Hidden causes of low energy and fatigue

| February 26, 2014

There are many reasons why people develop fatigue and exhaustion. Naturopathic practitioner Vanessa Hitch has tips how to get more energy and greater resilience to the daily stress life throws at us.

Tired, fatigued, flat or just plain worn-out – however we describe it; many of us live hectic lives, and particularly for women it can be a constant juggling act, leaving us with the kind of exhaustion that even a good night’s sleep won’t fix.

While lack of sleep is the most common cause of tiredness, sometimes there are hidden factors which drain our energy, deplete our stress resilience and leave us feeling flat and unmotivated.

A naturopathic consultation can reveal underlying imbalances which might be causing low energy and fatigue.  Following I am outlining five of the most important hidden causes of low energy and fatigue.

1. Nutrient imbalance

Eating food on the run, skipping meals or over-indulging in the wrong foods can deplete the nutrients needed to fuel our body’s daily requirements. In addition, we might need more of a specific nutrient due to stress, physical activity or increased metabolic demands. Take iron for example; monthly blood loss coupled with a diet low in iron-rich foods can very easily cause fatigue. Low iron is often overlooked, but once identified relatively easy to fix.

Tip: Look for a good quality organic iron supplement (because non-organic forms can be constipating) and increase foods high in iron such as red meat, pumpkin seeds, spirulina and rice bran.

2. Low thyroid function

Many women may develop sub-optimal thyroid function, causing them to gain weight and feel exhausted due to a sluggish metabolism. Sometimes this goes undetected or their blood test results don’t accurately pick up a sub-clinical underactive thyroid problem. In addition to fatigue, signs and symptoms of low thyroid include: feeling the cold more than usual, trouble losing weight or weight gain, dry skin and thinning hair. Specific nutrients can help improve thyroid function and therefore increase metabolic health and energy levels.

Tip: Check to see if you are getting enough of the minerals needed for thyroid health, such as Selenium and Iodine, they are important cofactors for the healthy production of thyroid hormones.

3. Stress

Prolonged or chronic stress can negatively impact both the adrenal glands (the glands which help produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin), leaving you feeling ‘tired and/or wired’. Left unchecked stress has wide ranging health impacts including insomnia, anxiety, depression, blood sugar issues and adrenal fatigue.

Tip: Supplementing with B-group vitamins and taking herbs such as Rhodiola and Withania can help support and balance adrenal function and help improve stress resilience. It’s also important to deal with the underlying stressor and to find ways to unwind by doing activities like yoga, exercise, meditation or even just deep breathing.

4. Blood sugar problems

Many people find they have a 3pm slump or mid-afternoon drop in energy levels. Along with the fatigue come cravings for sugary foods or coffee as a quick fix to get through the rest of the day. Although this is a common occurrence, for people who suffer severe afternoon slumps and extreme fatigue it might also be a hidden sign of metabolic dysfunction such as blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance or even pre-diabetes.

Tip: Afternoon tiredness can be helped by eating a nutritious wholefood lunch containing good quality protein. Also try to eat less sugary foods, not skipping meals, cutting down on coffee and getting plenty of rest and exercise. It may also be helpful to supplement with minerals such as Magnesium and Chromium, which support healthy blood sugar levels.

5. Acid-alkaline imbalance

When our bodies are too acidic, it can be the underlying cause of inflammation, fatigue and ‘that achy feeling’. Researchers believe our ancient ancestors ate a largely alkaline diet of mineral-rich plant matter. Today however, many diets contain high amounts of acid forming animal protein, sugar and grains and low levels of alkalising vegetables. As we age we also lose our ability to efficiently cope with an excessive acid load, causing fatigue and many other metabolic imbalances.

Tip: Eating more vegetables and less sugar, grains and animal protein can help reduce our daily acid load. In addition lemon juice and water each morning can help to alkalise the body. Naturally sparkling mineral water containing a high bicarbonate value can also help.

There are many reasons why people develop fatigue and exhaustion, and sometimes we need a healthcare professional who can dig a little deeper to find out why. By correcting the underlying cause, we can gain long lasting improvement in our energy, more motivation and greater resilience to the daily stress which life throws at us. Of course if symptoms get worse or severe enough that they hamper your ability to complete normal tasks, and then it’s time to seek medical advice to rule out serious health problems.



  1. wormlyorganics

    February 19, 2015 at 3:13 am

    There really are tons of

    There really are tons of vitamins and minerals that our body needs to properly function. That's why I've taken the road to a much healthier lifestyle by focusing on whole, natural and organic foods. I have since felt better and more energized by simply consuming snacks that have very low calories but have extra health benefits. Supplements are also great, such as organic spirulina powder, which greatly increases my energy and balance.

    • kmartin1

      October 6, 2015 at 3:29 am

      Great article Vanessa

      I'm a Naturopath / Nutritionist and one of the most common problems my clients complain of is being tired all the time. I'm a big believer in the power of nutrition and herbal medicine to correct imbalances in the body. http://www.kellymartin.com.au