Living things, from amoebas to rocket scientists, operate electrically. Each of our cells generates its own tiny amount of (wireless) electricity, but the most active part of our bodies–both electrically and chemically–is the brain. Occasionally, however, the electrical system in the brain goes awry, and an electrical storm erupts in one tiny portion of the brain. The result is an epileptic seizure. Seeing someone suffer an epileptic seizure is probably scarier than experiencing one yourself–in fact, the person loses consciousness too quickly to be aware of what’s happening. Through the ages, lots of stereotypes (good and bad) have been attached to anyone who had seizures. And it’s well worth repeating that people with epilepsy are just as smart, creative, and productive as everyone else.
The diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy lie strictly in the realm of conventional medicine. Here at WholeHealth Chicago, however, we’ve found that certain supplements and lifestyle changes–used in conjunction with your regular treatment–can be very helpful: They can reduce your chances of seizures and help your medication work more effectively.
What is Fatigue?
Everybody feels tired now and then, but fatigue goes beyond that. Fatigue is a feeling of being tired almost all the time. This deep exhaustion is not an illness in itself; it’s most often a symptom of some other disorder, such as insomnia, nutrition deficits, overwork, too much exercise (or too little), or certain medical conditions. Fatigue has been around since there were people with work to do and not enough food to eat, although it’s likely that the cavemen (observing animals) took plenty of time to rest. But like the common cold, humankind still hasn’t found a sure-fire remedy. Today more than 7 million people see their doctors about fatigue each year, and it routinely appears on people’s lists of their top 10 health concerns.
- Constant or off-and-on weariness that lasts for more than two weeks
- Anger, impatience, depression, or other personality changes
- Trouble concentrating and accomplishing day-to-day tasks; apathy toward activities that formerly were of interest
What Causes Fatigue?
Although fatigue can be one of the predominant symptoms for any of a long list of medical conditions affecting virtually every system in the body, we’re actually a pretty healthy, disease-free society. In most cases of chronic tiredness, no disease (fortunately) is ever found. Doctors are very good at conducting physical examinations and blood tests that can quickly rule out whole blocks of fatigue-causing problems, such as diseases related to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and blood.
The less obvious causes of fatigue are more difficult to diagnose: poor sleeping habits; inadequate nutrition with vitamin deficiencies; hormonal fluctuations of PMS; chronic anxiety or depression; the subtle side effects of medications, and others.
Treatment and Prevention
Temporary fatigue is, of course, a message from your body requesting that you make some appropriate lifestyle changes. Most people are savvy enough to acknowledge when they’re overworked, stressed, and haven’t been paying attention to their own well-being. Most temporary fatigue is due to a general “benign self-neglect.” If you start paying attention to the messages from your body (the salad bar instead of the doughnut for lunch; bedtime at 10 P.M. rather than 1 A.M.) most fatigue simply goes away by itself.
Persistent fatigue, especially when you’re uncertain just why you’ve been feeling so bushed, always requires medical attention. A symptom like fatigue may be the body’s way of signaling the presence of a disorder or disease that needs treatment. Don’t fool around with being tired all the time. You’ll feel more energetic just learning that you don’t have anything serious.
Taking steps to prevent fatigue will probably lengthen your life. Researchers have found that persistent fatigue is a better indicator for dying prematurely than more familiar risk factors such as smoking or bad nutrition.
How Supplements Can Help
Before you start on a supplement regimen, see your doctor to rule out any medical condition that may be causing your fatigue. Begin with the vitamins and ginsengs, and then add the magnesium, amino acids, and flaxseed. After a two-month supplement program, you should begin to feel a difference.
B-complex vitamins are essential to the health of your immune and nervous systems. These nutrients will be the first to drop if you’ve been surviving on a junk food diet. Older people frequently don’t absorb enough B vitamins in their food, and this may contribute to our linking of “feeling old and tired.” The B vitamins boost white blood cells’ virus and bacteria-fighting powers and are critical in the formation of red blood cells. Your fatigue-fighting combination should contain all the B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, biotin, and folic acid.
Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, speeds healing, and helps the adrenal gland, which regulates production of stress hormones in the body.
