tired woman working

Overcoming fatigue: Advice from Jack Challem

According to health educator Jack Challem, there are five factors that contribute to fatigue. Find out what they are and what you can do to minimize their impact.

Jack Challem is a health educator and author who has written a number of books on health issues including his latest, No More Fatigue. He is also a columnist for Alternative & Complementary Therapies.

Functional Ingredients: Jack, why are people so tired?

Jack Challem: It's really five principle factors. One leads to the next. The lynchpin issue is stress. We are basically running on fumes. When we're stressed we skip meals, our dietary habits suffer. Stress is the first circle of fatigue; diet is the second one. Changes in hormones, primarily adrenal and thyroid hormones, are the third circle.

The fourth one is chronic illness and medication. We're a very heavily medicated society. The fifth circle of fatigue is the aging process, which catches up with all of us at one time or another regardless of what we do.

Fi: So it's not just me! Everyone has this.

JC: Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint that doctors hear from their patients. Typically the way a person deals with that is by consuming more caffeine. It 's a stimulant, and it certainly works like that, but it's not a solution. People really have to go back and think about which of these five circles of fatigue is their primary cause. More often than not it's stress.

This increase in coffee consumption really began with the high tech boom in the 1990s and Starbucks' growth tracks right with that. A 20oz-size Starbucks has 500 milligrams of caffeine. At 500mg, you're talking about a drug. What happens over a number of years is the coffee stimulates us and we go into adrenal fatigue and we literally crash.

Fi: In addition to dietary changes are there supplements that help with that sort of thing?

JC: What I like to focus on are the mitochondrial nutrients. All the B vitamins have roles in stimulating mitochondrial activity. Basically this is what converts blood sugar and fat to energy. [Alpha] lipoic acid, carnitine, coenzyme Q10, these are other key players.

Fi: Diabetes is growing by leaps and bounds. Are there supplements that address that as well?

JC: Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes are causes of fatigue as well. When people are eating too many sugars their blood sugar and their insulin will go up and set the stage for this chronic fatigue. Based on the current research, my favorite is silymarin. What the studies show is taking 200 mg three times a day leads to improvement in blood sugar, insulin, sugar in the urine, improvements across the board. This is specific to silymarin, not the whole milk thistle. Other supplements: chromium, magnesium. Biotin—a lot of people don't pay attention to this little B vitamin, but it is very important in regulating blood sugar.

Fi: I have recently seen some extremely beautiful photographs you've taken. How did you get into photography, and what inspires you?

JC: I have been doing photography almost as long as I've been writing. It provides balance in my life. Sometimes when I'm really busy with writing the photography gets shortchanged. I'm trying to reestablish a little better balance between the two. I'm submitting portfolios to some of the fine art photography magazines and to galleries. Luckily you can do this on CD now. The state of digital photography and inkjet printing has taken leaps forward over the last five or six years. I'm finding between my computer and a high-end photo printer I have much more control over the image than I did in the darkroom years ago.