Fatigue is one of those nebulous issues which most people will encounter at some point in their lives. It’s easy to write off feeling tired and fatigued as just being a sign of getting older, being stressed, or being over-worked. While those issues can lead to fatigue, there is sometimes an underlying issue or a cause that is less obvious. For some people, it is their digestive health that is contributing to their fatigue.
People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be more likely to suffer from chronic fatigue, for example. This is because IBS can lead to gut inflammation, and that inflammation is thought to contribute to fatigue.1
There is a growing body of evidence that gut flora, the immune system, and the mucosal barrier in the gut are all linked. Having a lot of “good” gut bacteria will make you feel better. Allowing the less useful gut bacteria to become dominant can leave you feeling tired, drained, moody and generally unwell, as well as craving junk food. Of course, if you give in to those cravings, then you will likely end up feeling even worse. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to get out of.
The Effects of Digestive Health on Overall Well-Being
The digestive system is incredibly complex.2 The issue with the digestive system is that when it is working well, many people forget how important it is. Even when things start to break down, sometimes the side-effects are not immediate stomach aches or constipation, so it’s all too easy to forget that what you eat has a significant impact on how you feel.
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Fatigue can mean anything from constant low-level tiredness to far more serious issues such as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition is not something that is well understood, and a lot of the people who suffer from it develop it after having suffered from a serious infection. The latest research suggests that the gut microbiota in CFS sufferers could be the culprit, and this is plausible since a person’s gut microbiota can be changed as a result of taking antibiotics or having serious diarrhea.3 Fixing those digestive issues could help boost an individual’s energy levels.
Not all cases of fatigue are as severe or clear-cut as ME, however. Many people who are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also report feeling general fatigue. Indeed, this is the third most common “non-digestive” complaint of IBS sufferers.4 Researchers do not know what the cause of this fatigue is, however, there are several theories. The fatigue could be caused by poor absorption of nutrients, general stress and other side-effects of IBS, or the persistent inflammation characteristic of IBS.5
Managing Fatigue and Digestive Issues
If you are struggling with fatigue and think that it could be caused by issues with your digestion, then there are a few simple lifestyle changes that you could make to improve your quality of life. Before you start investigating such changes, be sure to talk to your doctor, especially if the fatigue or digestive issues are interfering with your day-to-day life. It will give you peace of mind that there are no underlying medical conditions to worry about.
Once you have been given the all-clear from your doctor, you should look at basic lifestyle changes that could give you more energy. First, remember that your digestive system is a complex machine and that you need some basic nutrients to stay healthy. Two key factors for your overall gut health are hydration and fiber.6 Drinking lots of water and eating complex carbohydrates and high-quality fiber sources (whole grains, bran, etc.) and avoiding simple carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners can improve your gut health.
Diet is just one part of your overall health, however. Regular exercise can help with your digestive system, as can taking steps to reduce and manage stress. Stress has a significant impact on your overall health, and the link between the gut and the brain is close enough that some people call the gut the “second brain.” 7
Reducing stress through meditation, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), yoga, and aromatherapy could help improve your digestive health and consequently help combat fatigue.
Studies show that aromatherapy can help reduce fatigue and can make other methods of relaxation more effective, even for people who are going through stressful periods or significant life changes, such as mothers who have just given birth.8 Researchers have also found some promising evidence of the impact of essential oils when it comes to intestinal health in animals.9
For the relaxation benefits of aromatherapy, try using essential oils topically after diluting them with a carrier oil, in a bath, or aromatically in a room diffuser or personal diffuser like Zen.
It’s important to remember that the gut microbiome is always changing. If you eat a diet that is high in sugars and processed food, then your gut microbiome will reflect that. If you eat more fruits and vegetables, then your gut microbiome will change to one that thrives on that diet.
You can’t simply take probiotics as if they are medicine and attend some yoga classes while trying aromatherapy for a week or two, then get back to your old routine when you feel better. The changes you make to our routine to restore digestive health need to be long-lasting.
Gut health can change everything down to your circadian rhythm.10 If you take steps to improve your gut health, you should quickly notice that you have more energy, feel “lighter” and healthier, are less bloated, sleep better, and have more mental clarity. Once you experience those benefits, try not to get complacent. Keep up with the good habits that produce that feeling so that you can keep it for many years to come.
Photo credits: PopTika/shutterstock.com, zakalinka/shutterstock.com, LunaVandoorne/shutterstock.com, Photographee.eu/shutterstock.com