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Mon 15th Sept '08

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Fatigue has become one of many "American problems." Many of us complain that we lack the energy needed to get through the day, or worse, we have just enough energy to survive the workday, but not enough to enjoy our free time. There are many, many causes of fatigue, most of which are pretty easy to recognize and deal with. The problem is that instead of looking at the obvious, we tend to search for "quick fix" solutions. It's no mistake that nearly every bogus quack-snake-oil-fad out there claims to "give you more energy." The items on the list I'm about to provide do not necessarily apply to everybody or anybody in particular, but in many cases, fatigue is a compound problem caused by ignoring these various factors. "Chronic fatigue syndrome" is a real disease, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it is overdiagnosed. We somehow take comfort in thinking we can't do anything to change our situation, but true power and happiness will come if you just listen to your body.

* Drink water! It's amazing how little actual water people drink these days. Instead, we guzzle soda and coffee, introducing various unnecessary substances into our bodies, such as artificial colors, flavors, caffeine, stomach and bowel irritants, "empty calories" via "high fructose corn syrup," etc (I originally claimed here that the diuretic effects of caffeinated beverages lead to a net loss of water, but I found this is only true with alcohol). Many people drink enough calories every day in soda to comprise an entire extra meal. "Regular" soda causes a blood sugar spike and crash (giving one the impression that they need yet another soda); diet soda tricks your body into releasing excessive (and toxic) amounts of insulin by virtue of its sickly-sweetness. Neither effect is good for you. If you don't like tap water (I don't), you can usually buy purified water pretty cheap if you look hard enough. Health food stores often sell purified water for $0.50 per gallon. Modern-day humans are often afflicted with the inability to distinguish hunger from thirst, mainly because we used to get most of our water from raw foods. If you feel hungry, drink some water first, and see if that helps. As you become dehydrated, your brain shrinks and your basic body functions begin to slow down, which often causes intense headaches. If you drink ice cold water, your metabolism will accelerate as your body rushes to warm it to body temperature. Many people notice when they start drinking an appropriate amount of water (about half a gallon per day, but this is not a bare minimum and like everything, it varies from person to person) that they urinate far more often. That's the way it's supposed to be! The clearer, the better. Your kidneys will thank you. Don't drink until you feel sick, but drink often, pacing your consumption throughout the day.

* Learn how to breathe! It's really mind boggling that western culture gives so little emphasis to breathing. We really take it for granted. Many people breathe too rapidly, taking in small amounts of air with each breath. The end result is less available oxygen to supply all of the metabolic reactions that take place within our bodies. The deeper and longer you can breathe (and hold it in), the better. Learn to breathe with your gut, and you can take in far more air. Learn to breathe properly (with good pace) while exercising; if you "feel the burn" too quickly, chances are you aren't giving your muscles enough O2. We take breathing for granted because it is an involuntary process, but by taking voluntary control of our breathing, we can control our blood pressure, pulse, and even body temperature through biofeedback. Breathing is the key to controlling what normally would be involuntary. Look into it.

* Eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast. When you skip breakfast, your metabolism has no choice but to slow down in order to make the most of what's available. And don't think "well, I'm pretty fat, so I'll burn that." You simply cannot burn fat without "starting a fire" with some carbohydrates first. You'd be surprised at how much energy you can gain by eating raw fruit and nothing else for breakfast. And don't even think it's smart to exercise on an empty stomach (Sumo wrestlers do, for obvious reasons). Your metabolism will drop dramatically to compensate for your foolishness. In the wild, running on an empty stomach means that death from starvation is just around the corner, which brings metabolic processes to a screeching halt.

* Cut out caffeine (and nicotine, the other legal speed, for that matter) as much as possible. We like to think that caffeine is a wonder drug that makes being a member of our fast-paced society more tolerable. Of course, once you become addicted to caffeine, the number one withdrawal symptom is extreme fatigue. Regular use inevitably leads to tolerance and bona fida physical addiction. The only solution is to constantly introduce caffeine into your system, and that's really not nearly as safe as we'd all like to think it is. Caffeine causes acute tachycardia, it stresses the kidneys, and it can even disrupt basic cellular processes (namely mitosis, though solid proof of mutagenesis only exists in experiments involving more primitive organisms). Of course, you'll be frustratingly tired if you go cold turkey, but once you've weaned yourself off, you'll be surprised at how much the occasional cup of coffee or soda can stimulate you. In many people, caffeine is a migraine trigger. Once you've quit, caffeine can be a worthy element in your arsenal against headaches. Excedrin ("the headache medicine"), for example, is nothing more than acetaminophen (Tylenol), acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), and caffeine.

