What Nobody Ever Tells You about Low Energy

Low energy is a very common issue for patients that come see me – heck, I wrote a book on it!

Finding and fixing the underlying cause for your low energy is the key to regaining the energy you once had – that’s a ‘no-brainer’ for sure.

There are many things that cause low energy, but the three most common causes are:

  1. Hormonal Imbalances
  2. Digestive Imbalances
  3. Detoxification Imbalances

Cause #1: Hormonal Imbalances

Adrenal hormones, sex hormones, and thyroid hormones ALL regulate energy levels.

The most common cause of low energy is adrenal exhaustion or adrenal burnout.

Cortisol is the main hormone made in your adrenal glands during times of stress. Cortisol levels become depleted from long-term stress. Even if the stress was in the past you could still be suffering from exhausted adrenal glands now.

The three main stressors that people suffer from are:

  1. Emotional stress (death of a loved one; work stress; financial stress; divorce),
  1. Dietary stress (food allergies; blood sugar imbalances; skipping meals; caffeine; alcohol), and
  1. Inflammatory stress (pain; hidden inflammation).

DHEA is the other main adrenal hormone, and is a predictor of how long the body has been suffering from stress. The lower the level gets, the longer you have been a victim of stress.

For Women: Cortisol is actually made from progesterone. So, guess what happens when you are under stress?

Every molecule of progesterone gets made into cortisol.

People who are (or were) under chronic stress will have imbalances of both cortisol and progesterone. DHEA actually gets made into estrogen and testosterone during normal conditions, but during times of chronic stress the adrenals prefer to make cortisol instead of DHEA.

This means DHEA levels drop, and therefore estrogen and testosterone levels drop, too.

Low estrogen and low testosterone both cause fatigue. Low progesterone has a direct impact on the thyroid gland thereby causing fatigue.

Cause #2: Digestive Imbalances

The digestive system is the next big contributor to low energy.

A diet of too many carbs, too many sweets, too much caffeine and too much alcohol may help get you through your day, but it’s actually robbing you of energy.

Blood sugar highs and lows, skipping meals, and food allergies/sensitivities all contribute to fatigue, too.

Lastly, chronic, undetected infections (parasites, yeast, fungal infections) usually in the stomach or intestines cause fatigue as they steal the nutrients you need for energy to keep themselves alive.

Cause #3: Detoxification Imbalances

Heavy metals and chemicals stored in the body can contribute to low energy because they damage the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are tiny organs found inside of every cell in your body. Their job is to make energy in its purest form.

This energy ultimately drives the healing and repair mechanisms of the body. When the mitochondria have a hard time producing energy, your energy levels will be low, and you will feel fatigued.

What to Expect From Functional Medicine

Proper laboratory testing is the key to figuring out the cause of your low energy.

The best way to test adrenal hormones (cortisol and DHEA) is with saliva testing.

Cortisol levels are on a 24-hour cycle: they should be highest in the AM, lower in the afternoon, even lower in the evening and lowest at night. This requires a series of 4 saliva samples to map out your curve.

(You can see how doing a single blood test would not be helpful, and that 4 blood tests would be painful and inconvenient.)

The best way to test sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) is with saliva testing. Like cortisol, the sex hormones are on a cycle, too (particularly estrogen and progesterone), and it is easiest to measure the monthly rhythm by doing a series of saliva samples throughout the month, not just one single blood test one day out of the month.

(Guys have estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, too, and can test their sex hormones any day of the month.)

The best way to test thyroid hormones (TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, TPO antibodies, thyroglobulin antibodies) is with blood testing.

Please note: there is some controversy about what is considered “normal” thyroid (TSH) levels. Most medical laboratories use a range of 0.35 to 5.0 mIU/L as “normal”. However, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists has recommended a new “normal” level of 0.3 to 3.0 mIU/L.

To make it even more complicated, the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry has recommended an even narrower range of 0.4 to 2.5 mIU/L. So, when your doctor tells you your TSH level is “normal”, it is very important to ask specifically what your number is, as your doctor may not be following the newest recommendations.

Further laboratory testing may be warranted depending on your case to get to the root cause of your low energy. Individual treatment programs vary, but always include nutritional supplements (herbs, vitamins, minerals) as well as lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, rest, sleep, stress management) with the aim of getting your body back into balance.

Make a promise to yourself starting today:

Stop feeling lousy…rotten…awful…crummy…miserable…terrible…crappy.

Find a good Functional Medicine doctor to help you get to the root cause of your health problems.

Like I always say:

Find the cause.

Fix the cause.

Feel normal again!


Dr. Carri Drzyzga, DC, ND – The Functional Medicine Doc

Find the Cause. Fix the Cause. Feel Normal Again!

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