- Looking initially at Covid-19 and lockdown, do you think people’s energy levels have been adversely affected and if so, what factors do you put that down to?
The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has triggered a number of stressors associated with social isolation, unemployment, child care challenges, existential fears and uncertainty that burden the mental health. The chronic stress associated with the current pandemic increased the production of stress hormones (Cortisol, Adrenaline and Noradrenaline) eventually leading to the deficiency of these hormones. The problem is that since our adrenal glands have to make stress hormones so often they finally get exhausted and are unable to produce enough of these hormones to maintain various body functions thus triggering unpleasant symptoms including fatigue. Because the adrenal glands influence many parts of the body and systems, symptoms of adrenal fatigue can mimic many symptoms and health problems that are often misdiagnosed. Fortunately, there are many ways that are very effective in coping with fatigue caused by chronic stress and other factors such as nutritional deficiencies.
- Speaking more generally, how big a problem do you think low energy is in our modern world?
Fatigue is one of the most prevalent symptoms in modern society. It may disappear after taking rest or successful treatment of underlying diseases, but uncontrolled chronic fatigue requires more time and effort to recover from. There is no doubt that chronic tiredness is one of the most frequent complaints in primary care. The main symptom of chronic fatigue is a constant feeling of tiredness or exhaustion.
- Why do we suffer from low energy?
Fatigue could be a sign of many underlying problems including inadequate sleep, chronic stress, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level, which is a common problem), anaemia, depression, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, malnutrition or malabsorption of nutrients, candidiasis, IBS, allergy, poor blood circulation, Epstein Barr virus, cancer, diabetes, and other causes. Chronic fatigue can be also caused by a sedentary lifestyle, chronic inflammation, high-fat diet, eating foods rich in sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white flour products), high glucose/fructose syrup, prescribed medication, and use of stimulants such as caffeine products (coffee, black tea, cola drinks, etc.), recreational drugs, overconsumption of chocolate (high in theobromine) or alcohol. Dr Lawrence Wilson blames caffeine, for causing fatigue and adrenal exhaustion: “Caffeine and other stimulants can give one a boost, but eventually contribute to adrenal exhaustion.” According to one study, with acute use, caffeine increased attention and awareness at the expense of anxiety and a “post-use crash.” On the other hand, chronic caffeine use actually decreased attention and energy. With repeated caffeine ingestion, tolerance developed.
- What nutrients may we be lacking if we suffer from low energy?
Any B vitamin deficiency (especially vitamin B12 and folate) and iron deficiency (often caused by refined diet and sometimes by heavy menstruation) often cause or contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
Very common today zinc deficiency (caused by soil depletion and refined diet) exacerbates hormone imbalances and greatly contributes to adrenal fatigue. Some specialists maintain that zinc supplementation is the most important element in treating AF as zinc aids in the production of many vital hormones including the thyroid hormones, progesterone, cortisol and aldosterone. One of the main functions of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands is to fight inflammation, Zinc deficiency, therefore, not only directly contributes AF but also indirectly by inhibiting the body’s ability to fight inflammation.
Case studies have demonstrated that very low blood levels of vitamin D can cause fatigue that has a severe negative effect on the quality of life. Lack of vitamin D leads to poor mitochondrial function resulting in insufficient energy production.
There are reasons to believe that tiredness and weakness can be caused by the loss of potassium in muscle cells, a condition associated with magnesium deficiency. For this reason, magnesium deficiency is another possible cause of fatigue and weakness. Lack of magnesium (very common today due to soil depletion, stress and refined diet) may cause not only mental and physical fatigue but also muscle weakness.
Iodine deficiency contributes to underactive thyroid which leads to tiredness.
Since molybdenum and manganese are required for the cellular energy production the insufficient intake of these two trace elements may contribute to tiredness.
- Can long-term low energy have a knock-on effect on our health? And can it indicate any other health issues?
