Overcoming Fatigue with Brooke Schiller

We welcome Brooke Schiller, Naturopath and Nutritionist, to the podcast to discuss fatigue. We cover Brooke's story, what fatigue is, how to recognise it, its effects on our lives and how to overcome it. Listen to the full episode here.
Transcript: 

Amy: Welcome Brooke, to the finding clarity podcast. How are you today?

Brooke: Thank you both so much, Amy and Gordon for having me on. It's a real pleasure to be speaking with you.

Gordon: You are going to talk to us about fatigue and I can't wait.

Brooke: I sure am. It's a big topic. I'm really excited.

Amy: It's a word that you sort of hear a lot, but I've never sort of deep dived into it. So, I'm excited. I guess we wanted to start by asking you how you got into the health industry and what sort of started your career and being a naturopath and nutritionist.

Brooke: Yeah, absolutely. I suppose my journey into the health industry was two-fold. I was originally working in finance and in part, I just wasn't satisfied in my career. I felt like there was more purpose to my days, but I needed to find. And I really wanted to feel inspired when I wake up in the morning. Part of me had been thinking for a long time of what else I could do. And then secondly, I did spend quite a lot of time in my teens and twenties confused about food. So, it had nothing to do with my upbringing. I had a really beautiful country upbringing with homegrown meals and foods, but I just got a bit confused in my twenties and lost my way of how to eat well.

I do remember in my twenties going to see a GP about fatigue, because I couldn't understand why I was so tired. But I was actually just drinking a lot of alcohol, eating really poorly and didn't correlate that, that was contributing. Then it was not long after that, I moved to Sydney and the health industry here is really vibrant. I found that nutrition and naturopathy were actual things that you could study. That was super exciting to me, and I knew that that was a journey I needed to start. So, five years of study later, I'm now working in a wonderful clinic and I really enjoy my day to day. And I think naturopathy is so interesting because it combines helping people with problem solving and lifelong learning. For me, there are three things that really light me up, I suppose you could say.

Amy: You found your purpose.

Brooke: Yeah. I felt like it.

Gordon: To go from finance to naturopathy and to be a nutritionist, it's quite a wide change, isn't it?

Brooke: It's a really different industry. I will admit, I think there's, they have very few things in common except for problem solving. But I enjoy having the background of finance. I think it's very helpful in business.

Amy: You spoke about how you went to see your GP for fatigue. Was that something that inspired you to sort of focus on that topic going through your career?

Brooke: Yeah. I do think in part, in this industry, you're drawn to experiences that you you've gone through yourself. And certainly, fatigue was an initial starting point for me. So that's definitely an area as well. You learn so much about it when you experience it yourself. So, it becomes something that you have a lot of knowledge on.

Gordon: Is fatigue, just being tired? Cause everyone gets tired.

Brooke: The true definition is actually extreme tiredness or weakness that results from mental, physical exertion or illness. So, tiredness is, I suppose one level of it, fatigue is really when it gets to that more extreme level.

Amy: That makes total sense. Is it something that people experience like in waves or is it probably different every in every case?

Brooke: It is different in every case; I think fatigue as in really any other health condition occurs because there's something underlying in the body that's become out of balance. And there's a quote that I really love by someone called Kevin Trudeau that says, “most people have idea how good their body is designed to feel”. I feel like that really sums up fatigue because we're all sort of walking around a little bit tired and its really common place, but we don't know whether that's normal or whether there's an issue there.

Gordon: Yeah. And in modern lifestyles cause we're always on the go and we have access to everything pretty much 24 seven has really accelerated the problem.

Brooke: Oh, absolutely Gordon. I think you've hit the nail on the head there. Our lifestyles these days are incredibly busy, and people don't rest as they used to. We're always on. That in itself has specific ways that it, sort of drains the body and can cause fatigue for some people.

Amy: Do you find that maybe people, now with Covid, I've sort of heard a lot of people talking about how they've working from home? They don't really have an on and off. They don't have their commute to switch on and off the day. The home and work are sort of meshing together.

Brooke: Yeah, exactly. We have work email; people are still replying to emails at 10 o'clock at night and there's no distinction there between the workday and true rest. If you asked people, I think these days, what they did for rest and relaxation people will often struggle to come up with something.

Gordon: It's true. Rest? Is that sleep?

