There were many years when I would constantly complain to my husband asking why am I so tired and feel like I got hit by a Mack truck because I was constantly beyond exhausted. I was able to pull it together for work, but, when I got home, I just sat on the couch feeling wiped. Every weekend and vacation day would require a nap. I was not a good sleeper and often woke up in the middle of the night for hours at a time, so I understood why I was tired, but I did not understand why I was not sleeping well, or why I was still exhausted after those rare weeks when I slept through the night. I tried melatonin, exercise, removing the TV from the bedroom, not eating before bedtime, sleeping pills–you name it, I tried it, and nothing worked. Finally, after years of this, I learned why I was so tired, made the necessary adjustments, and I now finally sleep through the night, at least most nights. I feel better and although I am not chipper or refreshed when I first wake up in the morning, I am good after my cup of coffee and do not feel fatigued during the day. So what was causing my fatigue? There were two things, the food intolerance fructose malabsorption and an allergy to mold.
Fatigue is one of the main issues that patients discuss with their doctors. It is not surprising because of how busy, stressed, and stretched many of our lives are. In trying to complete everything we need and want to do during the day, we tend to not get enough hours of sleep at night. However, in addition to the usual fatigue, there is chronic fatigue. This is when someone feels continually exhausted, does not feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, and the fatigue gets worse as the day goes on. Additional related symptoms are depression, headaches, and joint pain. More than a million people in the US and about a quarter of a million folks in the UK are estimated to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Chronic fatigue is hard to diagnose because most people do not get enough sleep and because it can be caused by many different diseases or disorders. Studies have demonstrated that there is typically a link between food intolerances and chronic fatigue and fatigue can be an indicator that one is food intolerant or has an allergy. This includes gluten, dairy, fructose, yeast, or nightshade vegetables (e.g. tomato, potato, and eggplant). Sufferers may be those with celiac disease, fructose malabsorption, irritable bowel syndrome, and those with lactose intolerance, food allergies, and seasonal allergies to name a few.
Why do allergies and food intolerances cause fatigue?
- Inflammation due to allergies can cause headaches, pressure, and congestion, which can lead to pain and affect our breathing, our sleep cycle, and subsequent fatigue.
- Histamine is a neurotransmitter and triggers an immune reaction in response to an allergen. Histamine accumulation can result in histamine intolerance, which can cause fatigue in addition to other health problems, like headaches, anxiety, and sleep disruption.
- The immune system can cause the release of small proteins called cytokines. Cytokines can cause people to feel tired, groggy, and have headaches. Interferon-alpha, a type of cytokine has been shown to cause sleep disturbances, resulting in fatigue.
- Food intolerances occur because specific foods are not being completely digested. These foods move into our bloodstream, triggering inflammation. The amount of energy it takes for our bodies to manage all of this, may result in fatigue.
- Patients with food intolerances tend to be nutritionally deficient since foods are not properly digested and absorbed. Iron, vitamin D, and folate are common deficiencies in patients with celiac disease and fructose malabsorption. Nutritional deficiency can lead to headaches, depression, brain fog, and fatigue.
What to do if you are feeling fatigue?
- Get tested. Find out if you have any food or seasonal allergies and/or if you have a food intolerance.
- If so, modify your diet or exposure to the allergen to prevent an immune response and possible subsequent fatigue.
- This is hard to do, but if possible, arrange your schedule so you can study, work, and exercise when you have the most energy and be able to rest when you do not.
- Another hard thing to do, but if possible, have a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and food a couple of hours before bed.
- If you cannot fall asleep after 15 minutes, relax in another room until you are feeling tired. Do not put on the TV or go on your computer, iPad, phone, etc…
- Make your bed and bedroom comfortable. If you do not have a supportive mattress and pillow, purchase them. Set a good sleeping temperature, 68o is recommended by WebMD, and keep the room quiet and dark.
- Eat well.
- Limit stress. This may include saying no at times.
- Take naps, but not too late in the day where it can affect you going to sleep at a good time.
- If needed, talk to your physician about medication.
- Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to take it easy.
- Try acupuncture, massage, yoga, or Tai Chi.
Have you dealt with fatigue due to allergies or food intolerance? How did you manage your exhaustion?
Photo taken by Dominik QN on Unsplash