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  • Akshata Nayak MSACN, MS

Fatigue and Nutrition

Let me start by saying something I truly believe in – feeling fatigued is never normal! Whether it is the first thing you feel in the morning or halfway through a regular day, it is time to analyze your lifestyle and get to the root of the problem. Too many of us brush this symptom off by relating it to another omnipresent factor in our lives – stress – I know I am guilty of it sometimes. It can be difficult to get rid of the stress inducing components, but it is easier to provide our body with the nutrients it requires to deal with the situation in a healthy manner.

To better comprehend fatigue and stress, it is important to understand the processes in our body that have evolved to counter these effects. Fatigue can be described as excessive tiredness, an inability to concentrate, lack of energy or general lethargy. There are several modifications that carbohydrates, fats and proteins have to undergo before they can produce any energy in our bodies.

Monosaccharides, amino acids and fatty acids from dietary carbohydrates, proteins and fats, respectively, undergo transformation to energy yielding intermediates within our cells. These intermediary molecules are then shuttled to our mitochondria, the energy factories within cells. Here, they go through a complicated, yet elegant, mechanism called the electron transport chain before resulting in energy rich end products. This is an aerobic and efficient process, with every molecule of glucose producing about 36 energy molecules while greater than one hundred are produced from every molecule of fatty acid. Approximately 90% of all cellular oxygen is consumed by the mitochondria during these methods to produce energy. If we do not support our mitochondria sufficiently, then we become more reliant on anaerobic energy production which results in only 2 or 3 energy molecules for every molecule of glucose! Furthermore, we are unable to burn fats anaerobically and end up storing more it our cells. This underlines the importance of reinforcing these small organelles within our cells.

Orchestration of these pathways requires a constant supply of greater than 30 individual nutrients. Among these, the more important ones include coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, B complex and magnesium. Co-enzyme Q10, formed from cholesterol in our body, is vital within the mitochondria during the electron transport chain. Its main function is to carry energy components to different locations in the mitochondrial factory to produce energy end products.

L-carnitine is the vehicle that transports fats into our cells for energy production. So, if you are deficient in this nutrient, then the attention you give to your dietary intake of fat will not benefit you in any significant manner. The entire set of B-complex vitamins is indispensable when it comes to energy production because the different B-vitamins are involved in various steps throughout these pathways. Magnesium is a key nutrient crucial to over 85 percent of the reactions in our body including the final steps in the electron transport chain. A deficiency in magnesium can also result in excessive pain perception since it is the ion that is responsible for gating pain channels. This is one reason why symptoms of pain and fatigue can sometimes go hand in hand.

Our modern lifestyle has resulted in minds that are “on and going” all the time with static bodies, while the opposite (active bodies and calm minds) are vital for health. Stress can enter our lives in a multitude of forms, but it always has the same result – an increase in cortisol production in our body. When cortisol is manufactured in excess amounts, it can have far reaching consequences affecting every single organ system in our body. This can exacerbate preexisting symptoms as well as result in novel manifestations including digestive problems, allergies, headaches, overall pain, sugar handling issues, depression and many more. High cortisol levels can cause deficiencies in the nutrients necessary to control its production. Vitamins and minerals crucial to the energy manufacturing process can get diverted to unsuccessfully managing stress in our body, thus resulting in fatigue and chronic stress. These are excellent reasons to always pay attention to what our body is telling us and not only when a disease condition can be quantitatively measured. To achieve this, it is important to find a healthcare professional who can analyze your functional symptoms and address the problem early before it results in a chronic disorder.

Does this mean that you have to start supplementing with each and every one of these nutrients if you experience these symptoms? Certainly not! What is important, as always, is to understand why this deficiency is occurring and what needs to be worked on to fix the underlying problem. It is never ok to move from being dependent on medications to being reliant on supplements for your condition, even if they are commonly considered to be more natural. Just as multiple medications can interact in our bodies, supplements can also have the same effects.

Depending on your complaints and diet history, a short-term supplement routine combined with long-term lifestyle changes would be the most common suggestion. However, there are several factors that can hinder even these seemingly simple steps. Digestive problems including IBS, stomach acid issues, enzyme dysfunctions, bacterial overgrowth, all prevent you from properly breaking down and absorbing these nutrients from your diet and supplements. This makes it vital that you see a healthcare professional to determine what your best options are given your presentation.

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