Brooke: Sleep is a form of restoration for the body. But by rest and relaxation, I'm more referring to something where you're not actively doing anything. So, it might be sitting and listening to music or perhaps reading a book or sitting and watching the ocean. Just really restorative things that we can do. Whereas, I think today everyone's constantly busy. They're constantly doing something, they're constantly socializing. It's very rare that we just stop and sit.

Amy: Yeah. I find that even if I'm not actively looking at my emails, I can say always say the notifications come. Your kind of always got it in the back of your mind. You're like, well, what's going on now? You're always ready for something.

Brooke: Yeah. And that's an interesting part and we can talk about that a little bit later. But you know, the stress of being constantly on, reading an email and how our body's responding to that as well, is quite fascinating.

Amy: Yeah, definitely. So, we've sort of talked a little bit about our modern lifestyle causing fatigue. Is there anything else that we could be mindful of that causes it?

Brooke: Whenever I'm looking at fatigue, I always think cover off the basics first. So, in terms of fatigue, diet is really important and in diet I'm referring to protein. Things like meat, chicken, eggs and dairy, you eat your legumes. If we're not eating enough protein in the diet, fatigue can become really commonplace because it's the building block of our muscles. And if we lose this muscle mass, we can get weakness and fatigue. I think the rise of vegetarian and vegan diets can contribute to protein being lower than it should be in a lot of people's daily food consumption.

Amy: Is there a guide for how much protein?

Brooke: Yeah. So, they typically suggest around 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal or approximately a gram per kilo of body weight per day. So, a 60-kilogram person might have 60 grams of protein per day.

So that's sort of a good baseline to go on for protein. And then in terms of other dietary elements, junk food diet, or if you're just not getting the nutrients that you should be can also lead you to be fatigued

Amy: Because we're not giving our body the energy it needs.

Brooke: Yeah exactly. And those sorts of foods, refined carbohydrates or processed sugars are all a bit of a load on the liver. So not only do they not contain the vitamins and minerals that we need, they also can be inflammatory for the body to process on their own. So again, it's a bit of a twofold issue with a diet like that.

A couple of other areas that I think always really good to look at with fatigue is iron and B12. Iron is obviously found in red meat predominantly and B12 is also found in proteins. And they are the two most common pathology reasons that I'd see fatigue in clinic. They're wildly common to be honest.

Amy: Yeah, I've heard that. I suffered from low iron before and you can definitely tell the difference.

Brooke: Definitely. Especially with women, low iron can become really problematic.

Gordon: That's a simple fix as well.

Brooke: Yeah, it really is Gordon. It's a simple fix. But people, unless you look at your pathology, you don't know. I always think that, that's a really easy one to check off.

Amy: A side question that just popped into my head is, is pathology something you should get at a certain every couple of years or when you're not feeling your best?

Brooke: I like to suggest people get pathology done at least once a year and to always request a copy of your results. So, you have your own history. The body is designed to stay quite stable, but unless you're checking in, you don't know what's happening on the inside. I think once a year is a good timeframe to get a check-up and it's quite common.

I don't think they used to give results out that much. So often the GP will just keep them, but I always recommend people have a file of them medical records and they keep every copy that they can. So, it's all there.

Amy: And track the history. That's good advice. Thank you.

Gordon: If someone changes their diet to include more protein, if they're deficient, does it take long for the effects to come through?

Brooke: Interestingly changing diet can have pretty rapid impacts for people if that's what's causing it. If someone were not consuming adequate protein and then they started including enough in their diet, they should feel a difference within a couple of weeks. And, not to say that the fatigue would entirely be resolved, but they would notice a difference pretty quickly.

Amy: So, someone suffering with fatigue, what are the sort of long-term consequences of that?

Brooke: There's so many. I actually have a few more causes, a couple of other big areas to look at, and these are simple ones to take off. Then there are more complex areas that you should investigate, but exercise, sleep, rest, and stress, they all sort of go together. They're all really important. So, if someone's not exercising, it's highly likely, they're going to feel sluggish and fatigued and sleep is a huge area. People often don't realize that they're not sleeping well. They just think that's normal too.

