “eat right” really mean? Does it mean calories, no processed foods, Ketogenic, Paleo, Whole30, Weight Watchers, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, autoimmune, plant based? Well the simple answer is yes.
I have done diets to lose weight. I didn’t do a diet just to feel better. The reason the answer above is a simple yes is because you need to eat what makes you feel well. For some people, plant based or vegetarian works well. That is because your gut bacteria help process that type of food better. For others, you need lots of fat or meat. Again, it’s based on your gut microbiome. The bacteria in our gut is different from person to person. It’s even different from culture to culture. You need to get curious about what foods work for you and why.
An elimination diet is a good way to figure that out. It’s also a good way to heal a damaged microbiome and the cells of the gut. If you google “elimination diet,” you will get many different types. You can be extremely strict or just eliminate a few things at a time.
The diet can include the elimination of the following:
1. Corn/cornstarch/corn meal
2. Dairy and nondairy substitutes
3. Vegetable oils
5. Gluten grains
6. All grains
7. Sugar/artificial sweeteners
12.Processed meats, like lunch meats and bacon
13.Coffee, black tea, chocolate
Now, I don’t believe that you have to remove ALL these foods. You can keep it simple. You can start with sugar, artificial sweetener, gluten breads and grains, dairy, eggs, processed foods, and alcohol. While you are doing this, see if there are other foods that you eat that cause problems with diarrhea/constipation, fatigue, depression/anxiety, gas/bloating, abdominal pain, muscle/joint pain or stiffness, skin breakouts/acne, insomnia, sinus congestion/runny nose, itching/flushing. If there is, remove that food too.
The recommendations that I have seen have you keep these foods out of your diet for 3-6 weeks. Afterwards, you want to slowly reintroduce those eliminated foods one at a time back into your diet about every 2-3 days. See what symptoms you have and based on that, you may need to eliminate them a little longer or you may need to eliminate them permanently.
There are some people who have symptoms of damaged gut that is very severe. You may need additional help from someone that practices functional medicine to do testing, like stool testing or blood work, to figure out if you have a bacterial overgrowth that needs treating, overgrowth of yeast, a parasite, an infection, anemia, etc. However, a large portion of you will do well with just eliminating some foods and allowing time for your gut to heal.
To aid in the healing process, you may want to add some supplements. I have finally learned what kind of probiotic to take!!! You want a probiotic that has a large and diverse population of bacteria. Get one that has at least 3 types of lactobacilli, several types of bifidobacter, maybe some saccharomyces boulardii, and you want 50-200 billion colonies per dose. I have not found one that has all of these. I have had to buy two different bottles of probiotics to get this mix.
Also, adding turmeric and omega’s help decrease gut inflammation, and glutamine can help with the healing of the cells of the GI tract. You may not need to be on these supplements for the rest of your life. Once your gut is healed and you’re feeling better, you may be able to keep your gut healthy with diet alone.
This is a very basic approach to helping yourself feel better. Like I mentioned before, you may be more severe and need an intensive and deeper dive into your symptoms, especially fatigue. There could be other issues or a need for additional supplements. You many even need medication. This is what those who practice functional medicine can do for you. I’m excited that I will be able to incorporate these things into my clinical practice for the patients who want a deeper and more intensive program to address all areas of life and how it plays into symptoms and long term health. I’m encouraged that for the first time in my career, I may actually have an answer for my patients that complaint that they are just “so tired!”
Disclaimer: While I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. The information in this blog post is for information and entertainment purposes only and are not intended as medical advice!