Chronic illnesses take an enormous toll on our bodies over an extended period of time, making them some of the most insidious and damaging health issues we can face. And while chronic fatigue, to those who don't have it, may seem less serious than some other chronic illnesses, make no mistake: It can be truly and completely debilitating. Anyone who has sought treatment for chronic fatigue knows finding viable solutions isn't easy, but there are small things you can do every day that will help lessen your symptoms, including knowing what foods affect chronic fatigue.
Just like for most other illnesses, there's a wide range of foods that can ease or worsen your chronic fatigue. But do remember that each person's body has its own individual reactions to foods, so while the foods you'll see below generally affect us in the described ways, you may have a totally different reaction. And, as HealthLine points out, "It’s tempting to cut out everything you can in the face of a nebulous, unrelenting disease like chronic fatigue, but there’s no evidence that a highly restrictive diet improves symptoms."
You should always chat with your doctor before changing up your diet as part of your treatment plan. If you live with chronic fatigue, check out the list below for some foods to bring up at your next appointment.
You probably knew this one was coming, but there's actually a couple potentially unexpected reasons to consider cutting down or cutting out processed white sugar. For one, sugar's considered an inflammatory food. Eat This describes your body's natural inflammation response as a "home security system" that activates when something it doesn't like happens to your body. Normally that response will go away when the thing is over, but with chronic, low-grade inflammation foods like processed sugar can cause, your body is always under that strain of response.
Many people with chronic fatigue are more prone to hypoglycemia — or low blood sugar — than those without chronic fatigue. If you're thinking, Then cutting out sugar seems counterintuitive, it's important to note the recommendation is to cut down processed sugar. Natural sugars, like the ones found in fruits, are A-OK. According to Everyday Health, processed sugar "causes a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by hypoglycemia [...] This hypoglycemia causes fatigue, anxiety, and sugar cravings," which can create a vicious cycle of fatigue.
According to food expert Dr. Axe, 40 percent of Americans have a B-12 deficiency. That gives you a pretty high chance of having one, and that deficiency can have an enormous effect on your chronic fatigue — in fact, the symptoms of B-12 deficiency can "echo" the symptoms of chronic fatigue, so if you have both, it's a double whammy. To up your B-12, you can eat eggs, which are also a great source of amino acid-boosting animal proteins, according to Well Wisdom. If you're braver, you can also eat animal products like liver to increase your B-12 levels, but eggs will definitely do the trick.
3. Leafy Greens
"Leafy greens" is a pretty broad category, so here's some examples of what we're talking about: Kale, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, asparagus, beetroot, and peapods. These are all classed as dark leafy greens, and eating them can give your body a "plethora of vitamins and minerals [...] including vitamins A, B’s, C, E, K, as well as folate, antioxidants, carotenoids, FIBER, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium," writes Sue Ingebretson for ProHealth.
When chronic fatigue is taking a constant toll on your body, making sure your vitamin and mineral levels are balanced can be essential to keeping yourself going. Particularly important is folate, Ingebretson writes, since it aids the production of healthy red blood cells, and red blood cells help oxygenate the body, giving us more energy.
If you're looking for a serious punch of folate, you should specifically try adding spinach to your diet, since it's a huge source of folate.
It's startlingly easy to become dehydrated, and you may not even realize you're dehydrated until some of the more worrisome symptoms — headaches, pain — begin to appear. But long before those, your body is already aware it needs water, and the dehydration of your muscles can tighten up your body and burn energy you don't have. Water helps virtually everything in your body work efficiently, from the flow of your blood to your digestive system. Pay attention to your water intake and remember that drinking other fluids like coffee can make you more dehydrated, so when you've got a dry mouth or a lingering headache, check in on yourself and reach for water.
It's natural for a lot of us who feel tired on the reg to think that a cup of coffee or an energy drink will keep us ahead of the tiredness curve. But like sugar, caffeine is a problem hidden in what seems like a solution. For lots of people, caffeine can make symptoms worsen, Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, told Everyday Health.
"Caffeine actually aggravates adrenal exhaustion and low blood sugars, amplifying the anxiety and stress symptoms and fatigue," he explained. But for folks who love drinks that contain caffeine, don't worry about cutting it out completely. "One cup of coffee, or preferably tea, in the morning to get started is okay, but after that I recommend decaffeinated," Teitelbaum added.
Fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut can help balance the flora in your gut and improve gut health, which, perhaps surprisingly, might hold a heavy sway over your chronic fatigue. While scientists aren't entirely sure of the full effects the bacteria in your digestive system on chronic fatigue, a study led by Dr. W. Ian Lipkin "found a link between the different levels of six types of gut bacteria and chronic fatigue" — the same bacteria that "seem to affect the central nervous system and immune system."
Kombucha is extra helpful if you were already aware of some foods on this list and have been looking for a replacement for caffeinated tea or coffee. Plus, it's tasty AF.
7. Dark Chocolate
Unfortunately, there's some mixed reviews on chocolate. While dark chocolate does have health benefits, like increasing antioxidants and possibly lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, some experts say it's a food chronic fatigue sufferers should cross off their menus entirely.
Chronic fatigue specialist Dr. Chuck Lapp, director of the Hunter Hopkins Center, told ProHealth that people with chronic fatigue should "avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, Nutrasweet and tobacco" because "[t]hese items are not tolerated well." He added, "Eating refined sugar — like chocolate candy — triggers reactive hypoglycemia, or a 'let down' in energy a couple hours later. And the cocoa used in cake, for example, doesn't contain refined sugar, but has a caffeine-like effect." However, a 2010 study found that dark chocolate helped improve symptoms in patients who had chronic fatigue, so it seems like of all the foods here, dark chocolate is the most individualized when it comes to people's responses.
Chronic fatigue can feel like it's constantly dragging you down, but hopefully, with your doctor's approval, implementing small everyday changes to your diet can help alleviate some of your symptoms and make dealing with chronic fatigue just that little bit easier.