Feeling Fatigued? Jump-Start Your Energy

March 27, 2017 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

Send to a friend

* Required fields

  or  Cancel

Feeling Fatigued? Jump-Start Your Energy
Fatigue. It is the number one complaint heard in the doctor’s office. Exhaustion to the point of falling asleep the instant your head hits the pillow or needing a nap during lunch may be related to overwork and lack of sleep. Yet, when fatigue doesn’t resolve after a good night’s sleep or a weekend of catch-up sleep, it can be a symptom of something else. Fatigue can be related to a medical concern, or may reflect the need for some basic changes to get energy production back on track. Although, for some, more complex issues can be the cause of energy issue, it is best to deal with the easiest changes and first manage simple fatigue concerns.

[Jump to: Nutritional Options]

Simple Fatigue

Simple fatigue, or non-complex fatigue disorders, is relieved by sleep, rest, healthy diet, and appropriate physical activity. In simple fatigue, the focus is on basic self-care. A little self-evaluation and accountability pertaining to daily routine may be all that is needed. The most basic self-care things are sleep, diet, and physical activity. These basic principles apply to everyone, no matter how complex their cause for fatigue. In today’s high-stressed, sometimes frantic schedule, it is important to nourish and care for your body. Chronic fatigue, which is different than Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), also needs daily self-care management. Chronic fatigue and CFS/ME concerns are complex, require further in-depth detective work, and more comprehensive support.


In today’s modern world, we often think that we can get away with only 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night and play catch up later. Experts, however, recommend consistent 7-9 hours of sleep each night. We may not fully understand how important sleep is to our health when we are trying to accomplish the to-do list for the day.

Sleep and Neurological Housekeeping

Sleep is the time for numerous restorative functions in the brain. Some of these functions are neurological housekeeping, hormone production, and mitochondrial restoration. Sleep is necessary for cleaning up inflammation in the brain and body from the previous day’s work. When we sleep, our brain goes through an amazing molecular clean-up process that would leave even the best house cleaning service jealous. If we short-change this process, hormones, neurotransmitters, glial cells, and mitochondria become stressed. Without a thorough nightly clean-up, the brain struggles with energy production. This results in brain fatigue, brain fog, physical fatigue, poor cognition, and feeling drained.

Sleep Deprivation Impacts Hormones

Sleep deprivation also interferes with the production and management of several hormones. The issues can include insulin resistance and reduced insulin sensitivity, lowered growth hormone, elevated cortisol, reduced prolactin and leptin, elevated grehlin, decreased DHEA, both increased and decreased TSH and free T4, and lowered testosterone by as much as 70%. An imbalance in any one of these hormones can cause impaired energy production and fatigue. Growth hormone, our “fountain of youth hormone”, helps keep muscles strong, our skin healthy, and improve fat burning. Growth hormone reaches it peak release between 10:00 PM and 12:00 AM when we sleep. If you go to bed later than this, you miss out on the peak time to repair and it takes more hours of sleep to reap the same benefit. Blue light exposure and artificial light at night also greatly interferes with melatonin, a necessary sleep hormone and extremely powerful antioxidant for brain mitochondria, nerves and glial cells.

Sleep Deprivation Accelerates Plaque Build-Up

New research adds additional very compelling and stunning reasons for adequate sleep. It has been recently confirmed that chronic sleep restriction negatively affects the brain mitochondria and it isn’t just a fatigue effect. Researchers demonstrated that sleep deprivation caused brain mitochondria dysfunction, which led to accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque and beta-amyloid protein. Another animal study proved that chronic sleep restriction accelerated the development of Alzheimer’s disease in those at genetic risk. The lack of focus, brain fog, and brain fatigue that you feel from inadequate sleep reflects a repair deficit and mitochondrial stress. Is cutting corners with your sleep really worth it?

Too much sleep may cause fatigue and grogginess due to the disruption of the normal day-night circadian rhythm. Chronic over-sleep may reflect an underlying concern with depression, bipolar, narcolepsy, or other neurological disorders.

Key nutrients for quality sleep and brain recovery that may be taken at bedtime include magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fish oil/DHA, melatonin, theanine, lemon balm, grapeseed extract, tocotrienols, and/or phosphatidylserine.


Mental and physical fatigue can easily worsen with dehydration. Fatigue is often the first sign of dehydration before thirst. A 2.5 percent drop in your body’s weight in water due to dehydration drops mental and physical function by as much as 25 percent. Other signs of early dehydration include depression, anxiety, irritability, cravings, muscle cramps, and headache. More long-standing, mature signs of dehydration include constipation, headaches, asthma, allergies, hypertension, chest pain, heart burn, and skin disorders.

