An essential component of understanding fatigue is understanding what gives you the feeling of having energy on an average day. This is the last episode in the introductory series, but this matters because if you’re struggling with fatigue, it is important to know that you can begin to tackle it from any of these perspectives. For example, if you’ve tried balancing your thyroid and adrenal hormones but never looked at cellular energy, think about starting there. So, what is energy and why do you have it some days and not others?
It turns out, this is a far more complex question than you’d think because many factors have to come together for us to wake up in the morning feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The good news is that there are some signals you can look at, like the times of day when you feel energetic vs. the times of day when you don’t, to help you find the parts of this equation that are working well and the parts that need a little boost.
Thyroid Hormones Give You Energy
Thyroid hormones determine a great deal about how much energy you feel on any given day, because these hormones are largely responsible for your resting metabolism. Resting metabolism is like how fast your engine revs when you aren’t doing anything. It determines how much energy you use just by being alive, and people with higher levels of thyroid hormones use more energy, feel warmer, feel more energetic, and generally act bouncier than people with lower levels of thyroid hormone.
Adrenal Hormones Give You Energy
Your adrenal glands are responsible for the hormone counterparts of the major neurotransmitters epinephrine, or adrenaline, and norepinephrine, or noradrenaline. Also, of cortisol which is important in helping to maintain your circadian rhythm and also in helping you recover from fight or flight situations. Your adrenals do have a part in background energy levels, and more specifically in stress and situation response. Fight or flight situations trigger a massive release of adrenaline and noradrenaline to help prepare your body to fight or flee, then cortisol helps clean up the mess afterward. In the Western world’s stress-saturated lifestyle, adrenal hormones often go awry, becoming overwhelmed and overworked by the near-constant fight-or-flight panic of modern life. We will devote a number of episodes to adrenal functioning simply because this system does tend to take a lot of weight, and supporting adrenals, as well as modifying behavior to help protect your adrenal health, can make a huge difference for people with deep fatigue.
Sex Hormones Give You Energy
For both genders, sex hormones play a big part in energy levels; for men, healthy levels of testosterone coupled with low estrogen contribute to a feeling of well-being and ability. For women, the higher estrogen times of their menstrual cycle tend to be highest in energy, where higher progesterone times are typically more sleepy. Estrogen and testosterone both influence the energy levels of people of all genders, but testosterone is the major influence for people who are biologically male, and estrogen-progesterone balance for people who are biologically female. When these hormones fall out of balance, energy levels, moods, fertility, and many other things can be affected.
Neurotransmitters Give You Energy
‘There are a number of neurotransmitters that boost your energy level, including epinephrine and norepinephrine, which we talked about in the context of their action as hormones in the body. The difference between a hormone and neurotransmitter is that a hormone is released by one part of the body and acts on tissues different from that part. Neurotransmitters are released by brain cells to act on other brain cells, usually on specific cells to which the original cell is linked. In the brain these neurotransmitters function mostly in the medula oblongata, regulating heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Dopamine is well known for raising feelings of energy, confidence, and motivation while serotonin elevates mood, energy, and physical restlessness.
Histamine is also a neurotransmitter that contributes to the feeling of energy and is involved in a complex way with your circadian rhythm. So situations in which it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning could be many things, but one of those is low histamine. Other neurotransmitters, such as GABA, increase feelings of sleepiness.
There are many gene SNPs that influence resting levels of various neurotransmitters. Slow COMT patterns boost energy-increasing neurotransmitters, while fast COMT suppresses them and this can lead to a difference in normal resting energy levels. The MAOA gene patterns also influence mood by changing the speed at which norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin are broken down. While this gene does influence energy levels, it has stronger influences on aspects such as aggression and food cravings. While it seems reasonable that genes affecting GABA or GABA receptors might also influence energy, the research indicates they are more correlated with traits like alcoholism. Clearly, we are in early stages of research in all of these areas.
Nutrients, Food and General Nutrition Give You Energy
Food provides two basic resources, one of which is calories, meaning energy that can be used or stored. The other resource is nutrients – including vitamins and minerals – that help your body make key resources such as hormones and neurotransmitters. Having stable energy relies on having an availability of both in a stable and steady way.
The most direct source of caloric energy is sugar, so blood sugar that fluctuates between highs and lows is actually one of the leading causes of fatigue. It also leads to irritability, anxiety, and blood sugar problems like diabetes. To prevent this, it is best to eat a balanced diet with good sources of fiber, healthy fats, and proteins that is lower in starchy, sugary foods.
Nutrients, derived from a diet rich in whole foods, give your body the building blocks to make the hormones, neurotransmitters, and basic body structures necessary to function. Having a good diet in an immediate sense gives you the stable blood sugar that you need for caloric energy, and a good diet over a longer period of time gives you the background of nutrients.
Mitochondria and Cellular Energy Gives You Energy
Your energy as a human is made partly of the energy of each of your component parts, your roughly 28 trillion cells. These cells have their own way of creating energy internally, which requires the nutrients from the food you eat, especially B vitamins. This happens in a cellular organelle called the mitochondria, essentially the cell’s power station. Many things can interfere with mitochondrial function, including B vitamin deficiency, heavy viral load, and toxicity. Cellular energy is often a factor in chronic fatigue and other complex disease states like post-viral syndromes including long Covid.
Sleep and Rest Give You Energy
One of the most obvious and immediate contributors to the feeling of energy is sleep quantity and quality. By my age, one night of bad sleep is enough to throw a wrench into the works and give me a day of fatigue, inefficiency, and irritability and longer-term sleep disorders are far more damaging than that.
Far more subtle is the influence of rest, which is the counterpart to productive work. Rest is a forgotten stepchild these days, but it is necessary to our successful functioning in work and out of it. Knowing how to use rest effectively can boost energy, mental alertness, and productivity. Adding structured rest into your day can tremendously boost overall energy and is especially noticeable in mental energy.
Understanding the factors that make you feel energetic will help us lay the groundwork for this season, and next episode we start right in to the small series on sleep.
MTHFR is a common genetic mutation that can contribute to anxiety, depression, fatigue, chronic pain, infertility, and more serious conditions like breast implant illness, heart attack, stroke, chronic fatigue syndrome, and some types of cancer. If you know or suspect you have an MTHFR variant, schedule a free 15-minute meet-and-greet appointment with MTHFR expert Dr. Amy today.Book Your Appointment