25 July 2003

How to combat tiredness

It's important to remember that many factors can cause chronic tiredness. In the following article we take a look at some lifestyle elements that can have an effect.

It's important to remember that many factors can cause chronic tiredness. In the following article we take a look at some lifestyle elements that can have an effect.

Common causes of tiredness

  • Lack of sleep: This is often the primary cause of tiredness and feelings of lethargy. Make sure that you are getting sufficient sleep to suit your lifestyle and life stage. If you are burning the candle at both ends, you will be tired, so make a plan to catch up on the sleep you have lost.

  • Lack of exercise: People who do not get plenty of regular exercise in the fresh air, are more prone to feeling tired and have less stamina, than those that work out in a gym, walk, run, or jog, swim, or play sport 3 to 4 times a week. The solution to "couch potato" tiredness is to get moving and make a habit of getting regular exercise. You will also find that when you sleep after vigorous exercise, that you are more rested and refreshed.

  • Physical illnesses: There are many different physical illnesses that can make you feel tired, e.g. diabetes, infections, hormone imbalances, and especially thyroid gland imbalances. Have a thorough check-up and specifically ask you doctor to investigate thyroid function if you are always tired.

  • Emotional problems: Both anxiety and depression can cause you to experience abnormal exhaustion. It is quite understandable that you will feel tired and unmotivated if you are constantly stressed out of your mind. Conversely, one of the most important symptoms of underlying depression is tiredness and wanting to sleep all the time.
  • If you suspect that your tiredness is being caused by emotional problems, consult a clinical psychologist to help resolve whatever problems you are struggling with. The only way to free yourself of anxiety and/or depression is to define what the cause is and then work out a plan of action to counteract it. Remember that B complex vitamins, especially folic acid, and St John's wort can help you to combat depression.

  • Diet factors: Diet can play a major role in combating tiredness. The first step to preventing tiredness by nutritional means is to make sure that you are eating a balanced diet.

A balanced diet includes plenty of fresh, preferably raw fruits and vegetables, wholewheat or unprocessed grains, and cereals, legumes and nuts, low-fat or skim milk and dairy products, moderate quantities of lean meat, fish, and chicken, eggs and small quantities of poly- or mono- unsaturated oils and fats.

Diets that contain too little carbohydrate, and too much fat, too few vitamins and minerals, will all contribute to tiredness. Very low calorie or starvation diets that don't supply sufficient energy to keep your body going, will also make you feel exhausted. Don't go on a starvation diet to lose weight, you will get depressed, lack energy and end up eating more 'forbidden foods' than before.

Anaemia is also a diet-related cause of tiredness. The most common type of anaemia, which occurs mainly in women of childbearing age, is iron-deficiency anaemia. As the name implies, this type of anaemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet.

Women who develop iron-deficiency anaemia often do not obtain sufficient iron from their diets to provide for iron that is lost through menstruation. On the other hand, individuals who do not eat animal foods that contain the most biologically available iron (also called heme-iron), can develop this type of anaemia. If you suspect that you are anaemic, ask your doctor to do a serum ferritin test.

The latter is a more accurate indication of body iron supplies than tests that just determine blood iron levels. If you do have an iron deficiency, you need to take iron supplements (select a supplement that agrees with you), plus vitamin C (to help with the absorption of iron) and folic acid. Iron injections are also a possibility.

Food rich in iron are:
Liver, red meat (beef, lamb, pork), chicken, egg yolk and fish, dried fruit, especially raisins, and wholewheat grain products Another type of anaemia that tends to occur in older people is caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency.

In such cases, your doctor will prescribe a course of vitamin B12 injections until the anaemia is under control. Foods that contain lots of B12 are: Liver, meat, fish, chicken, eggs - in other words foods obtained from animal sources and brewer's yeast.

Plants do NOT contain vitamin B12. Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can also make you feel tired and listless.The best dietary sources of these minerals are: Calcium - milk, yoghurt, cheese. Magnesium - wholewheat grains, and green leafy vegetables and fruit.

Still feeling tired? Perhaps you just need to take a good holiday.


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