Tiredness (Fatigue)

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here


Since beginning practice in 1989 till now, the number one problem that people have come for is a deep and abiding tiredness that could equally be described as fatigue, or even exhaustion

You must treat the cause of a problem to expect a lasting cure from it, and that is what this article is mostly about, but first of all we must talk about some of the great tonic herbs because, so long as they are used patiently and correctly, they will reliably lift energy, brighten the spirits and help people to heal from whatever has caused them to be bought low.

The tonics

Two of the greatest energy tonics in all the natural world are Panax Ginseng and Withania somnifera.

Panax Ginseng is known as the 'Emperor tonic' in Chinese medicine and has been revered for millennia for its ability to restore energy. Withania is equally as highly regarded in the great Ayurvedic system of the Indian sub-continent and likewise has a tremendous history of use for all kinds of problems where increasing a person's vital energy is understood to be the key to their healing. Learn more about them if you will use either or both of these great herbs, Panax Ginseng here and Withania here

Panax Ginseng and Withania are by no means the only herbs to use when people are tired and run down. The humble Hawthorn, both leaf and berry, has been seen to restore physical vitality to the hearts of a great many people who were tired and unable to restore their fitness before they made good use of its reliable help, more on it here

Another truly great energy tonic can be St John's wort. Much more than only the 'natural anti-depressant' it has been marketed to be, St John's has a tremendous ability to nourish an exhausted nervous system; back to health, more about it here

Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort)


Common causes of fatigue

Anyone who has deep and chronic tiredness may benefit from taking tonic herbs however, you still have to follow the rules of medicine and one of the most important of those rules is tolle causam -- 'treat the cause', more about the main three old laws of medicine here

Thyroid health

Thyroid problems are not the most common cause of fatigue but they can be so debilitating and, at the same time, are so frequently undiagnosed that it can be wise to at least check if this is the core issue. If it turns out that you do have an under-active thyroid then this can be treated very successfully with a natural approach, all this is discussed in detail here



The brain is the most sensitive organ in the body and the first symptoms of deficiency of any of the essential nutrients can be felt in the brain with the symptoms of tiredness and/or irritability.

The most common deficiency in the world is iron and many people are anaemic without realising it. Other major issues can be deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folic acid and all these things must be tested via blood tests to exclude them as primary causes of fatigue.

Further to blood tests for iron, B12 etc. there are other signs that deficiencies could be a core issue. These include problems with loss or poor growth of hair on the head and/or signs on the nails of the hands such as weakness, slow growing, splitting, spots etc.

In New Zealand, we have extremely low levels of Selenium in our soils (the second lowest in the world), likewise zinc and magnesium are chronically low in population studies done both here and elsewhere. If one or more nutritional deficiencies have been clearly diagnosed, or all the signs are pointing towards them, then there is certainly a case for using some supplements for a limited time to rapidly remedy the situation. Then, whilst they are taking effect, you must look at the quality of your diet.

You must carefully review the health of your diet if you are showing signs of deficiencies. A big issue with food and fatigue for many people is the vicious cycle that happens when people who are too tired go for refined and processed foods because they are quick and easy to prepare and their high sugar and intense flavours trick us into thinking they will make us feel better. A straightforward review of what reliably constitutes excellent nutrition is found here



A major potential cause of fatigue can come from excess toxicity in the body. Low grade poisoning from things like heavy metals or other environmental toxins can definitely cause deep and unrelenting tiredness.

If you instinctively feel this may be an issue or you can consistently see that when your symptoms are worse your tongue gets an unhealthy looking, off-colour coating on it, then you should consider this as a possible cause of the fatigue.

The subject of detoxification is very important, a short article on the key points, including a section on 'how do you know if it's necessary' is found here

Juniperus communis (Juniper berry)


Immune health matters

Issues of immunity can require careful investigation if they are the underlying cause of fatigue. Key physical clues include recurrent infections, chronically swollen glands, and slow healing from minor wounds.

When it comes to chronic immune health problems the conventional white blood cell quantity count of laboratory tests doesn't get close to the importance of the actual quality of those cells. One of the most important uses I have for my own dark-field microscope is its ability to graphically illustrate the structure and health of white blood cells whilst they are still alive which is of immense value in gauging the health and vitality of the immune system.