I've heard you talk about sleep before on your podcast. So, you know what a big area that is. But if people aren't sleeping properly, they're going to feel tired and it sounds so simple, but it can really change people's energy levels once they get their sleep working properly. So, they're all a few simple areas. But then if we delve into some more complex areas that people can feel fatigued, one of them is I suppose, the most prevalent in busy cities is long term chronic stress. We talked about stress just briefly earlier, but what can happen is something called HPA access dysregulation. This refers to the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, and this modulates our stress response. If we've been under stress for a long period of time, the body recognizes this and it starts to down regulate our stress hormones, basically as a protective mechanism. Someone who's been really highly stressed for a long period of time and then falls into a level of exhaustion, their body is trying to protect themselves from the damage of high cortisol long term. So, that's a really big one.

Amy: We've done a whole episode on stress as well. That's something that causes so many issues in the body.

Brooke: I suppose lastly, when it comes to fatigue, it's a symptom in a lot of conditions. If something like insulin resistance where we're not using our glucose that we eat effectively in the body, anxiety and depression can cause symptoms of fatigue. Hypo or hyper thyroid can cause fatigue and poor liver health. So, if someone has a fatty liver or some other types of liver conditions that can cause fatigue. Low immunity, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, there's just a whole list, whether that be a symptom of what they're experiencing. That’s why it's really important to get to the root cause of what is causing their fatigue. So, you can resolve that.

Gordon: Is it really hard to do? It sounds like you've got a lot of things to check off.

Brooke: There are a lot of things. I often think getting pathology done can be really useful because as I said, you can check off those basic elements. And then if someone has a condition that I just mentioned in that last section where fatigue might be a part of that, they'll have other symptoms as well, or they might have family history of a thyroid condition. So, doing a little bit of investigating, you can soon get to the root cause.

Gordon: Well, that's really comforting actually.

Brooke: Well, this is what I mean when I said it's quite a big area. But certainly, I think someone will divulge to you enough information and you'll be able to ask the right questions to find out what's causing it for them. And not for everybody, sometimes it's a really challenging thing to try and overcome, but certainly there's a lot that can be done to support it.

Amy: So back to my next question. So, what are the long-term consequences of fatigue? What can that cause in people?

Brooke: Well, quality of life, I suppose, is the biggest one that flags for me. When people are feeling so fatigued, they lose the ability to work properly or see their friends. And so over time it can be quite common for people to develop depression when they don't have the energy to live their daily life. I suppose the other concern is if your fatigue is due to an underlying condition and you haven't resolved this or addressed this, then that becomes a problem in itself. So long term fatigue is really a mental game, I suppose.

Amy: And if you're living with fatigue and then it's actually a symptom of something else going on, the longer you don't address it, the worse it gets probably.

Brooke: Exactly.

Gordon: Are there easy things that we can do to overcome fatigue? Cause we're all too busy.

Amy: In this modern lifestyle…

Gordon: We're all looking for an easy answer. At least I know I am.

Brooke: Exactly. And this is the thing, I think fatigue is one of the areas, it can't be a pills fix. I think if you are someone who's really feeling chronic fatigue, first step is to find the root cause of what's going on for you. So, you can address that specifically. But then for people, I would recommend they look at the simple fixes. So, eating protein in their diet, avoiding inflammatory foods, consider whether coffee is helping your energy levels or perhaps it's actually causing you to be more tired.

There are a lot of herbs that can be really beneficial in fatigue. We have what we call Adaptogens. I think Withania or Ashwagandha is the most commonly known Adaptogens. But there are a number of other Ginsengs and Rhodiola, which are all very good when people are feeling quite tired. If it's stress related fatigue, there are adrenal herbs, Licorice and Remana. They can really help to restore adrenal function for people if they've been under that long-term stress. There's a whole array of nutrients that are really excellent in energy production like magnesium are B vitamins and vitamin C. If someone has been stressed, Zinc, vitamin D and Coenzyme Q 10 is also great for energy production.

There are a few, sorts of interventions that you can look at in terms of herbs and nutrients and then lifestyle, I just think is critical also. So regular exercise, learning how to relax, meditation and stress management. So, something like box breathing. I don't know if you've heard of box breathing, but it's where you inhale for four, hold your breath for four, exhale for four, hold your breath for another four.

Amy: I've done that in yoga.

Brooke:

And it helps to modulate the stress response. So that can be a really good one.

Amy: How long do you suggest doing that for?

