Fatigue and Low Energy – Finding the Cause

Determining the cause of fatigue and low energy involves various tests and evaluations. Poor diet, a malfunctioning thyroid, poor quality sleep and stress are all potential causes of fatigue that can be managed to help you feel more energized.

How do you describe what fatigue is, and how it affects a person?

Dr. Greg Olsen: Well fatigue is a very common experience for people, and describing what it is, is very simply it’s a lack of energy. Sometimes that can be from a short term, it can be from overdoing it, it can be from a poor night’s sleep. Short term or briefly experiencing it isn’t really what we’re concerned about, the concern is really when it’s occurring on a longer-term basis, or a continual basis. Where it just doesn’t make sense of why you would be experiencing the fatigue, the low energy.

The ways that this can affect a person are on many levels. Everything from simply not having the energy to do the things that you want to do, and that could be not having the energy to spend time with your family, not having the energy to do vacations, just going to work and then coming home and not having energy to do anything else. And so, it can affect a person on their own individual basis not doing what they want to be doing, and very commonly it’s even a bigger impact for the people that surround them. You know, spouses, kids, friends, finding that the person can become more isolated, less able to do things. And that can oftentimes lead into mild depression. So, certainly it can have a big effect on a person, not having enough energy, especially in the longer-term basis.

Is fatigue and low energy sometimes mistaken for depression and misdiagnosed?

Dr. Greg Olsen: Well that is certainly something that does happen. When people have the fatigue and low energy it can be misdiagnosed for depression. That is a very important process clinically, is differentiating between the two. They can be interconnected between them, but understanding when we have fatigue versus when we have depression.

So, fatigue, you know, people oftentimes feel that, they may still have, you know, good relationships with people and a good outlook despite that. Whereas when somebody’s going into depression, they’re really going to have that low energy, and fatigue, but they’re going to have a poor outlook and oftentimes tying that in with more isolation, not making efforts to get out and do the things that they do in their life. It’s very important to make sure that we get those two distinguished.

What tests are done in your office to help find the cause of someone’s fatigue and low energy?

Dr. Greg Olsen: When we’re evaluating somebody who has fatigue and low energy, the first step comes with the intake paperwork. We have people fill out what’s called a metabolic assessment form. And what that does is, it begins with a detailed questionnaire looking at different areas in the person’s body and different systems, large intestine, small intestine, blood sugar regulation, et cetera. Because ultimately fatigue and low energy has many, many different sources.

It could be endocrine related, trouble with the stress response, adrenals, the thyroid. It can come from somebody’s poor digestion, they’re just not digesting their food well. It can come from low blood sugar. Blood sugar is essential for getting nutrients into the cells to provide energy. Those are key categories. So, that’s the first step.

Next step beyond that is, you know, a physical exam. And then we do blood work to take the next level of evaluating different systems in the body and how they’re working. To look at, again, those different systems and correlate which ones might be having a problem.

The next step beyond the blood work is then looking at some of the, we’ll call functional labs. One of those, for example, is an adrenal stress index. The adrenal stress index, well, the adrenal gland handles your stress response. And so, if those have been overburdened, they can begin to fatigue and not be able to help you respond to your daily stressors. So, it’s very common for somebody with adrenal malfunction or decrease to experience fatigue and low energy. That test evaluates cortisol and DHEA production or how those adrenal glands are working to help determine if that’s a source of where that fatigue and low energy is coming from.

One of the areas that we go with from there is saying, “Okay well, the adrenals are off, what’s supplying the adrenals?” And that comes to a really important place as far as looking at fatigue and low energy, and that’s how the brain is working. Many times, we’ll move into these areas and find different problems in the lower body, or what we call end organs, and that could be blood sugar problems or adrenal problems, but we end up tracing it back to find out that it’s actually a brain issue that’s not working properly. And when the brain’s not firing properly, the body’s not going to work properly and that can be brain fog, fatigue, low energy, as well.

So, those are the beginning points of where we start to look at to find the cause of someone’s fatigue and low energy.

Can a poor diet be a cause of fatigue and low energy?

Dr. Greg Olsen: That’s a great question. You know, a poor diet, that’s the essential foundation. That’s the fuel for your body. If you are eating a poor diet, and a poor diet, we can put that in a couple of categories. One is, you might just be eating really cheap, poor quality food, and that’s like if you have a car that needs a higher octane gas and you’re putting the cheapest gas that you can in, that car is going to misfire, or it’s going to malperform. And so, the same thing will happen with your body. If you’re putting a poor fuel supply into your body, your body is not going to be able to perform like it should.

The other part of a poor diet can be eating foods that not only are poor quality, but can have chemical structure, chemicals in them such as additives and dyes, and/or genetically modified foods that can have higher portions of nutrients within those that can cause reactions in your body. Those associations can cause immune reactions in your body that would almost be the equivalent of feeling like you’re fighting a bug. You’re fighting a cold, or you’re fighting some kind of bug, creating that feeling of fatigue and low energy.

So, poor diet on a number of levels can absolutely be a cause of fatigue and low energy.

Lack of quality sleep could be a cause of fatigue and low energy, how do you determine if this is true for an individual, and how do you measure if they’re getting enough quality sleep?

Dr. Greg Olsen: Great question, Liz. You know, this is one of the first questions we go over with people who are experiencing fatigue and low energy. The quality of sleep definitely impacts whether you’re going to be tired, whether you’re going to have enough energy, so very simple questioning to start with is, “When you wake up in the morning, do you feel refreshed and full of energy?” That is the way your body is designed to work.

When we look at one of the tests we talked about earlier, the adrenal stress index, we do know from testing that, for example, in the morning when you wake up, your cortisol levels are at their highest, preparing you for the day ahead of you. That should also correlate with you having a good energy when you wake up and ready to go for the day. So, if you’re not experiencing that, then we go back to look at, how is your sleep? Because that is a big factor, very big factor with it.

So, outside of questioning people with regard to it, and that could also be how you wake up, and do you wake up during the night, and at different times, ways of measuring it, new fitness tracking devices can also give indicators of how you’re sleeping.

And the next measure beyond that is, if we really have a concern with regard to it, and that could be, are you getting into deep enough sleep or are you having sleep apnea issues, would be to do a sleep study in a clinic.

So, those are the steps that we look at in terms of determining if somebody’s getting enough quality sleep.

Learn More

To speak with Dr. Greg Olsen, visit www.askdrolsen.com or call (949) 859-5192 to schedule an appointment.

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