Through microscopic analysis it has been seen that many people with severe fatigue are suffering from depressed immune systems, the two main reasons for this being allergies or intolerances and chronic infections.


Allergies or intolerances

Many people are constantly aggravating their immune systems by some of the foods that they eat every day. They may not realise that they have a problem in this area because they never get an immediate reaction to the food but rather it causes a much deeper imbalance.

Allergy or intolerance must be considered as a strong possibility if there is any earlier history of eczema or asthma. Also note that if you frequently suffer from a bloated, uncomfortable belly or have a lot of allergic 'shiners', i.e. dark rings under your eyes, that you should also consider food allergies or intolerances as being a possible root cause of your fatigue.

This is an important area that must be approached with care and intelligence, more information here


Chronic infections

Many people who have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome would, in fact, be better described as having the post-viral syndrome. The post-viral syndrome also shows a typical pattern on blood microscopy but perhaps the best way to understand when this is the core issue is simply to look at what happened.

In such cases the history shows that the person has been in good health up until they have had a vicious infection and from that point on they never properly recovered their vitality. Glandular fever (Epstein-Barr virus) is the most common culprit but many others are implicated.

It doesn't actually matter what the original infection was. If the pattern is one of deep fatigue and exhaustion after an initial infection then the main efforts in recovery need to be directed at rebuilding good immune health.

In such cases, the person should lean heavily on the support of two great immune herbs namely Echinacea, more info here, and Astragalus, more here

It can also be highly beneficial to activate the ancient 'fever mechanism' against the post-vital syndrome via 'sweating therapy' written up in practical detail here

Another area relating to chronic infection that may need attention is the possibility of an overgrowth of bad bugs in the gut, this is called dysbiosis. If you strongly associate your fatigue coming and going with symptoms of bloating and/or disturbed bowel function then explore this subject further with the article here

Echinacea angustifolia


Mental health matters

Mental health matters such as anxiety, depression or insomnia are such major sources of fatigue that they could have well been put at the top of the page but you must be prepared to firstly rule out the potential physical causes before going into these areas.

The reason for this is that one of the worst things about tiredness is how it creates its own problems in its wake. People who are chronically tired nearly always get a low mood and will often get sleep disruption and anxiety to boot. So, which came first?

If there is an identifiable cause such as deficiency, toxicity, allergy or infection then be sure to give plenty of attention to working on a strategy to deal with those problems. That said, if there are mental health matters, regardless of whether they are a cause of the fatigue or a by-product from it, give attention to these vital parts of your health as soon as you can and as well as you can.

Tired and anxious?

If you believe that your tiredness is associated with a generally increased anxiety then there are some profoundly helpful medicines in nature to help as well as several other practical and highly effective steps -- read more here

Tired and depressed?

If you feel that your tiredness is a part of a low mood or a general depression then start by letting Nature take the first step to help and be assured that this is a problem that can always improve; more here

Tired and not sleeping?

If the basic root of the tiredness is poor sleep then you must get acquainted with those herbs from Nature that help relax the body into a better state for deeper and healthier sleep. Good sleep is a truly vital mental health matter, more here

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)


Permission to rest!

Many people who get chronic tiredness have an upbringing or a nature to push themselves hard in whatever they do and may not take well to being idle. For some, the most important step of all in the healing process can simply be giving themselves permission to rest.

This probably sounds simple and you could easily gloss over it (especially if it applies to you!) but in fact this can be the greatest challenge to the healing process and can be the thing that can sabotage what would have otherwise been a successful recovery.

Of course, if you have a deficiency, or toxicity, or an immune or mental health issue then that must be attended to but, at the same time, only you can really know how much you push yourself through fatigue at times when you could actually let go and let your tiredness guide you towards what you really need.

It will seem like a strange, counter-intuitive concept to think of tiredness as a friend but sometimes that is exactly what it can be... this subject is explored in much greater depth in the section of this site that goes into emotional healing, the introduction starting here

Constitutional Health Note:

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd