Are you tired all the time? Do you often have trouble thinking straight throughout the day? Do you feel apathetic about your work? If any of these apply, you might be suffering from fatigue. Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue each year. A survey conducted in 2017 by the National Safety Council (NSC) found that 43 percent of respondents said they didn’t get enough sleep to perform their jobs safely and effectively. The NSC also reports that a person that has lost two hours of sleep from a normal eight-hour schedule could be as impaired as a person who has consumed up to three beers! Do you think it’s safe for a construction worker, truck driver, or medical resident to work after throwing back three cold ones? I sure don’t, yet those are the kinds of physiological effects we work with while fatigued.
Fatigue Symptoms and Causes
Fatigue is often confused with feeling sleepiness, but they are not the same thing. Sleepiness is just one symptom of fatigue. Others include low energy, reduced mental clarity, reduced motivation, headaches, moodiness, gastrointestinal issues, and more.
There are many potential causes of fatigue beyond a lack of sleep. Individuals with sleep apnea can sleep for eight hours per night and still wake up feeling exhausted. A disrupted sleep schedule from jet lag or a baby crying throughout the night can lead to fatigue, even if the total hours slept is sufficient. Excessive stress, depression, caffeine addiction, hypothyroidism, and nutritional deficiencies are all common causes of fatigue.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Individuals with continuous fatigue may suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a disorder in which severe fatigue lasts for at least six months and does not improve with rest. CFS treatments typically focus on alleviating symptoms because the cause of the disorder is still unknown. Many experts have speculated that CFS may arise due to a viral infection or continuous psychological stress, but recent studies have suggested that it may be connected to gut health.
Fatigue and Gut Health
In a study from Cornell University, researchers were able to correctly diagnose CFS in 83% of patients by using stool samples and blood work.1 They observed decreased bacterial diversity in patients with CFS, including increases in bacterial species reported to be pro-inflammatory and decreases in species reported to be anti-inflammatory.
Ludovic Giloteaux, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study said, “In the future, we could see this technique as a complement to other noninvasive diagnoses, but if we have a better idea of what is going on with these gut microbes and patients, maybe clinicians could consider changing diets, using prebiotics such as dietary fibers or probiotics to help treat the disease.” Maureen Hanson, the paper’s senior author, indicated that the detection of a biological abnormality provides evidence against the concept that CFS is psychological in nature. The study was not able to distinguish whether CFS was the cause or the effect of the altered gut microbiome, but the connection is clear. Hopefully, future research will be able to dive into this topic further and lead to better diagnosis and treatment protocols.
This connection between gut health and fatigue falls in line with concepts we’ve written about previously in these blogs, like how the gut-brain connection links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions, or how excessive stress can lead to reduced gastrointestinal functions by temporarily focusing blood flow away from the gut and to the brain and muscles.
This study was not focused on determining whether CFS was the cause or the effect of the altered gut microbiome, but the connection is clear. The result is still a microbiome in distress, so addressing that imbalance with a good probiotic could be a start to recovery beyond treating basic symptoms. Probonix is a great probiotic to repopulate a gut in need with good bacteria.
1Giloteaux, L., Goodrich, J.K., Walters, W.A. et al. Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome 4, 30 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-016-0171-4