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The Real Reasons You’re Tired All the Time and What To Do About It

Feeling sluggish, overwhelmed and constantly in need of a caffeine fix? Find out how to fix what’s burning you out

Energy stealer: a low-grade sinus infection

Sinus infections that just won’t quit are the most common chronic health problem in the U.S. — and struggling with one triples your risk of fatigue, say researchers at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. “Battling a sinus problem is like fighting the flu — it causes a lot of strain on the immune system, and it can trigger a weariness that drags on for months at a stretch,” explains otolaryngologist Jordan S. Josephson, M.D.

Common tip-offs: Chronic sinus congestion and annoying postnasal drip

Rx: Rinse your sinuses. Flushing out infected sinuses with salt water reduces inflammation and kick-starts healing for 84 percent of women studied, say researchers at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. To do: Mix two cups of warm water with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Then use a pediatric nasal syringe or a neti pot (you’ll find both in pharmacies) to gently flush one cup of the saline into each nostril. All you have to do is bend over the sink and tilt your head so the solution flows easily out the other nostril. Repeat twice daily until your sinus symptoms and fatigue disappear.

Energy stealer: mild dehydration

In a recent study at Canada’s McMaster University, when subjects lost just 2 percent of the water stored in their tissues, their energy levels plunged 30 percent. Even mild dehydration makes it difficult for brain cells to communicate properly, plus it makes your blood volume and blood pressure dip, which slows the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, say Harvard researchers.

Common Tip-Off: Grogginess

Rx: Drink milk. Of course, drinking plain old tap water can help enormously — sipping 12 ounces when they’re fatigued helps almost 100 percent of women feel more energetic within an hour, according to studies at Connecticut’s Manchester Memorial Hospital. But if you’ve been physically active, consider pouring a tall glass of milk (plain or chocolate) instead. “Milk rehydrates better than water because it replaces the sodium, calcium and other electrolytes lost in sweat — and that’s key to quickly restoring your body’s fluid balance,” says Brian Timmons, Ph.D., lead researcher of the McMaster University study. “Plus it’s a great source of protein, so it can actually help prevent fatigue by keeping your blood sugar steady and your muscles well-nourished.”

Energy stealer: low body iron stores

Nearly one in five women is deficient in iron. “Iron is essential for building muscle, repairing damaged tissues and producing cellular energy,” explains Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. “Women with low iron stores can struggle along for years feeling tired and weak, yet their iron levels haven’t dipped low enough to affect their red blood cell count, so standard blood tests can completely miss the underlying problem!”

Common Tip-Off: Weakness

Rx: Pair meat with citrus. The iron in animal products — such as beef, pork, poultry, eggs and fish — is absorbed twice as effectively as the type found in plant foods, say UCLA researchers. And pairing iron-rich meals with 1/2 cup of something acidic — like citrus, berries, tomatoes, or cruciferous veggies — can boost your absorption an additional 33 percent. All-told, just enjoying four to six ounces of meat products daily (with an acidic side dish) can cut your fatigue in half within three months, say researchers at Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport.

Energy stealer: adrenal fatigue

Your adrenals, which are triangular-shaped glands at the top of your kidneys, produce the hormones that help your body respond to (and weather) lots of day-to-day bedlam. But chronic stress overloads can tax these delicate glands, hindering their production of energizing hormones such as adrenaline.

Common Tip-Offs: Daily bouts of fatigue, combined with stress-triggered anxiety, edginess and trouble unwinding, say UCLA researchers

Rx: Enjoy DIY massages. To cut your symptoms in half within one week, treat yourself to two five-minute foot massages daily — one in the morning and one in the evening. Your feet contain hundreds of pressure-sensitive nerve endings, and massaging them daily increases energy levels for 81 percent of women — by relaxing the central nervous system so that overworked adrenal glands can rest and heal, say researchers at the University of Miami, FL. Use a firm but gentle kneading motion, and remember to massage the backs of your heels and the webbing between your toes — these often-missed spots are rich in relaxing pressure points. You can also try massaging your temples and then your earlobes — a minute each, two times a day, suggests Marcelle Pick.

Energy stealer: a vitamin b12 deficiency

Surprising research at Tufts University in Medford, MA, suggests that 40 percent of women could be deficient in vitamin B12 — and one of the first signs of this nutrient shortfall is fatigue, since B12 helps convert food into energy.

