Years of mysterious fatigue left Nicole Saunches, 47, frustrated as she struggled to find a cause. Then a simple blood test revealed the culprit — and an easy way for her to reclaim her energy! Learn about Nicole’s biochemical imbalance and why she struggled with constant fatigue, even though she got enough uninterrupted sleep.
Can fatigue be fixed?
What’s that noise? Nicole Saunches wondered, as a fellow driver’s horn blared behind her. I can’t believe I dozed off again. This has to stop, she told herself as she anxiously navigated her way home from work, willing herself to stay awake and alert.
“Falling asleep while commuting had become an unwelcome part of my routine, because I was so tired and had trouble concentrating,” recalls Nicole. “I was working for the U.S. Olympic Committee and thought my unpredictable work schedule was why I was so exhausted that I would fall asleep on my way home. It got so bad that I started taking public transportation to avoid being sleepy or foggy behind the wheel.
“In 2007, a blood test that was part of my regular physical indicated that work wasn’t the cause of my fatigue and that instead, I had low vitamin D levels. My doctor recommended that I take supplements to treat the deficiency. This started a vicious cycle: I’d take high levels of vitamin D to bring up my levels, retest, then I’d be told my levels were okay and I could come off the supplements. But then I’d start the process all over again when my energy would plummet and a blood test revealed that my vitamin D levels were once again low, and I was prescribed high levels of vitamin D again. That cycle continued for approximately nine years.
Testing for Fatigue and Brain Fog
“Then, in 2016, I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and had an A1C (blood level test) of 5.9; a healthy A1C is below 5.6. I had just moved to Florida and I wondered if stress was contributing to my health issues.
“I visited a wellness clinic to be tested for food allergies and sensitivities to see if what I was eating could be contributing to the situation. That’s where I met a nurse practitioner, who was also a nutritionist. She recommended that I have a blood test for a gene mutation that she felt was the underlying cause of the fatigue and brain fog I was experiencing.”
Constant fatigue may be caused by poor nutrient absorption.
“She was correct — I learned that I have two copies of a gene mutation that inhibits my ability to metabolize vitamins B and D. That means my body can’t convert the vitamins into necessary nutrients unless I take them in a bioavailable form. My gene mutation is known as MTHFR, and in addition to making it harder for my body to absorb vitamin D, it can also lead to an increased risk of conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
“The nutritionist explained that because of the mutation, I can’t absorb most synthetic forms of vitamins B and D, and some forms can be bad for me, so I have to pay close attention to foods that are ‘fortified,’ which means they don’t contain the type of vitamin D my body can absorb. Once I started reading labels, I learned there are a lot of fortified foods, like orange juice, milk, cereals and oatmeal.
“My physician reviewed the blood test results and agreed I should take bioavailable supplements, which would ensure the nutrients get into my system quickly. So I started taking vitamin D with vitamin K-2 in an isotonic form, which has a very high absorption rate. I typically take a supplement that delivers 5,000 IU of D and 45 mcg. of K-2 daily.”
Methylation affects many women.
If you have chronic fatigue and experience two or more of the symptoms below, impaired methylation may be blunting your body’s ability to properly use energizing nutrients. Here’s a quick checklist of symptoms that could be indicative of a biochemical imbalance.
- Brain fog (foggy thinking)
- Digestive difficulties
- Muscle/joint pain
“The body process known as methylation is crucial for nutrient absorption, plus it assists in detoxification, mood regulation, immune function and DNA repair,” notes Taz Bhatia, MD, author of Super Woman Rx (Buy from Amazon for $26.99). So when the process falters, it can lead to anxiety, blue moods, brain fog and fatigue. “And while as many as 50 percent of women have a genetic variation in the MTHFR gene, which hinders methylation, the process declines due to aging in everybody,” says Mark Hyman, MD. The result: More than 90 percent of women over 40 suffer from poor methylation to some degree.
Poor methylation impedes the metabolism of energizing vitamins B and D. Doctors can diagnose poor methylation with genetic testing and blood tests. But since methylation problems are so common, all women can benefit from the following:
1. Supplement with 4,000 IU of D-3.
This can enhance methylation by 66 percent within 16 weeks, according to a Medical College of Georgia study. To get the perks, choose an oil-based capsule, which lifts D-3 levels 48 percent more effectively than tablets, since fats in the oil boost absorption. To try: Nature’s Way Vitamin D3 softgels (Buy from Amazon, $9.97).
2. Load up on B vitamins.
Dr. Taz advises eating 1 to 2 servings of spinach, romaine, kale, cabbage, broccoli, berries, oranges and grapefruit daily. They’re packed with methylfolate, a B vitamin that’s readily used by the body. Also smart: Take 50 micrograms (mcg) of methylcobalamin (a bioavailable form of B-12) daily and 400 to 800 mg of methylfolate rather than folic acid, a synthetic form of the vitamin that up to 74 percent of poor methylators can’t process.
You might think your constant fatigue is due to circumstantial things in your life, but never underestimate the importance of checking to make sure your body itself is in proper working order. If we have a biochemical imbalance, lifestyle changes like exercise and less stress might help a bit, but won’t fix the actual issue. As always, be sure to consult with your physician if you are feeling ill or unusually tired. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and trust the experts!
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.