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A Serious Medical Issue or Simple Lifestyle Modification

by Ric Saguil, MD, FAAFP, Tom Jordan MS, RD 

So what if you‘re tired all the time, it’s no big deal. Or is it? Being tired for longer than one week can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Or it can be that you need a simple change in your everyday routine.


Your body is a machine. It needs fuel to power it, maintenance to keep it running at peak performance and rest to rejuvenate it. Just as a contaminated gasoline can foul an automobiles engine, a poor diet can make you feel sluggish and fail to deliver necessary energy when needed. Just as proper maintenance improves function and handling of you automobile, exercise and rest are essential to obtain peak performance from your body.

We’ll review diet, exercise and rest at the end of this article but first let’s assume that you are adequate in all those areas. What then could be the reason for sluggishness. Medically we have to rule out the following:

1) Thyroid Problems. Your thyroid gland controls the speed at which your body operates. Too much thyroid and you’re a race car with the gas pedal to the floor. Everything speeds up, you have unexplained energy. More commonly though is the thyroid can slow you down. Symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, brittle nails and irregular heart beat are common. Your doctor will look closely at your blood test but should be more concerned about your symptoms in diagnosing thyroid issues.

2) Anemia. Anemia is a problem with your blood cells. Either too few red blood cells or altered blood cells. Blood is the trucking system of the body. It carries oxygen and nutrients to your cells and hauls away CO2 and debris. A simple blood test can detect and rule out anemia.

3) Diabetes. With the advent of highly processed foods and lack of proper exercise Type 2 Diabetes is fast becoming a typical American disease. Diabetes has to do regulating the flow of sugar in the blood stream. Sugar is the gasoline of your body. With diabetes we either see too much gasoline in the system which “floods the engine” or too little which “chocks the engine”. Both cause your auto to run inefficiently and poorly. Proper blood sugar regulation is critical to energy levels.

4) Depression. Let’s face it when we’re feeling blue we just want to stay in bed and be left alone. We barely have enough energy to get dressed or go to the bathroom. While depression is considered a mental state and can be the direct result of mood, it can also be the result of many undiagnosed health issues. To many patients today are being put on antidepressants without a proper medical evaluation.

5) Sleep Problems. Imagine a marathoner trying to run consecutive marathons every day to a month straight. Truth is he couldn’t. The body needs time to recover. To rebuild. To re-energize. While everyone has a restless night now and then the true sleep deprived simply never fully re-energize. They are the marathoner who runs 26 miles every day.

6) Heart Disease. The heart is the fuel pump that fills your tank. When not pumping efficiently it can lead to various symptoms including fatigue.

7) Food Allergies. You’ve probably heard about people who are allergic to glutens. Chances are you know of someone since it seems to be more and more prevalent. Is this the new catch-all diagnosis? Was it often missed before? Is it in vogue to be gluten intolerant? The more likely theory is that we are becoming so overloaded with chemicals used in processing foods that out bodies are rebelling. This is the epitome of filling your tank with a bad batch of gasoline. How can a complex piece of machinery run efficiently when the quality of its energy source is badly degraded? Food today is altered to increase shelf life, enhance yield and improve appearance. All are good for producers but detrimental to recipients.

In addition we need look at the basics of fatigue. The most important non-medical issues to address are:

1) Eat Protein For Breakfastprotein_breafast.jpg
Gone are the days of a donuts and coffee as your routine breakfast.  Stabilize your blood sugars for the long haul (or at least until lunch) by getting a protein source early in the day.  An egg white omelet or protein shake is a good start-but consider eating red meat or chicken breast.  It may sound weird but it works to stave off hunger and keep your blood sugars stable.


2) Time Your Meals (and Snacks)
You can eat all the right foods, but if you're only eating one meal per day it will cause you to be tired.  Focus on a regular, balanced breakfast, lunch, and dinner with scheduled snacks to keep you energized throughout the day.

baby_sleep.jpg3) Never Underestimate Sleep
This is an obvious link to fatigue but in addition to the quantity of sleep, quality is also just as important.  Furthermore, going to bed at the same time every night helps our body establish hormonal energy patterns and keep you energized. Most sleep authorities today are recommending 9 hours of sleep.

4) Get Up And Get Going
The best advice for increasing energy levels for most people is to work out early in the morning.  This gives you more pep for your day and also helps us fall asleep easier and sleep longer, more soundly at night.  An increased level of fitness also helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues more efficiently for enhanced energy production.

5) Dietary Supplementation
Insufficient levels of certain nutrients can wreak havoc on your energy and metabolism.  Many energy supplements/drinks are touted as increasing energy but are actually just supplying a heavy dose of caffeine.  A good multivitamin is usually indicated, but specific recommendations should be made by your health care practitioner.  Exciting advances in metabolic testing allow doctors and nutritionists to customize supplement suggestions based specifically on a patient's individual metabolism.  


Although fatigue has dozens of potential causes, it indicates that something is wrong.  Leaving this problem unaddressed can increase our risk for developing serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.  Visit one of our providers and get started today on the road to a healthier, more energetic you!