Ask The Doctor: Lethargy and Diet

I’m feeling lethargic and just not very happy. Could my diet be to blame?
By Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Absolutely. In a nutshell, you want to feed your body, use it, and give it adequate rest. Before tackling the diet question, I want to make sure you’re getting enough exercise, fresh air, and plenty of sleep. On top of that, make time for those you love as well as yourself. Now, back to your diet. Here are several things to consider:

• Get enough water. Not drinking enough water is a very serious and commonly overlooked problem. Chronic stress can suppress a master gland in the brain called the hypothalamus. This can make it harder to hold on to water because of a drop in the anti-diuretic (anti-peeing) hormone, and then your need for water increases. Take a moment to notice if your mouth or lips are dry. If so, you are dehydrated and need to drink more water. No need to count the number of glasses of water you drink—who can remember to do that? Simply notice if your mouth or lips are dry, and drink water when they are. Keep a glass or bottle of good quality water with you. Water tastes good and can be a major energy booster when you’re dragging.

• Get proper nutrition. Giving your body proper nutritional support is critical to feeling good. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. On the other hand, worrying about everything you eat can make you crazy and promotes neither health nor happiness. I recommend that you limit the amount of sugar you eat. This doesn’t mean giving up chocolate or treats. It means keeping those things that give you the most pleasure. Choose a small portion of your favorite sweets, for example, and then walk away from the serving dish, savoring and enjoying the taste thoroughly. Avoid things without much benefit like sodas, which are high in sugar and caffeine—or diet sodas that contain artificial sweeteners. Eating food should be fun and leave you feeling good. There is no one diet that suits everyone. So listen to your body—it will tell you what it needs and what is good for it. Check in again a few hours after eating so you can tell if the food really made you feel good or if it was simply a craving or an addiction.

• Fuel your energy system. The B-vitamins make up the backbone of energy production and transport. In addition, magnesium is a key player in hundreds of critical reactions in the body and is markedly deficient in most Western diets. Many other nutrients, like malic acid (which comes from apples), folate, and several amino acids are also critical for your energy system to work well.

• Feed your brain, too. Brain “fog” is becoming increasingly common in our society. The B-vitamins, especially B-1 and B-12 are critical for mental clarity. Inositol also helps calm anxiety. Many amino acids (proteins) are critical for adequate neurotransmitter levels (serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine). Deficiencies of these aminos and neurotransmitters, as well as many vitamins and minerals, can commonly cause depression. You’ll be amazed at how much happier you feel when you get adequate nutritional support.