Fatigue is the experience of lack of energy, mental and physical weakness, lethargy, and depression, all of which combine to make performance of ordinary daily activities difficult or impossible.

What Is Fatigue?

From Modern Western Medicine

Perhaps the most common complaint among people today, fatigue is related to a number of factors that can be taken for granted in modern life: sleep deprivation, stress, and bouts of depression. Fatigue is also a symptom of a more serious illness, such as a degenerative disease. A physical examination by a medical doctor can help to determine the cause of the fatigue.

From Traditional Medicine

Fatigue is a symptom that suggests that the body is out of balance. Ideally, our lives should be a balanced blend of work, play, rest, and intimacy with ourselves and our loved ones. Intimacy with self, of course, includes whatever spiritual practices and emotional pleasures one feels nourished by. Modern life tends to emphasize work above all other considerations, causing increasing mental, physical, and emotional tension. Such tension may be utilizing the available energy on one hand, and preventing energy from flowing smoothly throughout the body on the other. Without the free flow of energy throughout the body, individual organs become fatigued, elimination of waste is hampered, accumulation of toxins take place, and one or another illness manifest. Fatigue, therefore, is the body’s way of communicating that an imbalance exists that must be addressed and corrected.

Many different functions within the body may be responsible for creating fatigue. The first to be considered is nutrition. The primary and preferred source of energy for the human body is complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits. Complex carbohydrates are composed of long chains that are digested slowly, providing long lasting energy and endurance.

A diet composed of refined foods and simple sugars, on the other hand, can give rise to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), one of the most common forms of fatigue. Typically, hypoglycemia causes feelings of weakness in the middle of the morning and the late afternoon, when blood sugar supply from breakfast and lunch have been burned and glucose levels are low, often below fasting levels. At that point, sugar cravings arise. Consumption of sugar usually gives an initial burst of energy that is quickly burned off, leaving the person once again exhausted and feeling stressed, irritable, and weak. For those suffering from hypoglycemia, the pancreas and adrenals are usually debilitated, making all stressful situations exceedingly difficult to deal with. Worry, anxiety, and fear arise easily when blood sugar levels fall and the adrenal glands are taxed beyond their limits.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also cause fatigue. A lack of iron or vitamin B12 can cause anemia. Other common deficiencies among people who eat a highly refined diet and suffer from fatigue include a lack of B vitamins, vitamins C and E, folic acid, zinc, and copper.

Caffeine often plays a major role in the onset of hypoglycemia and chronic fatigue. Caffeine overworks and eventually weakens the kidneys and adrenal glands. In Chinese medicine, kidney qi is regarded as the root of life energy and the basis for long-standing vitality and endurance. When the kidneys become depleted, the person experiences a deep sense of weakness, lack of willpower, and fatigue, as if the life force has been sapped from their tissues. (See Part IV for strengthening the kidneys and bladder.)

Both an excess and a deficiency of protein can cause fatigue, as well. Excess protein causes the production of uric acid, which must be removed by the kidneys. In time, the protein’s acid by-products weaken and damage the kidneys. People with weak kidneys should sharply limit dietary protein. On the other hand, a protein deficiency prevents production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is essential for coordinated muscle action, physical alertness, aggression, and the utilization of energy.

Poor intestinal health can cause or contribute to lethargy and fatigue, as anyone who’s ever suffered form constipation or diarrhea can attest to. Finally, lack of exercise causes poor circulation of blood and lymph, resulting in accumulation and stagnation of waste products throughout the body, which cause fatigue.


General Recommendations

  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Eat whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit.
  • Avoid refined foods, especially simple sugars.
  • Consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement while you are improving your diet.
  • Exercise aerobically at least three or four times a week.


Foods to Eat

Iron-rich foods:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Green vegetables, such as parsley, collards, cabbage, kale, and watercress
  • Dried fruit
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Yams
  • Grape juice


Foods rich in vitamin B12:

  • Fish
  • Eggs (fertilized and organic)
  • Bitter almonds
  • Apples seeds
  • Apricots
  • Prunes
  • Miso
  • Wheat
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Spirulina


Foods rich in folic acid:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Grains
  • Spirulina


Foods to Avoid

  • Refined foods
  • Processed and devitalized foods
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Excess oils, especially hydrogenated oils
  • Sugar


Herbs to Treat Fatigue

  • Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (strengthens adrenal glands): ½ tsp., two or three times per day
  • Ginseng (strengthens adaptability to stress, energizes): tincture, ½ tsp.; tea, 1 cup; capsules, 2, two or three times per day
  • Oats (counters exhaustion and depression): tincture, ½ – 1 tsp, three times per day; look for preparations that contain oat seed along with the straw



  • Arnica: for fatigue from overwork
  • Arsenicum: for anxiety and restlessness


Chinese Medicine

Fatigue is often a sign of weak spleen-pancreas qi. This qi, often called the middle qi, animates the periphery of the body. The strength of the arms and legs depends on this qi. To strengthen, use warming foods such as most complex carbohydrates, especially brown rice. Also good are oats, sweet rice, and pounded sweet rice. Carbohydrate-rich vegetables, such as carrots, rutabagas, winter squash, parsnips, turnips, black beans, and pumpkins are excellent along with onions, leeks, black pepper, ginger, fennel, and garlic. Foods must be chewed well and taken in small and frequent meals.


  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Outdoor exercises
  • Morning walks on wet grass
  • Meditation
  • Massage: therapeutic, acupressure, or deep-tissue



  • Beta-carotene: 15 – 30 mg per day
  • Vitamin B complex: 50 mg per day
  • Vitamin C: 100 mg per day
  • Vitamin E: 100 – 400 IU per day
  • Calcium: 800 mg per day
  • Magnesium: 400 mg per day
  • Royal jelly: 1 – 3 capsules or 100 – 400 mg daily



  • Daily walks or some other form of light aerobic activity to boost circulation and promote increased oxygen intake
  • Yoga and stretching exercises



  • Meditate on why your life may be imbalanced, and take steps to correct that imbalance
  • Spend at least 30 minutes daily doing what you enjoy that does not include eating or watching television or any job-related activity
  • Maintain or restore a positive attitude toward your life through prayer, chanting, meditation, and play