Fatigue and low energy is one of the most common concerns that patients come to see me for. Sometimes the fatigue is a new symptom but for the majority of people, it is something they have been struggling with for years. In many cases it presents itself gradually, like a slow but steady decline. Now they find themselves with so little energy they can’t do the activities that they want and it is affecting their quality of life. There are many different root causes for low energy but one’s hormonal state is usually a major player. I want to briefly cover two hormonal issues that can lead to low energy.
To make sure we are all on the same page, let’s quickly define what a hormone is. Hormones are compounds created by one organ in our body to influence and communicate with other organs and tissues. Imagine your body is in a constant conversation with itself and hormones are the words being spoken. As the words become jumbled or misinterpreted there is a breakdown in communication, known as hormonal imbalance. Let’s go over how the miscommunications of the hormones produced by your thyroid and adrenals can lead to fatigue and low energy.
Thyroid hormones are the only hormones that can actually influence how our DNA is read by our body. This is a very big deal. It shouldn’t be surprising then that thyroid hormones play a role in over 500 different processes in our bodies. Influencing everything from temperature, metabolism, growth, immunity, heart health and mood. When your thyroid is under-functioning (i.e. hypothyroidism) fatigue can be one of the hallmark signs. The fatigue associated with an underactive thyroid can look like the following:
- Energy is best in the mornings
- One feels energized after movement or exercise
- Thoughts feels sluggish or tired, sometimes lacking clarity or sharpness
- As soon as you stop and sit down, you could unintentionally fall asleep
Other signs include constipation, dry skin, weight gain and feeling cold. It is possible that your Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) will be normal even if you show signs of a thyroid issue. TSH is usually the first (and sometimes only) test performed in general screening of thyroid conditions in mainstream medicine. A full thyroid panel is essential in getting a clear idea of what is really happening with your thyroid.
The adrenal glands sit on top of our kidneys and produce a number of different hormones. They are in charge of our “fight or flight’ response releasing adrenaline and cortisol. They also produce sex hormones and hormones that impact blood pressure. Having strong adrenals is important during times of acute stress, however chronic and long term stress can wear out these precious glands. Tired adrenals leave a person feeling “wired but tired” and this type of fatigue has the following picture:
- Feeling tired in the morning even after more than 8 hours of sleep
- Need caffeine to get going in the mornings
- Exhausted at bedtime but still having trouble falling asleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep
- Feeling exhausted after light to moderate physical exertion
There are many other signs of poor functioning adrenals such as craving salt, weight gain around the midline and low blood pressure. One of the best ways to assess adrenal function is a 4-point cortisol test taken over a 24 hour period. This will assess our “cortisol-curve” and indicate what time of the day your adrenals seem to be having issues.
Please checkout our website’s self assessment page at www.kihc.ca and complete our fatigue checklist to help understand what type of fatigue you may be suffering from. There are many other factors that contribute to low energy including low iron, chronic inflammation, low B12, chronic infections and issues with sex hormones (i.e. estrogen, progesterone or testosterone).
As with many conditions, when dealing with fatigue it is imperative we understand the root causes. Fatigue is a symptom of a bigger picture and once those causes are clearly understood a precise and comprehensive game plan can be developed.