Is It Fatigue, or Am I Just Tired?

Sometimes we are asked, “What’s the difference between true fatigue and simply being tired?”  Different professionals have varied ways of defining chronic fatigue, but in the integrative medical world, we take note of several characteristics that can denote fatigue in a patient:

1. Non-restorative sleep, or waking up without feeling rested

2. Poor reserves for exercise, feeling wiped out even two hours after a moderate workout

3. Pervasive, long-lasting loss of energy/vitality

4. Deep muscle aches and pains

The causes of this type of fatigue are multiple and varied.  Sometimes it is the culmination of several events that cause it, and other times it may be one single event.  Unfortunately, typical blood work that is done may reveal nothing, and patients are told that they are fine, yet they know they feel terrible and can’t understand this.  Digging deeper may reveal the causes.

Obviously, some problems such as low thyroid function and other hormonal imbalances can lead to chronic fatigue, but in other patients the cause is much more elusive.  Combinations of toxic events, exposures over periods of time, chronic viral conditions such as Epstein-Barr (formerly known as the yuppie flu), and chronic low-grade allergies (including those to foods) can cause this fatigue.

So what makes people so tired?  One item that many overlook is the functioning of the mitochondria, which are the little “gas pumps” of each cell of the body.  In some cases they are unable to function due to either a lack or an overutilization of certain micronutrients.  Mitochondria depend heavily on B vitamins, ribose, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), magnesium, and carnitine in order to work properly.  Putting these micronutrients back into the body often helps with some of the fatigue that may have been incurred from other precipitating events.  Obviously, removing the cause is the first step in the process, but sometimes this is not only hard to do but impossible, and the best we can do is support the mitochondria in every way possible.

For anyone seeking to read more about chronic fatigue, I highly recommend Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum’s excellent book, From Fatigued to Fantastic.