newlogo.gif (3031 bytes)



The Common Causes of Fatigue
Pat Elliott, ND


1)   Insufficient sleep

a)    Due to lifestyle choices - to function optimally, most people need at least 8 hours of sleep consistently. Inability to wake without an alarm or easy falling asleep during the day are clues for inadequate hours of sleep.

b)    Due to disrupted sleep quality or difficulty sleeping - because hormones such as adrenal cortisol, thyroid hormone, and melatonin control sleep phase cycling, very often there is a hormonal cause for insomnia or its milder version, un-refreshing sleep. Even if one is "asleep", adequate REST may not obtained when sleep phase cycling is disrupted.  When this happens, symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as fatigue, depression and poor concentration may develop.

2)    Nutrient deficiency - a less than optimal dietary intake of virtually any nutrient can contribute to fatigue, B vitamins (such as B12 and folic acid) and minerals (such as iron) being some of the most common. Often, in these situations, energy levels can be improved through the use of a good quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement with above RDA doses.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in children and women between the ages of 35 and 50.  If iron deficiency becomes severe,  it often causes anemia which can be picked up on screening bloodwork. However, many cases of mild to moderate iron deficiency do not create anemia and therefore go undetected while causing fatigue and other symptoms (click here for more information on iron deficiency)   This common type of deficiency can only be identified by a blood test called a ferritin level - a specific measure of the body's iron stores. A ferritin level below 40 is indicative of iron depletion and warrants iron supplementation.
3)    Hormonal disturbance - because hormones control the release of energy at the cellular level, ongoing fatigue can often be traced back to a hormonal cause. Mild hormonal disturbances involving thyroid hormone (click here for more information regarding low thyroid function), adrenal hormone, melatonin, estrogen and progesterone are quite common. Unfortunately they usually do not reveal themselves during screening bloodwork or physical exams; however, to a physician skilled in detecting them based on history, symptoms, and sensitive hormonal tests, the symptoms they produce are often unmistakable. Because of their profound influence on not only energy levels, but also mood, memory, motivation, sexuality, immunity etc, hormonal disturbances can significantly impair quality of life.

4)    Chronic/recurring infection and lowered immunity - when large amounts of energy are going to the battling of infection, fatigue is a common side effect. While some infections, such as parasitic, are difficult to eradicate for even those with healthy levels of immunity, most often suppressed immunity is at the root of chronic or recurring infections.

5)   Gluten Intolerance (also called Celiac Disease) - About 1 in 300 people have this genetically determined condition which leads to an abnormal digestive and immunological response to the ingestion of specific grain proteins.   Many go undiagnosed because it often produces non-specific symptoms such as chronic fatigue.  Specialized testing is required for diagnosis and dietary avoidance of the offending proteins usually produces complete recovery.

6)  Hemochromatosis (also called Iron Overload)   - About 1 in 350 people have this genetic trait which causes them to absorb and accumulate, over their lifetime, toxic levels of iron in various organs of their body. This disorder is not tested for in screening bloodwork and is only revealed by the use of iron testing, including ferritin level, to determine if excessive iron stores are present.   Because this condition causes irreversible organ damage over time, it is important to recognize as early as possible. Significant fatigue is an early symptom in many affected people.  Treatment involves reducing iron stores by a consistent program of blood donation.

5)  Overwork - lack of sufficient recreation/play/relaxation and/or emotionally-fulfilling activity

(back to top)

Read more articles by Pat Elliott ND
Anxiety and Depression
Common Causes Of Fatigue
Iron Deficiency
Low Thyroid Function
Could it be Gluten Intolerance?
Melatonin Deficiency
Digestive Enzymes


Pat Elliott, ND
Elliott Health Care Associates
1155 N State, Suite 610, Bellingham, WA 98225

Content 1999-2008 Elliott Health Care, All Rights Reserved.