What Is The Cost Of Chronic Low Energy?
Having optimal energy levels, alertness, and focus are essential ingredients for optimal physical, mental, and emotional health and thus creating an active, joyous, and purpose-driven life.
Chronic low energy prevents us from being the best versions of ourselves.
When we feel fatigued and foggy, we don't have the motivation to get off the couch and engage in life! We can't be the parents, spouses, employees, business owners, or friends we are capable of being.
Sadly, however, chronic low energy/fatigue has become an epidemic in the United States.
According to studies done by the National Safety Council, 76% of workers report feeling tired at work, 53% report reduced productivity, and 44% report having trouble focusing. The NSC says that chronic low energy/fatigue impacts most Americans and can lead to disaster all too often.
What Are First Signs Of Chronic Low Energy/Fatigue?
Here are some of the initial warning signs of low energy that begin as subtle whispers from the body.
These whispers eventually turn into screams if the underlying dysfunction is not adequately addressed.
Frequent daytime fatigue but often tired but wired at night
Brain fog and inability to focus
Easily mentally fatigued after mental tasks (reading, studying, etc.)
Prone to anxiety/depression
Post-exertional malaise (energy crashes after physical activity)
Chronic body aches and pains
Wake up feeling unrefreshed
Sugar and carb cravings with a need to eat frequently
Low stress-resilience; easily overwhelmed by life's demands
What Is Orexin and How Does It Impact Energy Levels?
When it comes to chronic low energy, there are, of course, many causes and variables to consider but one of the major ones, of which is not widely discussed, is orexin.
Orexin, also known as hypocretin, is a neuropeptide made in the hypothalamus of the brain with significant influence on several physiological processes.
Orexin plays a critical role in modulating:
Our sleep/wake cycle
Our ability to exert ourselves physically and mentally
Arousal and goal-orientated behavior, including sexual arousal
Carbohydrate metabolism, glucose control, and blood sugar regulation
Energy expenditure and metabolic rate. In other words, how well we convert ingested calories into useable energy
Appetite and food intake! When orexin levels drop, we will crave sugar and carbs
Activation of the prefrontal cortex of our brain, which is home to our higher-level thinking skills that allow us to be the best version of ourselves
Autonomic nervous system function. The ANS is the master control center for all involuntary metabolic processes such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, stress response, sexual function, and more
Hormone regulation including but not limited to insulin, glucagon, ACTH (an adrenal signaling hormone), growth hormone, and more!
So, as you can see, orexin is a BIG deal when it comes to maintaining balance in our bodies and our lives!
When orexin levels drop off, we will feel fatigued, foggy, mentally and emotionally fragile, and unmotivated. Under these circumstances, daily life becomes a struggle.
Is There a Lab Test To Check Levels Of Orexin?
The only way to measure orexin levels at this time is to analyze cerebral spinal fluid obtained from a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). This is rarely done for orexin levels and certainly not advisable, in my opinion.
The way I see it, considering the critical role that orexin plays in the body, suffering from chronic low energy is proof enough of low levels. And, having an invasive medical lab test confirm low levels would not change the approach.
No "one" supplement or medication will "cure" or "fix" low orexin levels. Correcting low orexin levels requires addressing the factors that cause it to fall in the first place and bringing the body back into a state of homeostasis.
So, What Factors Influence Orexin Levels? How Can I Support Optimal Levels?
When it comes to supporting optimal orexin levels, here are some important physiological, lifestyle, and nutritional factors to address:
1. Get rid of chronic inflammation!
This is the starting point! When the body is inflamed, so is the brain. Chronic inflammation is a leading cause of orexin suppression.
Chronic inflammation is set in motion by gut dysbiosis, toxin overload, chronic gut and intracellular infections, poor sleep quality, and ongoing psychological distress.
Any thing you do to reduce inflammation will support the production of orexin. The next tips and strategies in this list is a great place to start! :)
2. Move your body in nourishing ways daily!
You can support optimal orexin levels with both rigorous workouts and gentle, consistent movement every hour of the day. Take the elevator instead of the stairs. Park far away from building entrances and use the opportunity to walk. Take a gentle 2-minute walk around your home or office and do some light stretching each hour of the day or as often as possible. Gentle movement between meals is especially important to help prevent blood sugar spikes from inhibiting orexin production.