* Rather than eating three large meals every day, try to eat smaller, more frequent meals. You can still maintain your breakfast/lunch/dinner routine, but try to minimize your portions and instead eat snacks throughout the day. You don't want to increase your caloric consumption; you want to better distribute it so that your metabolism is always in high gear. As soon as you become hungry, it begins to drop. The later you eat dinner, the slower your metabolism will be when you wake up in the morning. Try to eat three hours before going to bed.

* Avoid eating large quantities of high-glycemic-index foods. The glycemic index is used to determine how quickly blood sugar "spikes" in the body after consuming certain foods. Whole grain bread has a much lower glycemic index compared to white bread, because it takes longer to digest and absorb. For the same reason, brown rice is far "better" than white rice. The result is a gradual peak effect, rather than a sudden blast of energy and insulin (inevitably followed by a crash). On the other hand, keep in mind that the glycemic index is calculated based on large quantities of food. Carrots have a rather high index, but nobody eats five pounds in a sitting.

* Don't overdo protein. Many people tend to crave protein foods more, and feel that they get a better energy boost from consuming them. This might be true in some cases, but excess protein is not used to build tissue; it is instead burned as a fuel source. Because it contains nitrogen, the reaction is very "dirty" compared to that involving pure carbohydrates. One of the by-products of protein metabolism is urea, a primary constituent of urine. This increases the workload of your kidneys, and it simply doesn't burn as efficiently when used as a fuel. Most people need little more than 40 grams of protein in a day for basic body processes. Everything else is burned as dirty fuel, and guess what -- recent research shows that excessive protein consumption may have a huge negative impact on bone density, leading one to believe that drinking large amounts of milk may not be the best way to "get your (rendered indigestible by pasteurization) calcium."

* Don't overdo fat. Fat is not burned as "instant energy," unless you are physically active and also have some carbohydrates in your system. Otherwise, you can only expect your blood sugar to spike and crash, leaving you exhausted.

* Exercise! It amazes me when people say "I'm too tired to exercise." We live such sedentary lives that our body really has no sensible reason to stay awake once we've clocked out for the day. If we're not going to use our bodies, why should we be charged with energy? The earlier in the day you exercise (eat and drink first!), the longer your metabolism will stay in high gear. If you don't do anything to physically exert yourself, don't complain that your body sees no reason to be alert. And if you find running or jogging to be too physically taxing, don't fret! High-impact exercises can be very dangerous, especially if you're overweight. Try Yoga. Seriously. You might think you're more tired after exercising, but if you keep it up, your body will compensate in a big freakin' way, and you'll sleep way better than you used to.

* Get good sleep. The deeper you sleep, the better. If you suffer from allergies that keep you awake all night, see your doctor. There's a good chance you may have a food allergy, or there may be an antihistamine that's perfect for you (though I'd advise trying to avoid them during the day). Maybe you just need a humidifier! The more you wake up in the middle of the night, the worse off you'll be in the morning. Most recreational drugs (including alcohol and marijuana) have a negative impact on REM sleep, leaving you exhausted in the morning.

* Eat a varied diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. The more simplistic your diet is, the more likely you are to be depriving yourself of various essential nutrients. The typical "American diet" is so devoid of essential fatty acids that we haven't even come up with a recommended daily allowance to put on food labels! Essential fatty acids are used to create every cell in your body, and they're almost impossible to get if all you eat are twinkies and big macs. They also thin your blood and reduce your risk of a heart attack, because they are used to make anti-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. Aspirin is "good for you" because it inhibits inflammatory prostaglandins; imagine if instead of inhibiting your body's own chemicals, you provided it proper balance. If you only eat "bad fat," don't come cryin' to me when your entire circulatory system feels like it's going to explode after an exercise routine. The fat used to make french fries can thicken your blood within four hours after consumption.

* Above all, try to stay healthy. There are dozens of illnesses that cause fatigue. Get regular checkups, rather than only going to the doctor when you feel something is wrong. Know thyself, or at least try to get to know thyself!