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7 Common Reasons for Chronic Fatigue

Updated on August 28, 2014

Chronic fatigue is different from just feeling tired

Until you have experienced chronic fatigue, a compliant about tiredness might strike you as whiny. After all, people are tired all the time for so many reasons. But if you are feeling draggy, uninspired, and like the only thing you have the energy for is crawling into bed, you might have a problem with chronic fatigue.

Chronic fatigue is a deep tiredness that is unaffected by sleep, caffeine or exercise. It's the kind of tiredness that makes it feel impossible to lift your arm to brush your hair, let alone pick up the kids from school and help with homework.

If you have chronic fatigue, the cause could be something as simple as dehydration and as complex as lupus or fibromyalgia. Whatever the cause, it's important to identify the problem and figure out a solution, since chronic fatigue can seriously impact your life.

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Chronic fatigue caused by dehydration

#1: While the mantra of "8 glasses of water a day" is second-nature to most of us, many people don't drink nearly enough water during the day. While it's not absolutely necessary to drink 8 glasses of liquid a day, adding some beverages to your diet can really help with fatigue. The next time you start to drag, hydrate!

Beverages that can perk you up include lemon water, iced herbal tea with mint, and a vitamin-packed fruit smoothie. Be careful with caffeinated drinks, as you will experience a drop in energy as soon as the caffeine wears off.

Chronic fatigue caused by low iron (anemia), low B-12, or an underactive thyroid

Chronic fatigue can be caused by low iron (anemia), low B-12, or an underactive thyroid. All of these problems are quite common, especially for women.

  • #2: Anemia: Women are quite prone to anemia, or low iron. Anemia is a common problem during and after pregnancy, though all women are susceptible to having low iron. Anemia is less common for men, and men need to be careful not to have too much iron (that's why men's multivitamins are frequently iron-free).
  • Since it's hard to know if you're low on iron, a simple blood test at the doctor's office is the best way to go. You can also try to eat a diet rich in iron, with sufficient red meat, nuts, eggs, and leafy green vegetables like spinach, chard, and kale.
  • #3: Having too little of the vitamin B-12 can make you feel tired. You may also get a pins-and-needles feeling in your extremeties, which is called peripheral neuropathy. B-12 is ONLY found in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs), so vegetarians and vegans should definitely be tested for a B-12 deficiency. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition in which the body cannot use dietary B-12. A doctor can test you for both conditions and give you advice about treatment options.
  • #4: An underactive thyroid is another problem that mostly affects women. It is also extremely common, so be sure to mention your fatigue to your doctor and have him or her test for thyroid problems.

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Chronic fatigue caused by diet

Diet plays a huge role in how we feel, physically, mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, when we don't feel so well emotionally, we often eat things that make us feel bad physically! When tiredness hits, many people reach for a cup of coffee and a pile of cookies rather than a glass of lemon water and a handful of walnuts. Starchy, salty, and sweet foods sound very appetizing when you're feeling tired.

  • #5: Diets high in starches and low in protein and fats can contribute to tiredness. Starchy foods full of simple carbs and sugars send our blood sugar skyrocketing. While you may feel better soon after eating starchy snack, chances are you'll feel worse in an hour or two when your blood sugar falls again. Carbs definitely have their place in the diet, but you should try to balance carbs with foods that will give you more sustained energy, like nuts or nut butter, cheese, yogurt, or foods that include good fats like coconut or olive oil.
  • #6: Having insufficient fats in your diet may make you feel tired. Low-fat diets used to be in vogue, but now we're realizing that traditional diets, which emphasize healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and butter, are a much better fit for our bodies. The "Mediterranean diet" and "paleo diet" are popular right now, and for good reason. Whole, healthy, unprocessed foods with a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats make us feel strong and energetic. Toss the Oreos in the trash and watch your energy level go through the roof!
  • #7: Food intolerances can be a huge factor in energy levels. Soy, corn, wheat, gluten, and dairy are common culprits. Gluten intolerance, a rising phenomenon, can cause stomachaches, bloating, gas, rashes, headaches, joint pains, and more in addition to fatigue.

Don't Give Up!

Chronic fatigue is not something to be embarrassed about, so try pumping up your diet with liquids and healthy foods, and seek medical advice if you don't start feeling better. We all deserve to have vibrant, energetic lives, so get out there and do whatever you have to do to feel your best!

Other common causes for chronic fatigue

Chronic fatigue is a symptom of a myriad of other things like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and more. To accurately figure out what is bothering you, make an appointment with your doctor. Ironically, many people tend to downplay their problems at the doctor's office, but try to be completely honest with your medical provider. Sometimes doctors seem too busy to listen, or have less-than-perfect bedside manner, but do your best to put it all out there for your doctor.

Always be specific with your doctor rather than saying the vague "I feel tired all the time." Saying things like "I feel more tired than is normal for me," or "I'm having trouble doing _______, ________, and _________" will help your doctor narrow down the possible causes.

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