If you’ve been feeling tired lately, you’re not alone.
Fatigue and exhaustion have been regular topics of discussion lately in my functional medicine practice. And if you ask me, we’ve got a new health crisis on our hands:
Over the last couple of years, we have asked our brains and bodies to function at a higher level, which up until now, most of us had not experienced before. Quite frankly, performing in this heightened state is not sustainable for long-term resilient health and happiness.
Relentless fatigue and overwhelm can be caused by many things, but there’s one common thread:
Factors of this stress have evolved for each individual over the last few years. Some were stressed about their personal health or the health of loved ones, while others were challenged to manage work from home and virtual school for their kids, concern about businesses, finances, jobs, lack of community, you name it – even little things became big deals in this heightened state. But no matter what our stressors are, when we constantly bombard our bodies with a big slice of stress, while not supporting our bodies with proper nutrition, mindfulness, sleep regulation, and movement, our nervous system won’t adapt well. This nervous system mal-adaptation perpetuates low energy, fatigue, upset digestion, insomnia and even hormone imbalances.
Our nervous system is intricately designed to protect us by giving our brains and bodies the tools it needs to keep us out of harm’s way. This is the well-known fight-or-flight response. But when your nervous system continues to think it’s unsafe, it will continue to stimulate the adrenal glands and pump out adrenaline and cortisol. So when you live in a state of high alert, this is what happens – your heart rate increases, your sleep is disrupted, your muscles are tense and your breathing becomes shallow. This puts you on the edge of anxiety and on the brink of burnout.
Now, what I have been seeing in my functional medicine practice are patients who are frustrated. They’re tired. They don’t feel like they’re getting the answers or the support that they need. People are going to their doctors, but leaving feeling hopeless and confused about the state of their health. And they’re being told that their labs look normal and to wait and see. But I’m seeing a major problem…
As doctors, we are experiencing so many new and ever-changing developments and medical advancements about our current state of health, while at the same time relying on old practices and outdated concepts that are no longer serving our patients. These expired practices cause issues such as fatigue, low energy and inflammatory conditions to be missed because doctors are running basic tests and are not conducting comprehensive health histories. Unfortunately, they haven’t really been trained to view the body from a functional or preventative state. It’s not the doctor’s fault. It’s really the training and the expired system that they’re working from. Based on these basic labs, you are then labeled with a diagnosis and then matched with a drug or medical intervention. While this works for some people and can be necessary, it can be wholly inadequate for the majority of you.
As the patient who has symptoms or just feels off and is told your labs are normal, you are not left with many options. Under the traditional model, a lot of people slip through the cracks, especially those that don’t fall in line with a diagnosis yet. If you’re one of those people who have had “normal” test results yet your symptoms aren’t going away and your health isn’t changing – I’m talking to you.
So many of you have amazing intentions and want to do the right thing when it comes to your health, but you can be missing a big piece of the puzzle. And what I have found in over 11 years of private practice is not only that the interpretation of your labs is subpar, but the labs being run are not comprehensive enough to properly diagnose the complex health problems we’re seeing today.
Due to the overwhelming amount of environmental factors, chronic stress, and the abundance of amazing medical advancements, we can no longer rely on these basic general blood panels – the same panels that are run for every single person for every single health concern. We need to utilize comprehensive labs and a proper assessment of your individual nervous system regulation. And we cannot ignore one of the most important questions to ask as doctors — Why? Why are you chronically fatigued? Why are you mal-adapting to stress? Why is your body holding on to inflammation?
When your body is dominant in the sympathetic nervous system, you reduce your ability to adapt to your daily stressors because your brain thinks your environment is unsafe. Emotionally, everything is going to seem like a big deal, you are more reactive, you reduce your ability to problem solve, your immune system is suppressed, and your mood feels all over the place.
Factors of Fatigue and Nervous System Dysfunction
Here are some common contributors that can cause fatigue and lead to nervous system dysfunction:
- Bacterial infections
- Excessive exercise with no recovery
- Emotional stress and trauma
- Food intolerances or diets high in sugar and carbohydrates
- Chronic antacid use
- Blue light exposure at night
So let’s get tested!
Labs to Help Point to the Causes of Fatigue
The best diagnostic labs to determine what is fueling your fatigue that can then lead to burnout are:
- Blood sugar markers
- A full inflammation panel
- A full thyroid panel. Not just TSH.
- Iron, D, B12
- A four-point cortisol and hormone panel
- Genetic methylation SNPs like MTHFR and COMT
- Metrics like heart rate variability (HRV) and Blood O2 levels
Your health is yours no one else’s. You should be viewed as an individual entity because your body was designed to heal and self-regulate. Looking at it through a functional medicine lens will give you the answers that you’re looking for in order to increase vibrant energy and prevent burnout, and to be resilient to your daily stressors because those stressors are not going away.