What causes fatigue?
To find the root cause of fatigue you need to dig deep – all the way down to your cells. Because if your cells are not producing enough energy over a long period of time, you are going to be fatigued.
So to cure your fatigue we need to look at the three things preventing your cells from making energy: nutrition, hormones and stress.
Meet your mitochondria
First, it’s time to travel way back to grade school science class, when you learned about what makes up the human cell. Do you remember mitochondria? The mitochondria produce energy for your body. These little power plants take sugar (glucose) from your food and combine it with oxygen to produce ATP (energy) and water. ATP (or adenosine triphosphate) is the energy that powers your cells. Which in turn is what powers you.
If your cells aren’t producing enough ATP, you’re going to experience fatigue.
Think of ATP as energy. Low ATP equals low energy. So, if you want to get to the root cause of your fatigue, you need to look at your body’s production of ATP. To increase your energy, you need to increase your ATP production. It’s as simple (and complicated) as that.
If your mitochondria are not working at full strength, you’re going to start feeling fatigue. And your mitochondria will be at risk of performing poorly with the combination of the right genetics, hormone imbalances and infections like the Epstein-Barr virus.
Poorly performing mitochondria is the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Contributing factors of fatigue
When it comes down to it, the health of your body depends on the health of your mitochondria. If you want to overcome fatigue, increase your energy, and/or improve your focus, you need to optimize your mitochondria.
Now it’s time to learn how.
When it comes to optimizing your mitochondria, you’re going to want to follow a nutrition plan that emphasizes energy production. This is the ketogenic diet. The keto diet produces nearly 4x as much energy as any other nutrition plan.
I’ve written at length about why the ketogenic diet is the best diet for chronic fatigue syndrome.
However, it is extremely difficult to make this change, especially if your current nutrition plan is more aligned with a standard Canadian/Amerian/European diet. If that’s the case I recommend starting with a fatigue reset diet. This is a much more gentle introduction to the keto diet.
If a dramatic diet change isn’t possible right now, check out our free eBook Fix your Fatigue. You’ll find seven simple steps to increase your energy without dramatic dietary changes!
If you can only do one thing to your nutrition, you need to eat real food. If you do nothing else, eating real food will help improve your energy levels. I cannot emphasize this enough. The pre-packaged foods found down the aisles of your local grocery store do not encourage your mitochondria to make energy. If your food doesn’t rot, don’t eat it!
When it comes to fatigue, there are three main categories of hormones:
- Thyroid hormones (T3, T4)
- Adrenal hormones (DHEA, cortisol)
- Blood sugar hormones (insulin, cortisol)
Before even considering a CFS diagnosis, make sure your doctor thoroughly checks these hormone levels. If any of them are out of balance, your mitochondria won’t work properly and you’re going to feel fatigue.
Your mitochondria depend on your thyroid hormones to produce energy. If your thyroid levels are low, you’re going to feel fatigued. If your thyroid levels are too high, you’re going to feel nervous, anxious, and/or restless. For your mitochondria to work properly, your thyroid hormones need to be balanced.
Adrenal hormones like cortisol influence your energy. If your cortisol does not rise first thing in the morning (this is called the cortisol awakening response) you’re going to have trouble getting out of bed and feel exhausted by the midafternoon.
When you eat your blood sugar rises. To ensure your blood sugar stays within a healthy range, your body excretes insulin. Insulin helps to lower your blood sugar. Cortisol helps to raise your blood sugar. The insulin-cortisol balance can become affected when you consume carbohydrates your body doesn’t tolerate. If your cortisol and insulin levels become imbalanced, you’ll experience fatigue.
Stress impacts your energy levels. High stress often results in low energy. But all too often, your body can be under stress and you won’t even know it!
You see, most of the stress that causes chronic fatigue is more subtle. You are wired to deal with the ups and downs of daily stresses like finances, family and work. However, your body suffers when under constant stress.
And more often than not, these are the hidden stresses, lurking below the surface without you being aware of them.
There are three common hidden stresses:
This is not to say that daily stresses don’t play a part. To overcome fatigue, you’ll also need to ensure stress from finances, relationships and work are minimized. So whether that is eliminating major stresses in your life, taking more time to unwind, or even adding a meditation practice, you will not overcome fatigue without controlling your daily stresses.
Getting to the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome
ATP is so essential to your energy (and your life!) that if you went without it for just a few seconds, you would be dead. So it’s easy to imagine how even a slight decrease in ATP production could result in lowered energy. And if this occurs over the long term, CFS is the result.