Consequences of fatigue may include problems with handling stress, memory decline, irritability, anxiety and depression, impaired judgment, concentration problems, increase risk of hypertension, weakened immunity and conditions associated with it. Chronic fatigue may deprive us of the motivation to be physically active and exercise thus contributing to countless health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
- When looking at diet, how can people better manage their energy through food? And what foods need to be removed and why?
Avoid eating foods rich in refined sugar, high glucose/fructose syrup, fruit juices and other refined carbohydrates such as white flour products and white rice. Since sugar and other refined carbs are deprived of fibre, they are quickly digested and converted to glucose which gets into the blood and cells too fast causing sugar spikes (“sugar high”) and boosting energy but only for a very short time. High refined sugar intake and white flour products consumption often stimulates the pancreas to flood the body with insulin which leads to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level), and since glucose (blood sugar) is brain’s primary energy source its insufficient levels may trigger symptoms of fatigue, inability to concentrate, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, hot flashes, craving for sweets, chocolate or caffeine. The brain requires a constant adequate level of blood sugar to function properly. It is more dependent on blood sugar or glucose than any other organ. Low glucose levels resulting from the severe dip after a high sugar intake tax the brain and cause the symptoms that plague sugar addicts. In addition, since sugar is deprived of nutrients and contains only empty calories it steals nutrients (vitamins and minerals) from the body as it needs them for its own metabolism thus farther exacerbating the tiredness problem through deficiency of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and other nutrients. If you need a sweetener, try to use dried and fresh whole fruits (not juices), date sugar, coconut sugar, blackstrap molasses, or sometimes moderate amounts of raw honey, Erythritol, Xylitol and Stevia. Do not use any artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, because they make recovery from hypoglycaemia much more difficult and are a major health hazard.
Increase consumption of plant-based unrefined foods (raw vegetable salads, whole grains, fresh fruits, pulses, and soaked overnight seeds and nuts). The fibre found in these foods makes the conversion to glucose a very slow and stable process thus providing a long-lasting energy boost through constant and slow glucose supplies.
Every day 30 minutes before breakfast drink one or two glasses of high in energy-boosting chlorophyll green juices or smoothies made of kale, spinach, broccoli with the addition of carrot and beetroot juices (another excellent energy booster especially in the form of a juice).
Avoid stimulants such as alcohol and addictive alkaloids found in caffeine (in coffee, green tea, cola drinks, caffeinated products, chocolate, etc.), theophylline (in tea) and theobromine (in cacao and chocolate). Although these stimulants appear to give you a short time energy boost yet it is only a borrowed energy, which means sooner or later you will have to pay for it with the loss of energy. And, as soon as you feel exhausted you it will force you to use these stimulants again and again thus causing a vicious circle and addiction. According to independent research (not sponsored by coffee industry) from Johns Hopkins Medical School, the temporary improved mental performance stimulated by caffeine intake is just the result of a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal experienced by caffeine drinkers! It simply means that caffeine manages to temporarily boost the cognitive functions of the brain only because coffee drinkers experience negative caffeine withdrawal symptoms. In other words, when you stop drinking coffee your cognitive performance is decreased causing a negative impact on your mood. So, as soon as you do drink coffee again, you start feeling better. In reality, caffeine is just taking your mental abilities back to normal for a short period of time. Physical and mental fatigue is common after drinking caffeinated beverages. Caffeine first stimulates the nerves and then it causes depression. Yet, many people mistakenly believe that coffee helps them get through a difficult day.
- Lifestyle also plays a key role – what advice can you offer to lift energy?
Go for a fast long walk or exercise for at least 60 minutes every day. One of the key causes of fatigue is an insufficient number of mitochondria (energy-producing power stations) in your cells. And the key cause of this shortage is the lack of physical activity. Regular energetic exercise, therefore, is the best way to stimulate the body to make more mitochondria (cellular power stations). No wonder, marathon runners have the highest number of mitochondria in their cells! Energetic exercise or fast walk also increases energy by boosting serotonin and cellular oxygen levels while reducing carbon dioxide.
