A bath can help you to relax and sleep better
One in five of us struggles with fatigue at any given time but problems tend to peak at this time of year as the usual round of parties, rich food, alcohol and late nights take their toll, leaving us feeling lethargic and rundown.
The lack of sunlight during the short, dark days of winter means your brain produces more melatonin, a hormone which induces sleep by making us feel drowsy, so less light in the afternoon leaves us feeling tired and looking for a pick-me-up.
A recent study suggests that some of our most common coping strategies could be undermining our health.
Public health nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire explains: “Many people reach for a sugary snack, caffeine or an energy drink when they are feeling sluggish.
“This may provide an initial short burst of energy but it could mask an underlying health issue and increase the risk of more serious complications.
“Most of us are consuming far too much sugar and this is a major factor driving obesity, diabetes and high rates of tooth decay.”
The European Food Safety Authority estimates that around one in three adults and seven out of 10 adolescents are now downing energy drinks which typically contain caffeine, sugar and the stimulants inositol and taurine.
The World Health Organization warns this is “poised to become a significant public health problem”.
WHO researchers have identified a number of risks associated with these drinks, including palpitations, high blood pressure and low blood levels of calcium which can cause numbness, convulsions and muscle spasms.
There have even been deaths from heart attacks linked to them.
A review of the evidence by Dr Derbyshire, which has been published in Network Health Digest, shows that even health professionals are getting it wrong.
Four out of five student nurses use energy drinks to combat fatigue, more than a quarter report heart palpitations as a result.
She says: “It’s worrying that such an otherwise health-savvy group is not only relying on these drinks but also ignoring clear warning signs, such as palpitations, that they could be harmful.
“It highlights the need for a more systematic and evidence-based approach to tackling tiredness.”
She adds: “There are a number of strategies that may help to relieve what doctors call TATT – feeling tired all the time.”
Out of iron? More than a quarter of women aged 19 to 64 and almost half of all teenage girls are not getting the minimum recommended intake of iron which is essential for transporting oxygen around the body and maintaining energy levels.
Caffeine o’clock: Coffee in particular may disrupt sleep if you drink it close to bedtime.
Dr Derbyshire says there is evidence this could set up an energy-sapping cycle by disrupting circadian rhythms and loss of sleep which will exacerbate any feelings of fatigue.
Curly kale is a vegetable full of iron
Tea is much less of an issue as it has half the caffeine of coffee.
B good: B vitamins, particularly B6 and B12, play an important role in energy metabolism but as we get older our bodies become less efficient at absorbing them.
“Older patients reporting problems with tiredness should ask their GP about B12 screening,” she advises.
Water way to go: Dehydration increases feelings of fatigue as well as tension and anxiety.
Dr Derbyshire says that ideally men should aim for around 2.5 litres of water a day and women 2 litres but this can also come from foods, such as fruit and vegetables which have a high water content as well as non-alcoholic drinks, including tea and herbal infusions.
Sleep right: Dr Derbyshire says: “There is sleep and there is good-quality sleep.
Caffeine may disrupt sleep if you drink coffee close to bedtime
“Having a hot bath or doing something relaxing before bed and avoiding eating late at night may help to improve sleep quality.”
If you have ruled out these potential problems, studies suggest that ginseng can provide a natural lift and support energy levels, as long as it’s the right one.
Dr Derbyshire says: “There are several different species of ginseng which may help but the strongest evidence relates to Panax ginseng.”
Panax ginseng, which is also known as Korean ginseng, is used in the Red Kooga range of supplements and contains more than 50 different ginsenosides – plant chemicals with a wide variety of pharmacological effects.
Dr Derbyshire says: “The anti-fatigue activity appears to stem from ginseng’s ability to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol which suggests ginseng can also influence tiredness linked to tension.
“Animal studies have found it also reduced fatigue associated with exercise.”
Men should drink around 2.5 litres of water a day, while women two litres
A trial in women with multiple sclerosis found those who took 0.25g of ginseng a day for three months reported less fatigue and doses of 0.8g improved fatigue and sleep in patients with cancer-related fatigue.
Dr Derbyshire reveals: “Other reported benefits include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity and anti-tumour effects.”
There is also growing interest in combining ginseng with other plants and nutrients.
A blend of ginseng and ginkgo biloba has been shown to improve memory, another study found ginseng and guarana lifted cognitive performance and ginseng and a multivitamin improves fatigue and cognition.
A blend of ginseng and ginkgo biloba has been shown to improve memory
And unlike caffeine, which can cause heart problems at high intakes, ginseng appears to have cardiac benefits too as ginsenosides improve vascular function and blood flow, reduce blood pressure and protect the heart.
Dr Derbyshire says: “If you are consistently tired you should seek advice from a medical practitioner.
“However, if it’s a seasonal slump, or the daily stresses of modern life that appear to be taking their toll, ginseng is worth considering.”
● For more information visit redkooga.co.uk.