In order to use the energy from ATP, your body “breaks it down” into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). This process releases the energy that powers absolutely everything that you do.
Your body has mitochondria in nearly every cell, which is why you can experience the effects of your mitochondria not working throughout your body.
You know the feeling of muscle soreness? That’s a lactic acid buildup and it’s your mitochondria that clear the lactic acid out of your cells. If these mitochondria aren’t performing properly that feeling won’t go away.
If your gut mitochondria are misbehaving, you may experience IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, and even food sensitivities.
This is why the symptoms of CFS are so wide spread. The area of your body where you are experiencing symptoms is the area where your mitochondria are being affected.
The energy equation
Imagine your energy is like money. It’s easy and fun to spend it, but a great deal of work is required to make it. The difference is once you run out of energy you can’t take out a loan to get more. If you run out of energy, you die.
Fatigue is the symptom that prevents you from running out of energy. Fatigue forces you to conserve your energy. In a sense, fatigue is the symptom that saves you from dying.
In order to feel energized, you need to create more energy than you consume. Do this and your fatigue will greatly improve. However, if you create too much energy and don’t use it up, you will gain weight. When it comes to energy, you want your bank account to be close to a zero balance at all times.
You can increase your energy production by:
- Eating a healthy diet,
- Getting 8 hours of sleep each night,
- Taking the proper supplements that help your mitochondria produce energy,
- Ensuring your thyroid and adrenal glands are functioning optimally.
You can decrease your energy output by:
- Lowering your stress levels,
- Fighting off infection(s),
- Avoiding foods you are allergic/sensitive to,
- Managing the intensity and frequency of exercise.
To address the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, you need to deliver as much energy to your cells as possible while keeping your energy output low. Your goal is to have a slight surplus of energy each day.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is like aging
If you’re over the age of seventy, your mitochondrial function will be about half of what it was when you were thirty. In fact, if you could prevent mitochondrial decline you could not only prevent fatigue, but possibly also aging! (1, 2)
That’s because much like aging, the root cause of CFS is reduced mitochondrial function. (3, 4, 5) Researchers have not figured out how to prevent aging. But they have figured out how to address chronic fatigue syndrome – it’s in the mitochondria.
Happy mitochondria are energy production machines. Sad mitochondria never get their work done. This results in energy deficits. If you want more energy, your mitochondria need to be happy.
Happy mitochondria vs sad mitochondria
CFS does not develop overnight. Before you feel tired, you may experience:
- Difficulties focusing and/or maintaining your concentration,
- Irritability/moodiness for no apparent reason,
- Challenges getting out of bed in the morning,
- Intense food cravings.
These symptoms are early indicators that your mitochondria are not functioning properly.
Remember, your energy level is the energy you create minus the energy you use. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s time to start paying closer attention to the health of your mitochondria! It’s much easier to prevent chronic fatigue syndrome than it is to recover from it.
Your mitochondria’s effect on fatigue
In cases of chronic fatigue syndrome, there are two symptoms that you need to pay attention to:
- Poor Stamina (both mentally and physically)
- Poor stamina is a result of lower ATP production by your mitochondria
- People with CFS are able to do activities but only for a very short period of time. They fatigue very quickly.
- Stamina requires energy production. In CFS, energy production is severely restricted. This results in low stamina in both physical and mental endeavors.
- Delayed fatigue (both mentally and physically)
- I’m sure you’re familiar with this symptom. It’s the energy hangover. After doing too much your fatigue worsens for a few days.
- This occurs because your mitochondria are low in energy sources. New energy molecules need to be created from scratch. This process can take days.
- While your body is creating new energy molecules, you’ll experience the fatigue/energy hangover.
To comfortably overcome fatigue, you need to work within the parameters of your mitochondrial function. It can be incredibly tempting to push it on days when you feel energized. Unfortunately, this results in the energy hangover I described above. Your goal is to always try to maintain a slightly positive balance in your energy bank account!
Different chronic stresses affects your mitochondria. And not in a good way. To get to the root cause of your fatigue, start by looking at your nutrition, hormone levels and blood sugar. If any of them are out of balance, you need to fix them. Then, work on reducing your daily stresses by adopting stress-reduction strategies.
Ok, there you have it, the real root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s all about your mitochondrial health.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What have you found best helps improve your mitochondria?!