In the last article, we learned about the effects that blood sugar dysregulation can have on fatigue levels. When it comes to your diet, this means that eating a whole sweet potato on its own, or a few dates without any fat or protein, can lead to high and low blood sugar swings. It’s true, that the body cannot detect the difference between these dates, and the 20 jelly beans you just ate in terms of the insulin and blood sugar changes. Despite this, the inflammatory effects are far different! There is little debate in the literature about the impact of refined sugars, especially when combined with saturated fats, on inflammation.
In this article, we will be discussing how inflammation, specifically neuroinflammation can affect fatigue.
It is well known that when you get the flu you get very tired! In fact, many people can gauge that they are coming down with something due to the exhaustion they experience. This is an example of an inflammatory response happening in your body. The same fatigue response can happen from other types of inflammation as well. Autoimmune disease, another type of inflammation, has also been known to cause significant, and debilitating fatigue. This is known as central fatigue, meaning that it affects cognitive function, motivation and physical output from the brain. It is not that your muscles are tired, it affects the whole body1!
Although autoimmune disease and acute illness are extreme examples of neuroinflammation, a high fat, high sugar diet has also been shown to increase inflammation and decrease cognitive function2! That is right, your donut is stealing your brain power, and your energy.
In addition to neuroinflammation, the combination of high levels of saturated fats with high amounts of sugar, ie some of the most palatable and most common foods in the Standard American Diet, can also contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction2. As an aside, the mitochondria are, in my opinion, the most critical little microscopic organelles in the whole body as they are our energy powerhouses! The mitochondria are responsible for producing almost all of our cellular energy, known as ATP. When they are working well, we can think clearly, regulate our metabolisms, digest properly, poop regularly, and feel the generally amazing feeling of a body working properly. On the other hand, when they dysfunction, either due to damage, nutrient deficiencies or improper fuel provisions, they begin to cause a whole host of damage in the form of reactive oxygen species(ROS). These ROS are like the bandits of the cell. They wreak havoc and cause the cell to not function properly, causing more inflammation! Now that is a vicious cycle!
So, Why is This all Important to You?
Fatigue, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have both been associated in the literature with increase ROS, and inflammatory responses3. We also know that in these conditions the mitochondria do not work properly.
This is why it is incredibly important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet eliminating, sugar and other inflammatory food, as well as regulating your blood sugar! In cases of persistent fatigue, that is unresponsive to diet changes it can also be important to get testing done to investigate your bacterial balance and also to look into the state of your mitochondria. This can be achieved through a test called the Organic Acids Test.
Take Home Messages
In summary, inflammation underlies most modern chronic diseases, including fatigue and issues with energy production! A major contributor to this is the standard American diet and lifestyle. In order to combat this issue the following steps should be taken:
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in green leafy vegetables, and multiple other coloured foods (peppers, tomatoes, berries), consume only good quality fats, focus on modest amounts of organic proteins and eliminate gluten, sugar and alcohol from your diet. Stabilizing your blood sugar is also critical along this journey.
- Begin some kind of stress reduction practice, whether it is nature walking (my favorite!), meditation or yoga. Note: exercise does not count here as intense exercise actually increases inflammation.
- Always ensure thorough testing to ensure that you don’t have a hidden infection, digestive tract issue, autoimmune condition or other chronic condition that should be addressed. Fatigue is always a symptom of something else!
- Fritschi, C. & Quinn, L. Fatigue in Patients with Diabetes: A Review. Journal of psychosomatic research 69, 33–41 (2010).
- Francis, H. & Stevenson, R. The longer-term impacts of Western diet on human cognition and the brain. Appetite 63, 119–128 (2013).
- Arnett, S. V & Clark, I. A. Inflammatory fatigue and sickness behaviour – lessons for the diagnosis and management of chronic fatigue syndrome. J. Affect. Disord. 141, 130–142 (2012).