Low energy and brain-fog are complaints we hear from at least 80% of our female patients between the ages of 30-60. And as common as these symptoms are, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the person that feels like they are dragging themselves through each day.
This combination of fatigue and brain fog are red flags from your body that it is lagging behind. While there can be underlying and more complex reasons for these symptoms, sometimes its as easy as fixing a simple nutrient deficiency. These four deficiencies are the most common easy-to-fix nutrient imbalances we see.
1. Iron deficiency
The most common form of anemia is iron deficiency which can result from poor diet, sluggish digestion, insufficient absorption in the intestines, blood loss (including menses), or even increased needs due to high physical activity. People at the highest risk of anemia are menstruating women, those with gastrointestinal or autoimmune diseases (known or unknown), those that have had gastric bypass, and vegans/vegetarians.
Iron is required by your red blood cells to bind oxygen. Each red blood cell should bind 4 oxygen molecules which are then transported around the body to cells that require oxygen to generate energy. If you are functioning with low iron, your red blood cells will bind less iron which means your cells are operating behind the curve. This leaves you feeling lethargic!
Iron deficiency can often be reversed with a simple iron supplement. However, if our patients have poor digestion or absorption, we utilize iron infusions which can be a really effective way to get people back on their feet in a flash.
2. Vitamin B12 deficiency
Just like iron helps red blood cells bind oxygen, vitamin B12 makes the same red blood cells small enough to fit into tiny capillaries so oxygen can be delivered to the most remote cells. It just so happens that your red blood cells need to travel on these little “side streets” to get oxygen to your brain.
If you feel foggy and mentally sluggish, chances are your brain may be low in oxygen caused by “over-sized trucks” that can make it down the narrow roads to your brain cells.
B12 is found primarily in animal foods and red meat has the highest density. However, healthy digestion in the stomach is needed to cleave B12 from the proteins it is attached to and many people are unknowingly suffering from inadequate digestion. This is more and more common as we age or if you have a history of taking antacids, proton-pump-inhibitors, or drinking alcohol.
B12 deficiency, like iron, can usually be fixed with a supplement. However, sometimes we need to bypass the digestion system altogether and deliver B12 through infusion to get levels up to par. Long-term B12 deficiency increases risk for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s so the sooner we catch it, the healthier your brain will be in the future!
3. Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D is synthesized by the interaction between UVB rays and cholesterol molecules within the skin. And although our bodies can make this critical vitamin, most people in the NW are suffering from low levels either from lack of sunlight exposure or higher demands for D within the body. The reality is that most people now wear sunscreen when exposing themselves to sun or spend too much time indoors. Regardless of the reason for deficiency, when reserves are low energy levels and brain function suffer. Most of our patients need between 25,000-50,000IU per week to getup to speed, but it’s also essential to test levels every few months to make sure that your body is maintaining optimal range.
4. Magnesium and potassium imbalance
Magnesium and potassium are two of the most important minerals in the body. Magnesium is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, strong bones, a healthy immune system, and a steady heart beat steady.
Potassium is involved in building protein, breaking down and utilizing carbohydrate, normal growth and muscle formation, a healthy heart and controlling the pH balance of the body. In addition, both minerals are needed for energy production. Even slightly decreased levels of potassium can cause often-ignored symptoms like low energy, constipation and muscle weakness.
Increasing whole food intake with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables can help. However, we find that supplementation and even the occasional infusion can be necessary for some that struggle to build up their supplies in the body.
From a functional perspective
In functional medicine, we know that every symptom is a clue that can help us better understand what is happening under the surface of your body. Our intention is always to identify underlying imbalances, so we can support your boy’s innate ability to perform at its best.
While conventional medicine often aims to cover up symptoms with drugs, we know that when the root cause is ignored, the whole body will slowly spiral into a state of disease. Much like a disease at the root of a tree, even if you chop off one branch, the rest of the tree will eventually become infected and ill.
Our systems are interconnected, so an imbalance that causes fatigue will eventually lead to a breakdown of the whole organism. Instead of brushing off common symptoms like fatigue, we encourage you to explore your own biology and optimize your health from inside out.
About Megan Barnett, MS
Megan Barnett is a functional medicine practitioner in Portland, Oregon. In her clinical practice, she helps patients identify the root cause of their health problems, then designs individualized and evidence-based approaches to alleviate symptoms and help their bodies heal. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Kansas State University and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Functional Medicine from University of Western States.