Common tip-offs: Blue moods, forgetfulness and achy joints. Anyone can be saddled with this deficiency, but your risk is especially high if you take absorption-stalling meds — like those used to treat heartburn, cholesterol or diabetes — or if you’re a vegetarian (since the best source of B12 is meat).

Rx: Take sublingual B12. The problem with regular vitamin B12 supplements is that they can be tough to absorb if you’re not producing enough stomach acid — or if your digestion is being compromised by prescription meds or health problems such as Crohn’s disease or colitis, say National Institute of Health (NIH) researchers. A smart option: 1,000 micrograms of sublingual B12 daily. These under-the-tongue tablets pass right through the mucous membrane of the mouth and into the bloodstream, and they can triple your B12 levels, and restore your flagging energy, in as little as one month, say researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. You’ll find sublingual B12 in health and whole-foods stores, and in many pharmacies, too.

Energy stealer: a sluggish pineal gland

This pea-sized gland — hidden in the center of the brain — is responsible for producing your body’s entire supply of sleep-inducing melatonin. “Ideally, melatonin production should rise rapidly as the evening wears on, making you drowsy and ensuring a great night’s sleep,” says Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Washington’s Georgetown Medical School. “But if your pineal gland becomes sluggish and melatonin output dips, your rest will become fitful, and daytime fatigue will soon flare.”

Common Tip-Off: Insomnia

Rx: Use incandescent lights. Two hours before bedtime, avoid fluorescents and use only lamps containing old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. According to UCLA researchers, people exposed to this warmer light in the evening spend up to 40 percent more time in the deeper stages of sleep. Cool, white fluorescents signal the pineal gland that it’s daytime — dampening its melatonin production — whereas incandescents mimic sunset’s soothing, sleep-inducing glow, explains Dr. Rosenthal.

Energy stealer: the blues

The #1 symptom of mild to moderate depression isn’t blue moods — it’s fatigue!

Common Tip-OffsFrequent bouts of tension, irritability or anxiety — or feeling blah, even when you know you really ought to be happy. Don’t feel badly if this turns out to be your long-overlooked fatigue-trigger — according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, PA, depression is the most misdiagnosed and under-treated illness in North America.

Rx: Spend time with great friends. Of course, the temptation is to retreat from the world when depression hits, but at least 72 percent of women can ease their blue moods — often in as little as one month — just by getting more one-on-one social time with good friends, say researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Turns out as little as 30 minutes of friend-time twice weekly is enough to rev up your brain’s production of the powerful antidepressant hormones, serotonin and oxytocin.

Energy stealer: mold allergies

You’re twice as likely to feel exhausted if you’re constantly exposed to mold, say researchers Tucson’s University of Arizona. Your immune system produces a steady stream of inflammatory proteins when it’s attacking invading mold spores — and that chronic inflammation is extremely draining to your body and your nervous system, explains Dr. Josephson.

Common Tip-Offs: A stuffy or runny nose, a scratchy throat and itchy eyes

Rx: Spritz with bleach. Fill a spray bottle with diluted bleach (mix one cup of bleach into one gallon of water), then quickly spritz and wipe mold-prone areas, like window sills, tub grout, refrigerator seals and the cupboards under your sinks. This simple trick destroys up to 100 percent of troublesome mold spores, and if you do it weekly, it can cut your bouts of fatigue in half, say experts at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital.

Energy stealer: an overgrowth of yeast in your digestive tract

Up to 33 percent of women have what’s called intestinal dysbiosisThe trouble with yeast in your digestive tract? It produces biotoxins — waste products that travel through the bloodstream and tinker with brain function, dampening alertness, focus, concentration and mental energy, says Dr. Teitelbaum.

Common Tip-Offs: Frequent bloating, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea and other digestive upsets

Rx: Enjoy yogurt. According to studies at Finland’s University of Tampere, eating 1-1/2 cups of yogurt daily (the kind containing live bacterial cultures) repopulates the digestive tract with healthy bacteria in as little as three weeks, crowding out troublesome yeast and reducing symptoms 50 percent or more. “Plain yogurt is definitely best, since sugar actually fuels the growth of yeast,” notes Fred Pescatore, M.D., medical director of New York’s Partners in Integrative Medicine. “If you aren’t fond of the flavor, try Greek yogurt or plain kefir — they’re both delicious, and neither has any added sugar.

This article was written by Brenda Kearns and published in iVillage.

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