3. Get at least 15 minutes of morning sunlight within the first 30 minutes of waking each.
Light is a critical environmental cue that profoundly stimulates the production of many essential hormones and neurotransmitters — with orexin being at the top of the list! f natural sunlight is not possible within 30 minutes of waking, use a light box the emulates natural sunlight. The one I use and recommend can be found here.
4. Get rid of excess body fat!
High levels of body fat contribute to both chronic inflammation and leptin resistance. Both of these factors impair brain's ability to produce orexin.
5. Be mindful of carbohydrate and fat intake!
Meals too high in fat or carbs (especially refined ones) and not balanced with adequate levels of protein will cause orexin levels to nose dive. Too many carbs, which convert to glucose, block the production of orexin by telling the brain "there are plenty of energy molecules available so no need to produce more." This is a big reason why people experience energy crashes or "carb comas" after consuming carb-heavy meals. A higher amount of healthy carbs in the evening such as root vegetables, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are likely to support your ability to wind down and sleep better but during the day, they run the risk of blunting your energy.
6. Eat ample amounts of protein at each meal.
Amino acids from protein are needed to build and repair tissue and stimulate the production essential of enzymes. hormones, neurotransmitters, and neuropeptides such as orexin.
Unlike carbs and fats, our bodies do not store protein and therefore there is no reservoir to draw from when we run low.
For sustained support of orexin production, we need a consistent intake of protein throughout the day. Adequate protein is also necessary to block glucose suppression of orexin, as discussed in #5.
7. Consume lactate containing foods!
Lactate is an essential chemical compound that supports orexin production and the brain's overall energy supply. Lactate also helps to prevent glucose surges from blocking orexin production. Some sources of lactate include fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough bread, fruit, exercise (think lactic acid!), lactobacilli probiotics, yogurt, kefir, and magnesium lactate supplements.
8. Consume ample fiber and resistant starch!
GLP-1, a hormone produced in the gut, increases orexin levels. Both resistant starch and plant-based, prebiotic fibers are needed to support adequate production of GLP-1. Examples of resistant starch are bananas on the unripe side and cooked and cooled white rice, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Vegetables that are particularly high in prebiotic fibers include asparagus, Brussel sprouts, onion, garlic, and artichokes.
9. Balance your circadian rhythm!
Our bodies orchestrate life-supporting physiological processes according to the rhythm of the sun and moon (light and dark cycles). When this rhythm gets out of whack, we no longer get restorative sleep. Restorative sleep is our body's most potent antioxidant. Without this antioxidant, we succumb to reduced cellular function and inflammation; both of which inhibit orexin production. To read more about how to reset your circadian rhythm, read the article found here.
10. And finally, take measures to make replenishing your physical, mental, and emotional energy and cultivating a connection with others a top priority.
We are human beings, not human doings. Without passion, play, joy, and connectedness, our lives become bland, and we become less stress-resilient. Numerous studies in the field of psycho-neuro-immunology show that chronic psychological stress and lack of pleasure increase inflammation and inhibit many critical health-supporting functions — including the production of orexin!
Ok! That's a wrap for this article. I hope you found value in it as well as some ideas for practical action steps that you can take to boost your orexin and energy levels!
References & Further Reading:
1. 43 Percent of Americans Admit They're Too Tired to Function at Work: https://ohsonline.com/articles/2017/07/27/43-percent-of-americans-admit-they-are-too-tired-to-function-at-work.aspx
2. Energy Expenditure: Role of Orexin: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4498671/
3. The Physiological Role of Orexin/Hypocretin Neurons In the Regulation of Sleep/Wakefulness and Neuroendocrine Functions: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3589707/
4. The Role of Hypocretin In Driving Arousal and Goal-Oriented Behaviors: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4307927/
5. Orexin System! The Key For a Healthy Life! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5450021/