Fatigue is a hallmark of today's fast-paced, go-go-go culture. According to the National Safety Council, fatigue costs employers about $136 billion a year in lost productivity. Worse, fatigue leads to depression, obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions.
Supplement manufacturers don't hesitate to use this as a money-making scheme, marketing vitamins for fatigue that promise to perk you up when you can't get your zzzs. Don't believe the hype. The only time vitamins will help give you energy is if you have a deficiency that causes fatigue.
Causes of Fatigue
Numerous physical, mental and environmental factors are at play in creating today's "fatigue epidemic." Many people have sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, or certain health conditions, such as cancer, fibromyalgia, thyroid problems, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity and diabetes, that contribute to fatigue. Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety can also cause fatigue.
Then there are lifestyle factors including lack of sleep, stress, drug and alcohol use, lack of exercise and unhealthy diet. Medications you are taking, either over the counter or by prescription, can also cause you to lose sleep or sleep poorly, resulting in lasting fatigue.
Vitamin deficiencies may exist independently or as a result of these health and lifestyle factors. That's why it's crucial to see your doctor if you are dealing with fatigue. A series of blood tests can determine if you are lacking any vitamins. If so, your doctor will want to determine if an underlying health condition is at the root of the deficiency.
Vitamins for Fatigue
Fatigue is a common symptom of nutrient deficiencies. Your body relies on nutrients to perform specific tasks and produce energy. Any nutrient deficiency could cause fatigue, but there are a few vitamin deficiencies specifically known for it.
The group of eight B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid, help your body convert the food you eat into energy. Without enough of each B vitamin, the process becomes inefficient and can result in fatigue.
Vitamins B12 and folate are involved in the creation of red bloods cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body. A deficiency in either of these nutrients can result in anemia, which is a lack of red bloods cells. Fatigue is the primary symptom of anemia. According to Mayo Clinic, other symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Personality changes, such as irritability
- Unsteady movement
- Mental confusion or forgetfulness
Vitamin D deficiency can also result in fatigue. According to Stephanie Wheeler, director of wellness at Mercy Medical Center, it's estimated that as many as 42 percent of Americans may be deficient in the nutrient. Other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness and loss of bone strength.
Common Causes of Nutrient Deficiencies
If a visit to your doctor and lab tests reveal you are deficient in one of the above nutrients, your doctor may recommend short or long-term supplementation. Nutrient deficiencies are often caused by poor nutrition, but they can also be caused by malabsorption disorders in which the small intestine isn't able to absorb the nutrients from food.
According to Mayo Clinic, the most common cause of B12 deficiency is lack of intrinsic factor, a protein produced in the stomach necessary for B12 to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Lack of intrinsic factor can be inherited or it can result from an autoimmune disorder. B12 deficiency can also be caused by restrictive vegan and vegetarian diets, since animal foods are the only reliable dietary sources of the vitamin.
In addition to malabsorption issues and poor diet, folate deficiency can be caused by excessive alcohol intake, since alcohol decreases absorption. Certain medications, such as anti-seizure medications, can also affect folate absorption. Lastly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, are more likely to be deficient in folate because they have increased nutrient needs.
Called the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D is made by your skin when exposed to ultraviolet light. However, spending most of the day indoors at a desk and wearing sunscreen makes it difficult for your body to make what it needs. Vitamin D isn't widely available in foods — fatty fish such as tuna and salmon as well as fortified cereals, milk and juices are the best sources. But many people can't get everything they need from these foods, so long-term supplementation may be necessary.
Eat for Energy
If you don't have a diagnosed deficiency, don't waste your money on vitamin supplements for tiredness. The most effective energy boost doesn't come in a powder, pill or capsule; it comes from a healthy diet, regular exercise, quality sleep and other healthy lifestyle adjustments.
High-calorie, nutrient-poor, processed foods full of fat and sugar — AKA, the "Western Diet" — wreak havoc on your blood sugar, digestion and various other physiological processes that can leave you low on energy. In the long-run, this type of diet leads to obesity and chronic illnesses including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Cutting out these foods and replacing them with healthy whole foods, such as lean poultry and fish, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, organic, hormone-free dairy and meat, nuts and seeds gives you all the nutrients you need for energy and vitality. Eating regularly spaced meals can help you sustain your energy throughout the day, and avoiding overeating can prevent a post-meal slump.
Also be sure to drink plenty of fluids, as dehydration can cause fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic, men need 15.5 cups of water and women need 11.5 cups of water each day. About 20 percent of that comes from water-rich foods you eat, but the rest should come from drinking water and other unsweetened beverages.
Exercise and Sleep
It might seem counterintuitive that something that tires you out could actually give you energy, but aerobic exercise does just that. A sedentary lifestyle can leave you feeling sluggish, while a brisk 40-minute walk each day can perk you up. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, each week.
Of course, getting enough sleep is paramount for fighting fatigue. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But that can be easier said than done. If you're having trouble getting quality sleep, try these strategies for getting more shut-eye:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Perform a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as listening to soft music or taking a warm bath
- Shut off all electronics before getting into bed
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially late in the day and in the evening
- Ensure a cool, quiet and dark sleep environment
- Choose comfortable pillows and a mattress that you like
- National Safety Council: "Cost of Fatigue in the Workplace"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fatigue"
- MedlinePlus: "B Vitamins"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin Deficiency Anemia"
- Mercy Medical Center: "42% Percent of Americans Are Vitamin D Deficient. Are You Among Them?"
- Harvard Health: "Could a Vitamin or Mineral Deficiency Be Behind Your Fatigue?"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Why Good Nutrition is Important"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dehydration"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Always Tired? 7 Hidden Causes for Your Fatigue"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines"
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?"