7 Hidden Causes for Your Fatigue

Our expert's solutions may surprise you

7 Hidden Causes of Your Fatigue

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 Brenda Powell, MD.

Hidden causes can 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. Powell 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 may rob the soil of key fatigue-fighting minerals, some experts say. To be sure people are getting the nutrients they need, Dr. Powell recommends taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. In particular, she thinks it is important to take supplements for:

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  • 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. Powell. “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. Powell. 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. Powell. She recommends magnesium replacement as part of a plan to address symptoms of 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. Powell. 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.

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“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. Powell. 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. Powell. 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 helpful for fatigue, sleep, pain and hot flashes,” says Dr. Powell.

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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…

    • Mommastar

      The recommendations are above…take the info and run with it. Do some “Googeling,” and talk to your OWN doctor. The ball is in your court now.

  • 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!!!! :)

    • Gina007

      I should try fish oil capsules on my thirteen year old female (diabetic) dog. Do you add the fish oil to their food? Thank you.

      • Nieciebabe

        Right in the food. They think it’s a treat!

    • Sheila Steenbergen

      Please check with your vet about adding anything to a pet’s diet. A friend was adding olive oil to a dog’s food. The dog became very ill and could have died from liver failure. What may be of health benefits for people, not so for pets.

  • 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).

    • Georgia

      I am 60….I also take CoQ10 daily and B12 and Vitamin D and I feel great!

  • 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

    • Susan

      Melaleuca vitamins are the only patented supplements in the world. Guaranteed to make u feel better or ur money back. U can try them for 90 days! This company has been around for over 25 years . And they have done independent blind studies. U can call me if u would like more info @ 937-459-5508 or check out Oligo on the web.

    • judith

      I was tired all the time, should have checked it out. I had a blockage in my right coronary artery and had a heart attack after several months of symptoms. That’s a classic for heart problems

    • Jeff

      Check your hormones. Testosterone and estradiol. eww.biotemedical.com

    • Nancy Williams Heiss

      I had the same problem. My doctor did an iron panel, and even though my hemoglobin had been fine, my ferritin level was very low. That is the iron reserves you have. I started taking ferrous glauconate 325mg a day. I no longer have this problem.

      • Tilak

        How long after starting the iron supplement did you start feeling less fatigued?

    • Dianne Donohue

      Join the club, it is getting to the point I can’t take it. What to do?

    • Laura Bocian

      Have you had your thyroid checked…among other things? Go to the doctor!

  • 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!

  • Mommastar

    I switched doctors recently. I was not comfortable with the doctor who was assigned to me after my (wonderful) doctor retired. I stayed with the replacement doctor for a few years…and then switched. My new doctor ACTUALLY listened to me, and read the blood work results. She put me on a High Dose of Vitamin D for 12 weeks. WOW!!! I feel like a new person. I also take a magnesium pill when I feel shaky inside it really does help me too!!!.

    • bethmoore

      Getting a new medical person can save your life, run from male Dr’s who have tunnel vision. I love my FEMALE NURSE PRACTITIONER.

  • Bill Townsend

    There is a drink available at Target and Grocery stores called Neuro Daily that is great for getting selenium and Vitamin D. Changed my constant tiredness. Also have one called Neuro Sleep that gives me the best night’s sleep without drugs.

  • DG Bogner

    Now I’m confused again. I’m pretty sure on this site a few weeks ago you discussed not taking so many vitamin supplements! I stopped taking fish oil, potassium, C, E, B, and an anti-oxidant combination. I haven’t noticed any difference in the way I feel, but am I short-changing my health or wasting my money? I’d like to hear some competent doctors discuss this.

    • Sharyl Patch

      Your best bet would be to discuss this with your doctor if you are unsure.

  • Carolyn Maslin

    How much of each of these vitamins and minerals that you mentioned should we be taking?

  • Bill

    High muscle fatigue is caused by medications (statins) that you take for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. I am a 68 year old runner who’s legs are shot. The doctors won’t admit it but that is the reason.

    • bethmoore

      Causes joint pain to.

  • shhh

    They missed two main causes, in my opinion. Not drinking enough water is a major source of fatigue. The other one is anemia and having low iron levels.

  • bethmoore

    Bad hearts zap your energy level to, hopefully when I get a new aortic valve it will solve this especially with a healthier diet.being depressed zaps you to

  • Cris

    Get adrenal function tested! It’s a simple saliva test. I’m exhausted most of the time except in the evenings when I should be going to bed. I have been in some pretty severe adrenal fatigue. My doctor often wonders how I was still even functioning. I battle this daily.

  • Carolyn

    Interested in more info about acupuncture and fatigue.

  • Maritimer1

    Regarding magnesium: you really do need to supplement. Our soil is so magnesium poor that our foods can’t replace it and many drugs deplete magnesium. I started having horrible leg and foot cramps at night and then, during the day. Once I started taking magnesium, they went away….Also not mentioned above” B-12. I take a sublingual B-12 daily….if I forget to take it, I know by noon…..

  • Sherri

    I’m 40 and been taking Magnesium, B6, CoQ10, Omega Red, and Garlic. I was not in shape. I recently joined an exercise group doing cardio 3 days a week. I track calories on the Lose It app. I drink 6-8 16oz bottles of water everyday. I feel like a new person already, but know I have a long journey ahead of me! Before this, I was sedentary due to my working at a desk job. Hoping to start a new chapter in my life!!!

  • Sarath Nair

    I don’t have any diseases or illness eventhough I am a vegetarian. But some times I may feel fatigue. Is this Fishes are compulsory in everyone’s daily diet..? I am looking for a better advice.

  • Lydia

    I cannot believe how you just skipped over hormonal imbalances.

  • MaryAnn

    Also, get checked for iron deficiency anemia. One year ago, my doctor called me after some blood work and said:
    “Go to the nearest ER asap. Your
    hemoglobin is dangerously low and you need a blood transfusion right away.” I ended up needing 3 transfusions and was in the hospital for 3 days and nights.
    (I hadn’t been hospitalized since I had my tonsils out at age 5!!) I had gotten used to the slow decrease in my energy over time, plus I had a few other things going on, so I just soldiered on. Don’t do what I did!! Get checked for iron deficiency anemia AND see a cardiologist. Also, get an assessment for depression. It has many physical symptoms, including fatigue.