Maintaining healthy hydration is critical to prevention and management of fatigue. The general rule is to drink at least 2 -2 ½ quarts of water per day, or half of your body weight in ounces of water, i.e. 150 pound individual needs 75 ounces of water per day. Morbidly obese individuals may not be able to match this equation, but still should consume up to four quarts of water per day. In athletes or those in hot climates, for every one pound in body weight lost from exercise/sweating, you need one additional quart of water. Water needs also increase with activity, temperature, diuretic medications, stress, humidity, caffeine, soda, and alcohol. Sipping on water during the day does a better job of hydration than drinking large amounts all at once. Try to consume about four ounces every 30 minutes for best hydrating results. Clear urine and a thirst response are not necessarily good indicators of cellular hydration.

Acid/Alkaline Foods

Our diets play a huge role in how well our body makes energy or how quickly it fatigues. One major aspect of this is the acid-alkaline pH balance. The Standard American Diet consists primarily of acid forming, processed foods and is de-energizing and pro-inflammatory. An acidic body pH can cause fatigue, exercise intolerance, elevated lactic acid, poor stamina, muscle soreness and stiffness, and stressed cellular energy production and mitochondria. An acidic body pH refers to cellular pH, not blood stream pH which is very tightly regulated.

Some of the most acid forming foods are soybean, carob, cocoa, grains, beef, pork, shellfish, processed cheese, ice cream, cottonseed oil, fried foods, walnuts, brazil nuts, beer, soda, white vinegar, sugar, processed salt, and hops. For many, their diet consists entirely of these foods, which impairs cellular function and robs the body of antioxidants.

A wide variety of richly colored fruits and vegetables buffers the acid formation from meats and grains and provides the antioxidants needed to protect mitochondria. 5-13 servings or 2-4 cups of vegetables and fruits per day are necessary to do this. Most Americans get 1-3 servings per day. Beverages that help alkalinize the body include mineral water, clean well-water or spring water, herbal teas, lemon, lime, cucumber, or ginger added to water. The elimination or reduced intake of the worst acid forming foods can reduce fatigue and even pain levels. Give yourself at least four weeks on a colorful fruit-vegetable rich diet to see the difference in fatigue levels.

Here are some examples of common beverages pH levels. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. A pH below 7 is an acid pH. This is a pro-inflammatory, fatigue promoting pH. Acidic beverages should be limited to help your cellular pH balance.

Pure water 7.0
Cow’s milk 6.5
Coffee 4.5
Beer 4.4
Wine 3.5
Soda 2.5 - 3

Meal Timing and Quality

Our body function is built on internal and environmental circadian rhythms that impact dietary rhythms and energy production. If you have slipped from a healthy three meal per day schedule into patterns of skipping meals, grazing, or over-indulgence, you know the lethargy and fatigue that occurs with changed digestive rhythms. A classic example is traveling across different time zones with digestion, meal timing and sleep rhythms out of sync. Erratic meal schedules can cause this too. As a result, of erratic schedules, bowel habits may be affected delaying the “normal morning constitution”. Hormone levels like leptin, thyroid, and adrenal functionality are affected, which cause further energy production chaos. Lethargy, fatigue, insulin resistance, and impaired metabolism occur due to inconsistent meal timing.

Diet Quality

If your dietary habits include regular fast or processed food, or GMO or Round-up/glyphosate foods then you are already at an energy disadvantage. These are energy depleting foods that greatly stress the body. They have little nutrient value, are pro-inflammatory, and create oxidative stress that impairs energy production. Consumption of these foods is like putting dirty water into a fish bowl and expecting the fish to survive and thrive. Strive towards changing your diet to eliminate these toxic foods and replace them with whole organic foods. If you don’t have access to fresh organic foods, then work with your local farmer’s market, or try a little backyard gardening.

Eating foods that have been grown with glyphosate/Roundup is terribly disruptive to our gut microbiome. This has been seen with a marked increase in gut inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. Any one of these concerns causes a tremendous energy drain to the body over time. Glyphosate also strips several nutrients out of plants that are critical for energy production and healthy energy producing mitochondria. Animals fed glyphosate treated grains are also affected by this, which makes consumption of their meat more pro-inflammatory than grass-fed meats.

Nutrients that help off-set the challenges of compromised digestion and diet quality may include probiotics, oat-bran fiber, plant-based digestive enzymes, chlorella, plant-based antioxidants, and minerals like zinc, copper, selenium, calcium, and magnesium.


A sedentary lifestyle and deconditioning causes fatigue. Inactivity to the body is like putting a car in storage for a few years. The battery goes dead. Tires go flat. Fluids break down. Belts crack. The car will need some maintenance care to run. In the last few years, research has shown us how detrimental sitting is. It is considered the new cancer as it is linked with breast and colon cancer. If you spend most of the day sitting at a desk, in the car, and then on the couch, you should ask if your inactivity is making the fatigue worse? Movement and activity is critical to run several functions in the body like methylation, thyroid, mitochondria, and AMPK that are involved with energy production.


