Feeling tired and fatigued? Your diet may play a role.
It’s not uncommon for women to feel tired and rundown occasionally. Most of us lead busy lives, often balancing dozens of work and family responsibilities. But feeling overly tired and fatigued for weeks on end may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or a more serious medical problem.
“Whenever I see a patient who complains of fatigue, I start by doing a baseline blood screening,” said Monique Butler, M.D., an Internal Medicine specialist with DMC Women’s Health Services. “About 75 percent of the time, these patients have a vitamin D deficiency.”
A vitamin D deficiency can cause a number of problems for women and men — bone pain, muscle pain and fatigue. It’s also linked to diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and even breast cancer. To address vitamin D deficiencies, Dr. Butler encourages her patients to eat more dairy products fortified with vitamin D and calcium and plenty of green, leafy vegetables.
“I usually sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation about exactly what my patients are eating,” she said. “A lot of times, I find that they simply aren’t getting the nutrients and antioxidants they need to feel their best.”
Dr. Butler also encourages women and men to spend at least 15 minutes in the sun every day. This is important because the body needs sunlight to absorb the vitamin D in your food. “We don’t want to encourage people to spend too much time in the sun because that can cause skin damage, but 15 minutes a day will help your body absorb vitamin D.”
Of course, fatigue can also be a symptom of other medical problems like hypothyroidism, anemia and sleep disorders — so it’s important to talk to your physician if you feel overly fatigued for more than a few weeks.
It’s also important for women to consume adequate amounts of antioxidants — substances in certain foods that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
Antioxidants include substances like beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. While many of these can be taken as supplements, recent studies suggest that the best sources of antioxidants are in the foods you eat.
“I tell women that better health is literally at the end of your fork,” said Dr. Butler. Antioxidants can be found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, and some meats, poultry and fish. But the foods with the most antioxidants tend to be found in brightly colored foods.
“Look for foods that are naturally red, orange, green and purple. These tend to have a lot of disease fighting capabilities,” Dr. Butler said. So pick up some tomatoes, green and red peppers, blueberries, eggplant and carrots at the grocery store. It may be your first step to better health.
For an appointment with a DMC Women’s Health Services specialist, call 1-888-DMC-2500.
Facts About Vitamin D
- Avoid getting a vitamin D deficiency by:
- Eating plenty of green, leafy vegetables
- Eating low-fat dairy products fortified with vitamin D
- Getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day
- Eat salmon or tuna, which have high levels of vitamin D
- Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level during your routine physical exams
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's fatty tissue.
- In addition to fatigue, bone pain and muscle pain, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in adults or rickets in children.
- The body makes vitamin D when the skin is directly exposed to the sun. That is why it is often called the "sunshine" vitamin. Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way.
- Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine three times weekly is enough to produce the body's requirement of vitamin D. The sun needs to shine on the skin of your face, arms, back, or legs (without sunscreen). Because exposure to sunlight is a risk for skin cancer, you should use sunscreen after a few minutes in the sun.
- People who do not live in sunny places may not make enough vitamin D. Skin that is exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Cloudy days, shade, and having dark-colored skin also cut down on the amount of vitamin D the skin makes.
- It can be very hard to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone. As a result, some people may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Consult your doctor.
Source: National Institutes of Health
Monique Butler, M.D., a board certified internal medicine physician, is the Medical Director of Corporate Health and Wellness Promotions for DMC Harper University Hospital. In this role, she is responsible for promoting wellness and conducting annual physicals for executives and employees in the Downtown Detroit business district. In addition, Butler also works in conjunction with the Harper-Hutzel senior leadership on hospital medical record compliance and Graduate Medical Education. A native Detroiter, Dr. Butler graduated from Wayne State University School of Medicine and received her residency training at the Detroit Medical Center where she was Chief Medical Resident of Internal Medicine at Sinai-Grace Hospital. Dr. Butler’s research and clinical interests are in women’s health, preventative medicine, hypertension and diabetes management.
Monique Butler, MD