Are you tired all the time?

Health correspondent ( 17 June 2015 )

If you are constantly feeling exhausted and fatigued finding the cause is the first step to getting effective treatment

When tiredness is ever-present or starts to interfere with normal living, it needs to be investigated properly. First, you need to rule out a physical cause with the help of your GP. The commonest ones are:

  • diabetes
  • anaemia
  • glandular fever
  • thyroid problems

Most doctors will take blood and urine tests to check for these.

However, it's estimated that comparatively few cases of fatigue actually have a physical cause.

It's more likely to be down to stress, depression, boredom, poor sleep habits or simply being very busy. Getting the right amount of exercise and relaxation, eating the right food at the right times and having the necessary amount of sleep can all help you to get your energy back.

Tired all the time (TATT) is a wide-ranging condition and causes and treatments will vary from one person to another. Conventional medicine may help some people, but for others a complementary medicine approach may be more successful.

Diet and tiredness

‘Lack of energy can be down to a poor choice of foods,' says Jayne Nelson, spokesperson for the British Association of Nutritional Therapists.

"Stimulants and sweet items, such as coffee, cigarettes and sugars, can make glucose levels go very high then fall very low, and can lead to long-term fatigue and nutritional deficiency," says Nelson.

"Hypoglycaemia occurs when blood sugar levels drop very low and the person becomes weak, tired and dizzy." This can result from choosing foods that have you lurching between high-energy and low-energy modes.

To boost energy, says Nelson, we need to swap stimulants for slow-release carbohydrates and fresh, unprocessed foods.

She also warns that ‘habit foods' - things we eat all the time that may not be particularly good for us - can cause problems. However, she stresses that fatigue is a huge subject and that individual solutions need to be sought.

"Tiredness is usually associated with something else,'she says. If you can't find the answer on your own or with the help of your doctor, a professional nutritional therapist might be able to help."

Yoga and energy

"We need oxygen for all the activities of the body. If breathing is inhibited it affects the whole system," says yoga teacher, Joy Mankoo. "This can happen because of poor posture and stress. Emotions can get trapped in the muscles of the body - if we are upset, for example, our abdomens tighten. Sometimes, emotions get left over and inhibit the movements of the muscles. Learning to release these and let go frees them up."

Chinese medicine

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe TATT is most often the result of the digestive system becoming depleted of energy: nutrients aren't being absorbed and more fatigue results. 

The treatment, according to Richard Blackwell, Principal of the Northern College of Acupuncture, will involve acupuncture and advice on diet, including eating more cooked foods. "Tiredness is also associated with the kidneys," Blackwell adds. "They are the energy reserves in the body and can become depleted with age, particularly after periods of physical and emotional stress. 

"The kidneys have to work hard at times of major change – the menopause for example. It's a deficiency thatn takes longer to treat and would be done with a combination of herbs and acupuncture, rather than diet. It's also important to get the right balance between rest and activity. Very gentle exercises such as t'ai chi and yoga, which have a meditative quality, will slow down the mind and encourage deep breathing." 

You may also feel tired when your body has enough energy, but it has become blocked. In this case, acupuncture, massage and more active exercise, such as swimming or walking, would be recommended.

Herbal remedies

"If you feel tired all the time, the most obvious thing is that you have been doing too much and could be nervously run down," says herbalist Ann McIntyre.

 "Herbs can be very nourishing for the nervous system. The obvious one is Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) or Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus). 

"These help mind and body to be more resilient to stress. Oats are also very helpful. We make a medicine out of them called avenasativa, or you can just eat porridge. 

"People who are menopausal can feel very, very tired. Remedies like Chinese Angelica (Angelica sinensis) are an excellent rejuvenating tonic for women. 

"Black cohosh, sage and wild yam are all good hormone-balancing herbs." 

"Adding warming spices to your diet, drinking aromatic teas before meals or chewing a little bit of ginger gets the digestion going and makes you more likely to absorb nutrients."

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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