Sick and Tired?

Hannah Charman

Hannah Charman

A recent American study concluded that around 10% of the US population suffers from chronic tiredness. Many of us can relate to feeling continually drained of energy, and whilst in many cases this is simply due to a lack of quality sleep, it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health problem.

As human beings, our natural state is to be bright, alert, and full of energy. It goes without saying that as we get older and the body begins to wear out, some of us need more time to repair, which is best done whilst we’re asleep. It’s normal for us to have an afternoon nap, as we see in children, the elderly, and our continental cousins, but from school age onwards our routine of study or work prevents us from doing so. Most adults need 8 hours of sleep a night, and even a lay in on a weekend is not considered to be enough to compensate for a shortage during the week. If you’ve been short of sleep, try and change your routine so that you can get to bed earlier for a few weeks, and see if you notice a difference.

If you suffer from chronic tiredness it’s important to find out why. It’s such a common problem that it’s easy to assume that there’s no underlying health problem, but in very rare cases there is.

Causes of tiredness include:
Depression
Overwork / lack of sleep
Drug side effects
Cancer
Anaemia
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Food intolerances
Being over or under weight
Diabetes

If you were to see a Herbalist with chronic fatigue, it’s likely that unless you already have a diagnosis, they would want you to undergo tests by your GP. Whilst herbs are excellent at treating the underlying causes of a health problem, it’s always useful to get a conventional perspective as well, so take any test results and letters with you to your Herbalist. Here are a few possible approaches they might use when treating chronic fatigue.

Anxiety and Depression
This becomes a vicious cycle where the person is too stressed to sleep and too tired to cope with the stress. A Herbalist can help to break the cycle by prescribing strong herbal sedatives and hypnotics taken at bedtime to encourage a better quality of sleep. More often than not, the adrenal glands are exhausted when a person suffers from chronic tiredness, so tonics such as borage, hawthorn, or liquorice may be used.

It’s tempting to look at taking Ginseng when we’re tired through stress, although it seems less popular now than it was a few years ago. The Ginsengs are in a class of herbs called the adaptogens, which are used to support the body in adapting to stress. Panax ginseng is often used for elderly people whereas Korean ginseng (Eleuthrococcus) is commonly used by those going through a stressful time such as exams. Whilst they’re very effective, there are circumstances in which they should not be used, so check with your herbalist.

Withania somifera is another adaptogen, but as its name suggests, is particularly helpful in aiding sleep. I’ve found it very useful in treating people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, as this can often lead to disturbed sleep patterns and tiredness during the day.

Overwork
The Japanese are known for working extremely long hours and overwork is classed as a cause of death there. ‘Karoshi’, or overwork, is held responsible for killing around 10,000 Japanese every year, so let that be a warning to us all!. Herbs can support an overworked person to some extent, but what’s really called for is often a major rethink about the kind of lifestyle you want and what you are prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

Medication
With access to drug websites it’s easy now to see if the medication you’re taking is likely to be contributing to your tiredness. Even if the information leaflet and official websites don’t mention anything, it’s worth checking on blogs and forums to see if anyone else taking the drug is having the same problem. If you’re concerned about the medication you’re taking, stay on it and make an appointment to get it reviewed by your GP.

Again, a Herbalist can help by giving herbs that will support the body’s ability to process the drugs you’re on once they’ve been used. Liver and kidney tonics are particularly important, so herbs like Milk Thistle, Dandelion or Marigold may be prescribed. In some cases, long term herbal treatment means that there’s less of a need for conventional medication, so the dosage can be gradually reduced under supervision.

Anaemia
Anaemia is particularly common in women and again, it’s important to find out how bad it is, and why you have it. Nettle is naturally very rich in Iron, and may well be one of the herbs used to treat anaemia.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
This is vastly different to just being continually tired (Chronic Fatigue) as there are many other symptoms that accompany the tiredness. This is a complex condition sometimes mistaken for others such as hypothyroidism or haemachromatosis (a genetic condition). The holistic approach used by herbalists really comes into its own here, and patients often respond well to herbal treatment with a counselling element to it.

Food Intolerances
Our modern diet and food manufacture processes have lead to a significant rise in food intolerances, the most common being dairy and wheat. Herbally we would look to treat these in a similar way to an allergy such as hayfever, where we work directly on encouraging the immune system to behave more normally.

‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ also plays a part, where the gut wall becomes damaged allowing proteins into the blood stream that the body would not normally recognise. The body reacts strongly, and with tiredness resulting as well as further damage to the gut wall. Herbs such as Comfrey can be used to repair the gut lining, and at the same time others like Echinacea may be prescribed to normalise the immune system. Again, this is really a job for a Herbalist.

Weight Issues and Diabetes
Both of these really need an integrated approach between a Herbalist and other professionals. Depending on the type of diabetes, it may be necessary to take insulin which is always prescribed and monitored at intervals by a GP. Type 2 diabetes can be managed with a careful diet, supported by herbs and vitamins.

To find your nearest herbalist, go to www.nimh.org.uk > find a herbalist.

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