causes of fatigue

Causes of fatigue: What's happened to my energy?

On a recent walk to the grocery store, I realized that I had been feeling a bit run down, not as energetic as usual. I wondered: Could it be I'm not getting enough sleep? Was I eating the right balance of foods? Was I dealing with stress in healthful ways? Or was I really sick and tired, cause unknown?

Nutritional deficiencies

As a physician, I rapidly concluded that I was ok, and set out to buy the foods on my shopping list. But when I got to the store, I noticed anew the bounty of fresh food, and the opportunity it presents to rejuvenate my body. I know that eating a regular supply of low-fat dairy and the rainbow of colors from fruits and vegetables will enhance my energy and provide vital nutrients. So I bought my fair share of these items and also treated myself to a family-sized pack of nuts, and cheese or yogurt for snacking when I feel my energy waning during a busy day.


I also thought about my recent shoulder injury and the low-level, chronic pain I had been living with for some time. So, I went to my own doctor and was given stretching exercises to relieve muscle tension and advice to work out more vigorously. Ironically, I always find that the more I exercise, the more energy I have. It's a paradox, until you realize that using your body in higher-energy activities depletes energy... but it lets the body replace that lost energy with the essentials your body has consumed. The more your body refuels, the better it is at doing so. This cycle is what makes your body stronger and healthier.

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My doctor visit also relieved my emotional worry about my shoulder pain, which had been mentally weighing me down. Mental worry is equivalent to stress, and as we all know, there is good and bad stress. We all need some stress to function. What we don't need is bad stress, the kind that depletes your energy. Examples of bad stress include financial worry, family discord, chronic pain and inflammation. As a patient, I finally took control of my pain by sharing my concerns with a trusted healthcare provider who reassured me and gave me sound, constructive advice.

We all get into bad habits for some reason or another, and I am guilty as charged.


I began having a carbonated and caffeinated beverage every afternoon to refuel my sagging energy levels. But I realized that I was really thirsting for a cold beverage, and so I now turn to water first. Water is always the best beverage choice when you are thirsty: is more natural than other options, and more likely to help your bodily functions. Chemicals in diet or soda pop drinks tend to pollute your vital organs, making them work extra hard to clear these chemical toxins from your blood or various body parts.

Toxins from processed foods or artificially-colored foods and drinks are similarly overworking your digestive tract, so you don't get the full benefit of the nutrients your body needs. The best way to lessen the impact of toxins and chemicals is by enhancing your body's reservoir of vitamins and minerals with the right supplement. Aging reduces your body's natural ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, so taking a good multivitamin at least once a day helps foster a more balanced nutrient profile in your body. This lets you derive the most energy from what you eat and drink.

It's not rocket science, just plain old common sense: We need to give our bodies the right mix of rest, stimulating work and sustenance to maximize our energy potential. If you do that on a regular basis, you will reach your energy pinnacle sooner than you know. And others will watch as you soar!

Samuel N. Grief, M.D., CCFP, FCFP, a member of TriVita's Medical Advisory Board, is the Medical Director for Campus Care at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and is a Continuing Medical Education instructor.

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Join the conversations:
Showing comment(s)
November 6, 2013
I can think of many more possibilities to consider if you're suffering from constant fatigue like obesity, food allergies, overeating at meals, medical conditions like diabetes or hypothyroidism, and overindulging in alcohol or caffeine too late in the day.
Dana at
November 9, 2013
Those are wonderful points, Erica. I agree with everything you listed. In addition to the considerations that Dr.Grief's mentioned, many of us could benefit from keeping a food diary -- to see how the foods we're eating effect how we're feeling. Also, taking steps to improve our sleep quality and getting a medical checkup are smart steps -- since fatigue may be caused by quit a few medical conditions. And, if we're taking certain medications, those may also effect our daytime energy level.
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