SPOTLIGHT ON NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE: 8 root causes for fatigue and naturopathic treatments

By Dr. Andrea Hornyak, Spotlight on Naturopathic Medicine

Research says decisions are best made when well rested. (FOTOLIA)

Research says decisions are best made when well rested. (FOTOLIA)

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms with profound long-term effects that I see in my practice. It is also one of the most complex symptoms to treat, as the root cause of fatigue is often due to a combination of several factors. Long-term fatigue can be an early sign of more serious health conditions to come, so it is vital to address this symptom as soon as possible.

Insomnia - Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep over a long period of time can cause body exhaustion. New parents, shift workers, medications (for blood pressure, corticosteroids, anti-depressants), stress and chronic pain are common reasons why people have sleep disturbances. If you do not sleep for at least a solid six hours per night, this will lead to long-term fatigue.

Vitamin/Mineral Deficiencies - Deficiencies in iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 or vitamin D are common causes for fatigue. This can be due to disease, certain medications, improper digestion of nutrients, or an unhealthy diet.

Food Sensitivities - The reason we need to eat is to fuel our bodies. It should provide nutrients and energy. If you eat a meal and you feel tired soon after, you could be sensitive to a food you just ate. Food sensitivities are a major cause of chronic fatigue. Other common symptoms of food sensitivities include eczema, headaches, bloating/gas, loose stools, or constipation. Many of my patients did not know food sensitivities were the reason for their digestive symptoms and fatigue.

Dehydration - A computer urinalysis during an appointment shows a surprising amount of my patients that they are very dehydrated. Common signs of dehydration include fatigue, premature greying of hair, dizziness, poor memory and concentration. Dehydrating liquids include coffee, black tea, alcohol and soda pop. Dehydration makes your heart and digestion to work less efficiently, causing body fatigue. Water quality is also an issue, as all sources of ground water contain pollutants. Distilled water is the most effective at hydrating the body without added contaminants.

Hormonal Imbalance - Chronic fatigue can be due to an under-active thyroid or low testosterone levels. Constant worry and stress can lead to elevated cortisol and decreased energy in the afternoon. Low serotonin levels can cause anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Unhealthy Diet - Consuming refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, cookies, cake, breakfast cereals) can cause blood sugar imbalances which results in low energy. Eating a diet based on processed foods (boxed snacks, frozen foods, canned foods) will contribute to weight gain and fatigue.

Toxic Load - Long-term cannabis use leads to lowered levels of dopamine, which decreases energy and motivation. Smoking tobacco depletes the body of oxygen to the brain in addition to an intake of several toxins, which also makes people tired. When you consume foods or drugs that require the detoxification pathways in your body to work overtime, your energy will be depleted.

Lack of Exercise - It is often difficult for people to begin an exercise program when they feel they have no energy. However, only 20 minutes of daily walking can significantly increase your energy by oxygenating your blood.

Naturopathic Treatment of Fatigue

Laboratory Testing

Prior to the implementation of treatment, I will order a series of blood tests to rule out vitamin/mineral deficiencies, thyroid imbalance, blood sugar problems, inflammation, etc. Since all laboratory tests ordered by a Naturopathic Doctor are not covered by OHIP, I often work with my patients to have testing done through their Medical Doctor to reduce costs.

As a naturopathic doctor, I utilize more specific testing to look for hidden causes of fatigue, as often routine blood tests are within normal range. For example, salivary tests are accurate at tracking cortisol levels and adrenal fatigue. A thyroid blood test panel is more specific to rule out thyroid dysfunction or autoimmune disease than the typical TSH or T4. Food sensitivity blood testing evaluates different antibodies to various foods for individualized diets.

Clinical Nutrition

I often recommend specific dietary suggestions based on laboratory testing results for accuracy. For example, a patient who is overweight, has chronic fatigue and diabetes will benefit from choosing low glycemic index foods which can help stabilize their blood sugar and increase their energy. This includes decreasing refined sugars, increasing protein, vegetables and healthy fats.


Taking high potency vitamins and/or botanical medicine can make a significant difference in regulating hormones, correcting deficiencies, and improving energy. This is why laboratory testing is essential before prescribing supplements in order to target specific needs of each patient, and focus on dietary recommendations.

It is important that you check labels and choose supplements that are in a vegan capsule, liquid or powder and do not contain any non-medicinal ingredients that can cause adverse effects. This includes artificial colours (FD&C Yellow No.5), soybean oil, magnesium silicate, titanium dioxide, etc.


Lifestyle changes are the most important thing you can do to benefit your health. Quit smoking, exercise, breathe fresh air, look for options to decrease your medications and stress reduction techniques. I often counsel my patients to help them with motivation so they can reach their health goals.


Traditional Chinese medicine is a natural treatment option for increasing energy. Imbalances in the vital force or Qi are corrected using fine needles while the patient is relaxing. Acupuncture is beneficial for many conditions including stress relief, pain, constipation, insomnia, and anxiety.

Dr. Hornyak has been in private practice as a Licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine since 2006. For more information, phone the Norwich Medical Centre at 519-863-2338 or visit www.vitalforcenaturopathic.ca