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What is Fatigue, And Why Does Everyone Have It?

Fatigue, which is a feeling of extreme tiredness, weakness, or exhaustion is the first symptom of almost every medical problem, including MTHFR. It can be linked to almost every body system, and it is the most general symptom we have. It is also linked to a number of common gene SNPs, including MTHFR, , fast MAOA, fast COMT, and many more. It is also tied to lifestyle factors like poor diet, lack of nutrients, poor or not enough sleep, and stress. So actually, in light of all of that, it is a bit surprising that any of us don’t feel fatigued.

Fatigue is Your First Symptom

Your body is designed to get tired every day so that you will take a break from your hectic life and go to sleep. Otherwise, the motivation to stop everything is pretty minimal. Because you are trained from birth to respond to the feeling of fatigue, your body uses it as a tool to help you understand when your body’s physical needs aren’t being met, which we’ll talk about in just a minute. Also, if you are low on resources in any way, the natural consequence is fatigue. This could be physical resources like nutrients, hormones, or neurotransmitters. It could be mental or emotional resources – the energy you use to think, make decisions, process emotions, do tasks, concentrate, learn, remember, and also interact with and meet the needs of others. It could also be the resource of the actual energy generated by your cells.

Modern life is not easy on many of those resources. Nutrients are depleted in the soil by modern farming practices, and so even when eating the best diet, it can be challenging to get enough micronutrients. Also, we tend to have calorie-dense but nutrient-poor diets that don’t help this situation. Sleep is a challenge for pretty much everyone. According to the Sleep Foundation, over one-third of US adults get under seven hours per night, and 4.8/10 US workers say they’re regularly tired throughout the day. Also, between 50 and 70 million people in the US have been diagnosed with ongoing sleep disorders. So, sleep is a thing. Plus, anybody fighting with any other chronic health situation is using extra resources for that health situation and is more likely to feel fatigued more quickly.

Emotionally, modern life is a challenge as well. Chronic stress is rampant, as well as general dissatisfaction, chronic stress, and feelings of non-belonging. It’s no wonder we’re all exhausted.

In all of these circumstances, fatigue is the first symptom that will appear – the first red flag to attend to, and it is crucial that you do attend because we can turn fatigue around. I promise. We’re going to spend this entire season talking about it.

Here is this post, in video form because you’re probably too tired to read about it. 🙂

Fatigue is Often Generated By Your Body

Fatigue is a hallmark of something called “sick behavior.” I’m not a huge fan of this term because to me, “sickness behavior” sounds very judgey and blaming, but it’s not. Sickness behavior is your body’s natural response to help protect you when you need protection, especially when you encounter a pathogen like a virus or bacteria. Your body is clever, and it knows that as a human, it is hard to prioritize taking care of yourself over, say, hunting and gathering, or the modern equivalent, which is going to the office, the coffee shop, or the bar.

Sickness behavior includes fatigue, but it can also include depression, malaise, loss of appetite, increased sensitivity to pain, etc… It’s basically the feeling of wanting to stay on the couch or in bed and not be bothered with much else. These symptoms aren’t actually caused by the virus or pathogen, they’re caused by your body in a well-educated attempt to get you to stop doing things and just rest. Also, since we’re social animals, it signals other humans to want to take care of you.

Interestingly, sickness behavior has been found to be linked to pro-inflammatory cytokines and many researchers have noticed that major depressive disorder and sickness behavior look pretty close to identical. Some of them theorize that MDD is actually a maladaptive response to abnormal circulating cytokines.

In this context, fatigue is the healthiest thing for your body to be, but we run into problems when viruses become chronic, inflammation gets overly high, or those cytokines stay elevated for other reasons.

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Lifestyle Factors and Fatigue

Lifestyle factors make a huge difference with fatigue, and in the grand paradox of human nature, these are the things that are most in our control, but feel the hardest to change. The big four are:

  • Sleep – lack of it, lack of attention to it, poor sleep quality, and the general sore spot that is sleep for so many of us.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – this forms a fatigue hell-loop in which you’re exhausted and so sedentary, but being sedentary keeps you exhausted.
  • Chronic stress – (the modern way of life.)
  • Diet – nutrient deficiencies, calorie excess, blood sugar instability, and food sensitivities all come into play here.