Go to sleep as early as possible as the longer you sleep before midnight the more efficient (restful) it is. Try to sleep seven to eight hours.
Learn to control stress and try to think positive.
Short alternative hot and cold showers will improve circulation, oxygenation of cells, elimination of toxins and will stimulate the nervous and immune system. Start with hot shower, and after about 3-5 minutes when your body is warm enough take a short (2-3 min) cold shower slowly reducing the temperature. Then alternate the flow of water from hot to cold, back and forth about 3 times in a row. Before using this treatment consult your physician first if you have any serious chronic health conditions, especially if they are associated with the heart.
- What supplements can support better energy?
Take a good quality standardised Ashwagandha root as it not only increases mental and physical energy levels but also helps address many of the underlying causes of fatigue including low mood, hormonal imbalance, chronic stress, adrenal fatigue or thyroid problems. In the 12-week 2009 study, a standard multi-vitamin and 300 milligrams of Ashwagandha twice daily decreased anxiety levels by 55 percent and significantly improved energy levels. Ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng because of its ability to boost energy, promote stamina and work as a natural stress reliever. It is actually the most extensively researched and most commonly used adaptogen herb. Human and animal studies suggest that Ashwagandha helps protect the heart and brain from oxidative damage; reduce adrenal insufficiency and fatigue; promote healthy cortisol levels; support memory and promote nerve cell regeneration; help improve insulin sensitivity, maintain normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels; improve sleep, increase energy levels and muscle strength; protect the liver against lead toxicity, and support immune system function.
Make sure you provide your body with sufficient amounts of all vitamins and minerals as fatigue can be caused by a deficiency of almost any single vitamin or mineral, especially the following ones: Vitamin B complex, vitamin A, C, D, and E, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Usually, all of them are included in multivitamin-mineral formulas, but B12, D3, and Magnesium should be taken additionally as they require higher doses than those include in multivitamins.
After every breakfast take one tablet of a good quality multivitamin-mineral formula such as Healthy Mega (HealthAid) as it contains 42 ingredients including high strength B vitamins, minerals, trace elements, digestive enzymes, herbs and super greens.
In addition to the above multivitamin take the following:
After every breakfast place 1000mcg tablet of Metcobin – sublingual Methylcobalamin (a well-absorbed form of vitamin B12) under the tongue. It often helps increase levels of energy as deficiency of this vitamin is regarded as “rampant” today.
Magnesium (citrate or bisglycinate: 150-200mg twice daily.
Vitamin D3: 2000-5000 IU every day after breakfast. Remember that it requires magnesium for proper conversion to the active vitamin D4 form in kidneys.
Chlorella is an excellent energy booster as it is regarded as the highest source of chlorophyll (10 times higher than leafy greens). Start with a smaller dose such as 1 teaspoon or 3 tablets 30 minutes before breakfast and the same amount 30 minutes before lunch with 1-2 glasses of water, vegetable juice or smoothie. Then gradually increase the intake every day (by approximately 1 tablet) until reaching the maximum dose of one heaped tablespoons or 10 (500mg) 30 min before breakfast. While taking chlorella, remember to increase your water intake to 3 times a day 2-3 glasses between meals.
Apart from Chlorella, there are other excellent energy-boosting superfoods such as Spirulina, Moringa, and Barley grass or even better a mixture of various superfoods such as Super Greens powder (HealthAid).
Other excellent energy boosters you can take interchangeably with the listed above include Ginsengs, Rhodiola, Beetroot powder, CoQ10, Alpha lipoic acid, L-cysteine, or Alfalfa.
In order to be more effective, you also need to address any possible underlying causes of fatigue such as diabetes, anaemia, hypoglycaemia, fibromyalgia, depression, Candida overgrowth, IBS, allergy, poor blood circulation, hypothyroidism, Epstein Barr virus, cancer, etc.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH