For those of us whose energy levels flag, Behnaz Sanjana brings you the how and why for sprightlier days.
Whether you are super-mum, super-student, super-career-woman, or a lethal combination of any two (or all three, for that matter), chances are that ‘I’m exhausted’ and ‘I could use a nap’ cross your overworked mind many times during the day. Well, copious amounts of caffeine may not be the long-term solution to avoid a serious burnout. Dr Sunil J Rao, pictured, far right, an expert in internal medicine at Royal Bahrain Hospital says tiredness and exhaustion are symptoms frequently encountered by women and are common reasons for consulting a physician. He discusses the plausible physiological causes, ranging from the most basic to the not-so-common.
“Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the red pigment in our red blood cells that helps to carry oxygen to our tissues,” says Dr Rao. A deficiency in iron is termed as anaemia and is a consequence of inadequate oral intake of the mineral (through a healthy diet or supplementation), together with the loss of iron in the body during the menstrual cycles. In rare cases, this may be caused by a chronic loss of blood through the urinary or gastrointestinal tract.
“As the levels of iron in the blood reduce, the body empties the iron stores from the bone (ferritin), to maintain the level of haemoglobin. Further deficiencies cause low levels of haemoglobin in addition to low levels of ferritin in the bone,” he adds.
Anaemia can be confirmed through a simple blood test. “Your physician will check for your haemoglobin levels in addition to other iron parameters in the blood and ferritin to confirm a diagnosis of iron deficiency. It can be treated with a course of iron supplements taken orally,” explains Dr Rao.
The most commonly seen symptoms of anaemia are lethargy, shortness of breath, a pale complexion and heart palpitations.
The Thyroid Factor
Another reason for a constant feeling of tiredness could be an underactive thyroid gland. “The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck and produces a hormone called thyroxine, which is responsible for the metabolism of each and every cell in the body. Low levels of thyroxine, also called hypothyroidism, and, in some rare cases, high levels of thyroxine, or hyperthyroidism, can cause tiredness by slowing down most body processes,” says our expert.
Hypothyroidism also makes you put on weight and experience aching muscles.
Too Sweet for Comfort
A sluggish feeling is one of the main symptoms of elevated levels of glucose in the blood, claim medics. In those who have pre-diabetes or diabetes, the body’s tissues are unable to extract glucose from the blood, due to resistance to the action of insulin. Consequently, the high levels of glucose cause excessive urination and thirst and also fatigue. Therefore, tiredness in diabetes can be looked at as a case of poverty (in energy) in plenty (of glucose in the blood).
D is for Deficiency
If you’re running low on vitamin D, it’s very likely that you lack the physical stamina to see the day through. Dr Rao says deficiency of the sunshine vitamin can cause tiredness and fatigue in association with joint and muscle aches.
If you have trawled the Internet researching why you are so washed out all the time, you may have come across the term ‘adrenal fatigue’.
The Answer in the Adrenals
All of us have a pair of adrenal glands located just above the kidneys, which are vital to our general wellbeing. When they function optimally, they produce the right amount of hormones, most importantly cortisol.
But sometimes, they don’t produce enough of the good juice. “Low levels of cortisol production by the adrenal glands can cause adrenal fatigue. Moderate to severe fatigue with low blood sugar and low blood pressure, and occasionally, dark pigmentation of the skin may alert your physician to adrenal fatigue,” says Dr Rao. This condition can sometimes be life-threatening and is treated with glucocorticoids, he adds.
Chronic fatigue can lead to loss of memory and concentration, muscle and bone pain, headaches, waking up feeling unrefreshed, anxiety and depression. All these can have an adverse impact on day-to-day functioning at home and at work.
Other reasons for chronic fatigue in women can be menopause, obesity, uncontrolled hypertension, depressive illnesses and chronic sleep deprivation.
It may be possible that all your tests have given you a clean bill of health in regard to the above causes of persistently low energy levels. A tweak in your way of life may be just what’s required. Dr Rao talks about maintaining a balanced lifestyle which includes healthy eating, regular physical exercise, adequate sleep and stress relief. He says: “These are the cornerstones to keeping healthy, maintaining vitality and fitness.
“Avoid eating junk food, processed meats and alcohol and limit your intake of salt. Increase your frequency and portions of fruits, vegetables and healthy nuts such as almonds and walnuts.”
No matter what your age or stature, the universal recommendation with regard to exercise for everyone is 150 minutes per week of any moderate intensity exercise. This means 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, or 45 minutes for four days a week. A good seven to nine hours of restful sleep is also required to keep you energetic during the day, advises the doctor.