Fatigue makes life pretty miserable. Routine tasks become overwhelming, stuff you used to enjoy begins to feel like way too much work, and you may get down on yourself for feeling lazy, even though you can’t help it. At one point, I recall my own fatigue making everyday tasks feel like moving mountains. It can make for a somber existence and while sometimes there is a simple answer for it (like diet and lifestyle), other times there is not.
When you’ve endured fatigue long enough to talk about it with your doctor, chances are a thyroid test was among the first thing that was ordered, but there are a few others you may want to keep in mind, based on what I’ve experienced myself and with clients. If your diet checks out, and you have healthy thyroid function, but you still feel sluggish and like you are dragging yourself through the day, you may find these tests very helpful.
1) Check your calcium and potassium levels with hair analysis
High calcium can be a true driver of fatigue, as it slows down your body. The average American today gets far too much calcium relative to potassium. Typically, this isn’t because one is in too much calcium from food sources per say (although one could over-do it), but instead from calcium supplements, calcium fortified food, and/or increased calcium absorption from taking high dose vitamin D3. Part of vitamin D’s job is to tell your body to absorb more calcium from your food, pushing calcium levels even higher in the body, and pushing potassium levels lower. Pair that with a chronically low intake of potassium from fruits and vegetables, and you have yourself some powerful nutritional forces messing with your thyroid hormone’s ability to do its job. This often manifests with symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, low body temperature, blood sugar issues (hypoglycemia), and sluggish digestion.
Luckily, you can find out what your calcium and potassium levels are with hair analysis. By assessing the ratio of your calcium to potassium levels, you can see how well your thyroid hormones are doing their job. Then, if needed, make supplemental and dietary adjustments to bring the ratio into better balance, supporting healthy thyroid function naturally.
If you’re curious if vitamin D supplementation has your thyroid function in hot water by way of high calcium levels, you may want to consider getting a hair analysis, to see how it’s affecting your mineral levels. You can learn more about hair analysis or get started here.
2) Request an iron panel from your doctor to check for low or high iron
Did you know that both low iron and high iron levels (often called iron overload) can cause fatigue?
While checking your iron levels for iron deficiency (low iron stores) or iron-deficiency anemia (low red blood cell count) is pretty standard when fatigue is present, making sure your iron levels aren’t too high doesn’t get nearly as much attention. Approximately 10 million people in the United States have iron deficiency, including 5 million with iron-deficiency anemia. On the other end of the spectrum is hereditary hemochromatosis or milder forms of iron overload, which impacts approximately 1.5 million Americans. Excess iron acts as a rusting agent in your body and can accumulate in tissues, particularly in the liver, pancreas, heart, joints and the brain. Too much iron also increases the aging process and puts you at a much higher risk for vascular disease, cancer, as well as a shortened life expectancy, making it essential to know your iron status.
From what I’ve heard from some in the medical profession, an iron panel is inexpensive and used to be a pretty standard part of annual blood work up until 1997, but no longer is.
To learn more about your own iron levels, you can simply request an iron panel from your doctor, or you can always order one yourself and self-pay from somewhere like this for about $48. Then you’ll of course want to work with your doctor or naturopath who can guide you on how to interpret the results and direct you as needed.
3) Find out if you have a MTHFR genetic mutation
Methyl-tetra-hydro-folate reductase (MTHFR) is an enzyme that your body uses to convert folate (B9) into the active form of folate used by the body. This process is methylation.
There are a few common genetic mutations that can influence how effectively your body is able to make this important conversion. Poor methylators commonly experience symptoms such as sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, fatigue and/or chronic pain. Here are some of the most common versions of the MTHFR genetic mutation, and how much it influences your body’s ability to convert folate from food and supplements into methyl folate, the form that is useable by your body:
- MTHFR C677T = heterozygous mutation (one mutated copy) estimated up to 40% loss of function
- MTHFR T677T = homozygous mutation (two mutated copies) estimated up to 70% loss of function
- MTHFR A1298C = heterozygous mutation (one mutated copy) estimated up to 20% loss of function (limited research and controversy here)
- MTHFR C1298C = homozygous mutation (two mutated copies) estimated up to 40% loss of function
You used to be able to find out if you have a MTHFR genetic mutation by taking a 23andme ancestry test and then accessing the resulting raw genetic data, but rumor has it they no longer include MTHFR in the raw genetic data, so the best bet is probably asking your doctor to run genetic testing.
4) Investigate your viral levels
Before you think fatigue is all in your head, request a viral panel from your doctor to make sure your immune system isn’t bogged down by a virus. Everyone has viruses living inside their body, but it’s often hard to tell if they causing active problems or not.
Once you have a virus in your body, it never goes away. In healthy individuals the virus or viruses often stay dormant, but when health falls below par or you have prolonged stress, antibiotic overuse, vaccinations, toxic lifestyle, and/or surgeries, a virus can be reactivated. A classic example of this is when you or someone you know gets a cold sore when they’re under a lot of stress, as cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Another example of this is when someone who had the chickenpox in childhood gets shingles later in life, it’s just a reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
A virus works by invading healthy normal cells and take advantage of them, using them to multiply. By living inside your cells, they are protected from typical medicines that swim around in your bloodstream, making them hard to treat.
The most common viral signs are fatigue, night sweats, fever, and painful joints. If these symptoms are familiar, it’s time to consider checking in with a doctor or naturopath that can get you tested. Here are just a few things to consider testing for, although your doctor should know exactly what you need:
- Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1): commonly an oral infection – cold sores
- Herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2): commonly a genital infection – genital herpes
- Varicella-zoster virus (VZV/HHV-3): commonly known as chickenpox
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV/HHV-4): prevalence: 80-90% of population
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV/HHV-5): prevalence: at least 60% of U.S. population exposed
- Herpesvirus type 6 (HBLV/HHV-6): very common, often symptomatic in adults, linked to chronic fatigue syndrome
You can self-pay and order these kinds of test here, but it’s more cost-effective to go through your doctor. If you want to learn more about my favorite supplements to help support an immune system weakened by viruses, you can find that here.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything for your own fatigue but gotten nowhere, I hope this post helps you get to the bottom of the issue.
Have any of these tests helped you uncover the root cause of your own fatigue? Please share in the comments!
- Medical Medium