The ginsengs have long been associated with energy. Scientists refer to them as “adaptogens” because they assist the body in adapting to different stressors. Panax ginseng is a traditional Asian remedy, commonly used to improve both mental and physical vitality. The fatigue-fighting Siberian ginseng (sometimes called eleuthro) was used by the Soviet Olympic athletes to increase stamina and is popularly used to prevent any stress-related illness.
A fairly new supplement, the enzyme NADH, is showing some promise for improving energy levels in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and it may also be useful for more common types of persistent fatigue as well. Adrenal complex, which includes such beneficial substances as Siberian ginseng, licorice, and the B vitamin pantothenic acid, helps stimulate the adrenal gland to raise energy and lower stress.
A magnesium deficiency is probably a lot more common than conventional physicians appreciate. This important mineral is vital in the manufacture of ATP (adenosine triphospate), the energy source inside each cell of the body. When no specific cause for fatigue is found, many nutritionally oriented physicians routinely start their patients on magnesium. If a deficiency is a cause of your fatigue, you can often feel improvement in 3 to 4 weeks.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are vital to the maintenance and repair of every organ system in the body. A nutritionally unsound diet, as well as many chronic diseases, can cause low blood levels of amino acids, with fatigue as the predominant symptom.
Flaxseed oil is an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Some researchers believe that 80% of our population is deficient in these vital substances (there’s a reason they’re called “essential”), which are needed for structure and function throughout the entire body. The predominant symptom of fatty acid deficiency is, of course, fatigue.
Your mother was right. You need to eat a healthful breakfast. Starting the day with no available source of fuel will ultimately cause chronic tiredness. Interestingly, one common trait in a survey of people who lived to age 100 is that they all ate breakfast!
If your body is sending a signal of late afternoon tiredness, take a short 20-minute nap in the afternoon or early evening. Be sure to set an alarm, since long naps can disrupt nighttime sleep patterns. But you’ll probably awake refreshed and energetic. The Latin countries, with their mid-afternoon siestas, really have the right idea.
Exercise regularly and moderately. Working out will definitely increase your energy. But don’t exercise right before bedtime as this can make getting to sleep more difficult and can disrupt sleep patterns.
Don’t turn to sweets for energy. Stick with complex carbohydrates and proteins, such as nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and veggies.
Avoid big evening meals, high-fat foods, alcohol, and caffeine. A dose of caffeine can upset your sleep pattern for as long as 10 hours.
Set a regular sleep schedule so that you go to sleep and get up the same time every day. Allow for at least six to eight hours of sleep each night. If you want to determine how much sleep you really need, count how many hours of sleep you need–without using an alarm clock to wake up–in order to awaken refreshed.
And of course, if fatigue persists, then go back to your doctor and get rechecked. Sometimes it takes time for a condition like an underactive thyroid or anemia, to appear in a blood test.
When to Call a Doctor
- If fatigue persists beyond two weeks or if you also experience fever, muscle aches, hoarseness, nausea, weight loss, or other worrisome symptoms
- If you are too drowsy to complete regular daily activities
Supplement Recommendations for Fatigue
From David Edelberg, M.D. at WholeHealth Chicago: Before you start supplement therapy, make sure your doctor has ruled out any underlying medical causes for your fatigue. Then you will have to be a little patient: It will probably take about two months of supplement use until you begin to notice any real therapeutic effect. Once you’re feeling like your former energetic self, you can reduce the doses by 50 to 75%.
How to Take the Supplements
Begin with the two vitamins, one of the two ginsengs, and the magnesium. The B-complex vitamins and vitamin C both strengthen the immune system, among other benefits. Panax ginseng and Siberian ginseng are traditional energy boosters. You can take one or the other; studies show either ginseng can work quite well. Magnesium shortages are far more common causes of fatigue than many physicians appreciate.
If fatigue persists, add the other supplements in the list. NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a cell enzyme involved in energy production. A recent study showed that it effectively improved energy levels in people with longstanding chronic fatigue syndrome.
Adrenal complex contains a combination of supplements (including such substances as Siberian ginseng, licorice, and the B vitamin pantothenic acid) that stimulates the adrenal gland to raise energy and lower stress.
The amino acid complex can keep these protein building blocks from falling to low levels in your body, which may contribute to fatigue. The essential fatty acids supplied by flaxseed oil are an immune booster; like the B vitamins, flaxseed also strengthens the components of cells.
We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.
Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.
For product recommendations and suggestions, click here for the Natural Apothecary
David Edelberg, MD