We will go into more depth with all of these factors at various points this season because the thing about fatigue is that everything you do that is good for your body, will help. I find that to be a hopeful thought – that every small step you or I take in the direction of health is boosting your body’s ability to have good energy and come back into balance. It’s like the idea that all roads lead home.

Gene SNPs and Fatigue

I’ve mentioned it before and will again, but fatigue is the number one symptom that people with MTHFR gene SNPs report. It is hard to say whether that is caused by the gene itself or the personality traits that go along with MTHFR polymorphisms – like workaholism, perfectionism, and ambition. MTHFR is not in any way the only SNP that contributes, but the research is weirdly absent. Fatigue secondary to a major illness like cancer or autoimmune disease is well studied, but fatigue that happens by itself is a case of crickets chirping in empty research spaces. There is so little research it is almost laughable.

We can talk about categories of gene SNPs, however, that logically lead to fatigue, although this is educated guessing more than it is science-based, because again, crickets. These big categories of gene SNPs include:

  • SNPs that impair the production or function of excitatory neurotransmitters – like COMT fast, which metabolizes norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine extremely quickly, MAOA fast, which gobbles up dopamine and norepinephrine, and MTHFR, which can impair neurotransmitter formation.
  • SNPs that impair the function of nutrients – like MTHFR, which impairs folate activation, MTR and MTRR, which slow down B12 recycling; and VDR, which affects vitamin D receptors.
  • SNPs that lead to impaired blood oxygenation or circulation – like NOS3, which can impair vasodilation, and TMPRSS6, associated with low iron status and hemoglobin function.
  • SNPs associated with higher inflammatory states – like LRRFIP1, which is associated with inflammation-related adiposity.
  • SNPs associated with chronic fatigue – especially WASF3 or WAVE3 as it is often called, that helps regulate brain cytokines.

This is not a comprehensive list, largely because it is theoretical.

Fixing Fatigue

Fixing fatigue comes down to taking all of those small steps and narrowing down the root of the problem. For me, most problems stem from MTHFR, but I know myself so there is also a smattering of chronic stress and workaholism thrown into the mix and so those are the things I prioritize when working on fatigue. For you, the priorities might be different. Maybe you know sleep is a weak area, or it’s possible that you suspect your adrenals are fatigued, or you know you need to tidy up your lifestyle. The aim with this season is to break down the major factors behind fatigue and give you some options in terms of working on them. I suggest you take a good long look at yourself and apply brutal honesty to determine your priority areas.

Fatigue is a giant topic, so let me outline the season for you so you know what to expect. Episodes 1 – 4 will cover the basics. What fatigue is, what to rule out with your doctors, the overlap with depression, and what actually gives you the feeling of having energy. The next chunk of episodes will be dedicated to sleep because sleep problems are at the heart of so much of the fatigue floating around in the world. After sleep, we’ll have a few episodes on smaller factors contributing to fatigue, like hormones, oxygen, and toxins. Then, we’ll dive into the health of your adrenals, which are responsible for most of your get-up-and-go feelings during the day. After adrenals, we’ll talk a bit about mitochondria and cellular energy and what you can do to boost that, and then dip our toes into chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is its own monster and deserves its own season, but for the purpose of this season, we will only touch on it for now.

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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.

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Amy Neuzil
Amy Neuzil

Dr. Amy Neuzil, N.D. is a leading expert in MTHFR and epigenetics, and she is passionate about helping people achieve optimal health and wellness for their genetic picture. She has helped thousands of people overcome health challenges using a simple, step-by-step approach that starts with where they are today. Dr. Neuzil's unique approach to wellness has helped countless people improve their energy levels, lose weight, and feel better mentally and emotionally. If you're looking for a way to feel your best, Dr. Amy Neuzil can help. Contact her today to learn more about how she can help you achieve optimal health and wellness.

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