Methylation is an impressive process that affects every single cell in the body. It is required for energy production, detoxification, cell repair, and metabolism. Quite often the focus to support methylation is on dark green leafy vegetables and special types of nutrients like methylated or coenzyme B vitamins. There is a great need for this aspect. However, it is vital to realize that exercise turns on healthy methylation too. Physical activity and exercise that is outside of the normal daily routine engages numerous gene signals, including genes related to methylation and energy.

Hormonal Balance

Exercise turns on thyroid hormone signals. Animal studies show that after four weeks of aerobic and strength-training exercise lethargy improved and learning difficulties associated with hypothyroidism decreased. Exercise also tonifies the adrenal glands and reduces adrenaline resistance. Physical activity greatly impacts leptin, insulin, blood sugar and numerous other functions in the body.

Interval Training Outshines Other Forms of Exercise

If the thought of going to the gym for hours at a time each week is less than appealing, consider using high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT has been proven to be better than extended moderate aerobic activity (e.g. jogging for 30 -60 minutes) for energy production, mitochondria, cardiovascular and metabolic fitness and it takes less time. High intensity interval training turns on AMPK, the master metabolic enzyme switch, which is defunct in energy disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, diabetes and obesity.

Try doing one minute intervals of vigorous exercise followed by one minute of rest. Repeat this on/off exercise activity at least five times. The goal is ten repetitions. Do an activity that you like. It might be walking or running up a flight of stairs as fast as you can for one minute. Other examples include deep knee bends, swimming, bicycling, jogging, hill-running, stair running, finger-tip push-ups against the wall, rubber band resistance exercise, pelvic-bridging or other activities.

If you struggle with deconditioning, you may just start out with 30 seconds of activity followed by 30 seconds of rest and repeat three to five times. Repeat it again later in the day if tolerated. If you have adrenal fatigue or insufficiency, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure or other disorders that have severe fatigue, you may need to just start with two sessions of 30 seconds of activity with at least a minute of rest in between.

If you feel energized with the activity, stick with it and slowly improve your number of repetitions and increase up to one minute intervals with high intensity. If you feel worse with the activity, reduce the intensity and time of activity by 25-50 percent and increase the rest interval by 25-50 percent. If you crash with worse fatigue after even just one brief trial, stop. Instead, do light stretching, easy yoga poses, or beginning Tai Chi. Your body is too weak to accommodate the HIIT changes if you crash with any exercise. Rather work on nourishing your mitochondria and adrenal glands first. Adaptogenic herbs, coenzyme Q10, acetyl-l-carnitine, co-enzyme B vitamins, R-alpha lipoic acid, grape seed extract, arginine, and magnesium can help repair and support this exercise intolerance. It may take several weeks of support before you can start HIIT. These same nutrients can be used to help enhance the work-out of someone who is fit but wants push their routine further.

Today’s management of health and energy production is more complicated than ever due to the modern lifestyle. Reliance on caffeinated beverages, chocolate or some other quick pick-me up food or even stimulant medications like Adderall to get through the day will fail to correct the underlying energy depleted state. The stunning revelation that sleep deprivation causes amyloid plaque build-up and significant mitochondria stress hopefully compels all of us to be more diligent about sleep and rest. Dietary quality and meal timing is also a widespread concern today. High intensity interval training/HIIT is a manageable form of exercise that provides tremendous benefit with little time. Focus on these fundamental self-care tools and those with mild or even moderate fatigue levels can significantly improve their lives and regain their energy levels.

Nutritional Options:

Calcium and Magnesium – These necessary minerals are critical for energy production, sleep, tissue strength and recovery. Individuals who are on restricted diets with food intolerances or low quality diets often fail to get adequate minerals. Strive to get at least 500 mg of magnesium in per day with fatigue concerns. Adult calcium intake need is at least 1000 mg per day.

B vitamins – Every tissue in our body needs B vitamins to function and to make energy. Stress, chemical exposures, medications, gut inflammation, methylation defects, thyroid, adrenals, liver, heart, and brain stress etc. increase the need for B vitamins. Basic fatigue support should focus on B vitamins and minerals.

Chlorella – A natural blue-green superfood, chlorella provides numerous benefits for energy management. It helps provide antioxidants, minerals, and B vitamins. It supports detoxification and helps alkalinize tissues. When combined with other nutrients like silymarin and N-acetyl-l-carnitine, can help remove lactic acid and support healthy mitochondria function.

Melatonin – Often used because of its well-known function as a sleep hormone, melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant. It protects mitochondria from sleep deprivation stress. It also helps regulate the natural circadian rhythms in the body. Dosage ranges from 0.5 mg -12 mg and even higher when used for antioxidant support.

Search thousands of health news articles!