Family Health | Living With Chronic Conditions | Wellness
7-hidden-causes-of-fatigue

7 Hidden Causes of Fatigue

Our expert's solutions may surprise you

Fatigue can signal anemia, diabetes, hypothyroidism or hepatitis C. But once your doctor rules out major medical causes of fatigue, it’s time to consider hidden ones.

“We look for the less obvious roots of fatigue — that’s our job,” says Tanya Edwards, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

Hidden causes include:

1. A junk food diet

Diets that are high in trans fats, saturated fats, processed foods and added sugars can sap your energy. Dr. Edwards recommends switching to a diet high in good sources of protein — mainly fish, nuts, seeds and beans — with eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Watch out for grains, though. These complex carbs affect insulin. “Insulin is the storage hormone that makes us heavier. The heavier we are, the higher our blood sugar becomes, and the more insulin resistance (prediabetes) we develop,” she says.

2. Lost nutrients

Today’s industrial farming practices rob the soil of key fatigue-fighting minerals, says Dr. Edwards, who recommends taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Supplements contain minerals rarely found in food, such as:

  • Selenium, important for thyroid function and metabolism
  • Iodine, present in the iodized salt that many people with heart disease and high blood pressure avoid. “Low iodine states can result in fatigue,” she says.

3. Not enough omega-3

Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids — but most of us don’t eat enough. “I recommend about 1,000 mg of an omega-3 supplement,” says Dr. Edwards. “My preference is fish oil because it is the long-chain form that our body needs.”

4. Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D gives us energy. Low levels of this vitamin can cause low energy and depression. “Vitamin D and omega-3 are necessary for every single cell in the body — including brain cells — to work properly,” says Dr. Edwards. If blood tests reveal low vitamin D levels, she recommends supplements.

5. Low magnesium

We are born with a finite amount of magnesium — also needed for energy production — in our bones and muscles. The vast majority of Americans get less than half the required amount of this mineral from their diet.

“Magnesium is still leaching out of our bones and muscles in our 40s and 50s,” says Dr. Edwards. She recommends magnesium replacement for those with symptoms of a total body deficit: insomnia, fatigue, constipation, muscle cramps and pain, joint pain, anxiety and elevated blood pressure.

6. Poor sleep

When it comes to sleep difficulties, “we’ve got the perfect storm happening in our 40s and 50s,” says Dr. Edwards. Reasons for lost sleep include increased work responsibilities, living with teens, aging parents and falling magnesium levels.

For women, menopause and perimenopause are also factors. Falling levels of progesterone (a female hormone that helps with sleep) and hot flashes can cause insomnia. A change in caffeine metabolism doesn’t help.

“Women who have had two cups of coffee a day since age 20 suddenly can’t metabolize it as fast at age 50,” says Dr. Edwards. Caffeine can take eight to 10 instead of five hours to clear the system. For these women, she recommends scaling back to one cup of coffee before 10 a.m.

7. A sedentary life

Ironically, not getting enough exercise can make you feel tired, says Dr. Edwards. Regular exercise will boost your energy as well as your mood and fitness level.

If healthy changes in diet, sleep and exercise don’t improve fatigue after a couple of months, she often recommends:

  • B complex vitamins — these help our bodies make energy, especially in times of stress
  • Coenzyme Q10 — this cofactor, which helps enzymes produce energy in our cells, is often blocked by statins (common heart disease drugs)

In addition, “acupuncture can be huge for fatigue, sleep, pain and hot flashes,” says Dr. Edwards. 

Tags: Be Well e-News, chronic conditions, family health, fatigue, wellness
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  • Proof is in the pudding

    Would be nice if these recommendations were accompanied by evidence from literature backing them up. While there might not be rigorous trials for these, it would still help to see what studies are the basis for these recommendations.

    • GeorgeBMac

      I disagree. Dr Edwards is a physician and qualified to judge and analyze the evidence on her own. I appreciate that we benefit from her knowledge and expertise…

      You can read the studies on your own. I do. But I also enjoy and appreciate “expert synopsis and analysis” as well…

  • Ned

    Dr. Edwards may be a terrific doctor, but she knows very little about agriculture. I recommend that she contact colleagues at Ohio State Extension and tour some farms. Over 95 percent of farms are family owned and operated, whether or not their form of ownership is a corporation or not.

    • Oscar

      Ned, that may be true but that does not mean that 95 percent of the food comes from family farms. She also did not discuss ownership, she was talking about the method of farming with the type of mechanized farming and industrial chemicals and fertilizers that deplete the soil nutrients.

  • CyndiBunnia

    I use to give my husband fish oil but then we saw they just said fish oil caused something else. I am so confused. He refuses to take it now because of the news item that said it was dangerous.

    • S

      Linseed oil is also high on the omegas and doesn’t have the metals found in the sea and therefor in fish.

    • Kathy Buhr Willetts

      My husband ask his doctor and he said take it. Can’t hurt. He is 73

  • Ruthie Witte

    what brand of vitamins and or supplements do u recommend?

  • Regina Thompson Reighard

    I read fish oil causes bloating. I don’t need more of that.

  • lisa

    Lol I give three fish oil capsules twice a day to my black labs for their heart coat and joints…UHHH they look great!!!! :)

  • GeorgeBMac

    Good Article: I recently started taking CoQ10 because I had little strength or energy after exercising. The Coq10 made a huge difference — but admittedly, I may not have noticed if I had not been exercising….

    After that I added Vit D, because I had tested borderline low in it. And also, B12 and Omega3′s because of my vegan diet.

    I’m 63 and I can honestly say I feel better now than I did when I was 43. (But before I took those supplements, I felt a LOT worse).

  • freindsofmine

    good information ,i need q10 .extream fatigue.

  • alice

    I stay tired from the time I get up until I go to bed I have tried everything and nothing has helped what can I do

  • Ann

    Finally, I agree with everything in one of these articles. Being able to cope with stress well / not stressing in the first place is important. And checking for an underlying autoimmune issue might come into play.Double checking that your doctor hasnt given you a med that causes fatigue. Nice article!