Brooke: The box breathing? Good question. Generally, I think around 10 rounds or something like that, it can be used as a short-term tool. So, if you're sitting at your desk and you're reading an email, that's really stressful and you can feel your body is responding to that stress. You can do a couple of rounds of the box breathing just to bring that down and you'll feel it in your body quite quickly.

Amy: Yeah. Very relaxing.

Gordon: And alcohol and smoking, I'm guessing that's not good for fatigue.

Brooke: Yeah. You're a hundred percent right, Gordon. Alcohol is a drain on the liver. Our liver is having to process a toxin. So that is exhausting in itself, but alcohol can also be a bit of a depressant for some people and sometimes depression and fatigue sort of go hand in hand there, cause it's that feeling of sluggishness. Smoking is just its own array, but certainly any of those lifestyle habits are less than ideal if you want to optimize your energy.

Gordon: I guess there's a reason why elite athletes don't do that.

Brooke: Exactly. We have a look at their lifestyle. I'm sure they do their exercise, have their good diets and have their rest days. I think it's all part of it.

Amy: Do you have any tips for people to find that true rest you were talking about earlier?

Brooke: I think it's important to find something that you enjoy because then you're more likely to do that. So, it might be going fishing or it might be even playing golf, like a slow game of golf.

I work at a clinic actually, called House of Health and we have a blog called 100 ways to relax, that's got a whole load of suggestions. It's actually a really great one. It's all sorts of things. I mean, for women, it might be they might enjoy having a bath with Epsom salts in it or putting a face mask on. It's finding things that you find quite calming.

Amy: Yeah, and it would different every time or depending on what's going on and what day of the week it is, it’s all different things.

Brooke: Exactly. But ideally, I think where possible, rest away from screens.

Amy: So Netflix is not on the list?

Brooke: Sometimes TV can be quite relaxing. It can allow people to switch off too. So, everything has its place, but time spent in nature is incredibly restorative for that. A lot of clinical studies on there, actually that could be really beneficial for those experiencing that heightened stress response.

Gordon: What about sex? Is that on the list?

Brooke: Look, I think that would definitely release feel good hormones. So, it's probably more an activity or an exercise as opposed to true rest, but definitely as part of a healthy lifestyle. I think that that is important.

Amy: I want to go back to the quote you said at the beginning of the episode, could you just repeat that again?

Brooke: Oh yes. By Kevin Trudeau, “most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel”.

Amy: I think that's so interesting. I want to pick your brains about how we get to the bottom of that. I think that's another deep dive topic.

Brooke: I think you're right. But really, it's something that I find interesting in. I suppose today's society, it's rare that we sit and take stock of our lives and where we're at and what's working for us and what's not working for us. And I think by doing that, you are more likely to become aware of elements in your life that aren't going as you want them to, or perhaps areas of your health that aren't working as well as you'd like them to.

For me, it's sitting down, taking stock and just reviewing life a little bit to see what is working and what is not. And people can quickly tell you what's serving them and what isn't. Often, I find in consults, you start to talk to people and they will bring up the things that they know aren't serving them, but they're stuck in a habit of doing them. So, it becomes about changing habits.

Amy: And a little self-sabotaging. I know that I do it as well.

Brooke: Yeah. We all do, so easy to do. It's I think our natural response is to stay within our comfort zone. So, anything that's deemed comforting becomes very easy to create a habit around.

Amy: Every time I eat McDonald's I know I'm not going to feel good after. I don't eat it that much, but every few months I'm like, Oh, that was a bad decision.

Brooke: That is a really interesting area, because it comes all about neural pathways, habit forming and why we want things that we know are not good for us. So, it's an absolutely fascinating area, but definitely very common. I'm 90% sure that everybody does the same thing.

Amy: Good that we're not alone. Was there anything else you wanted to add about fatigue?

Brooke: I suppose the only thing that I would add is when we want to identify fatigue, and I have sort of touched on this, but just to make it clear, look at diet, sleep and stress. If it's not there, get some pathology done, have a looking at some common markers that might be contributing, and then go from there. So really the most important thing I think with fatigue is, to find out what's causing it for you and then to treat that.

Amy: I was going to ask you, when do you advise people to go and seek professional?

Brooke: I think if they are sleeping well, if they think their diet is good, if they're exercising, if their stress is managed and they're still feeling tired, that would be a really good time to seek additional help. Or if any of those four things that I just mentioned, aren't working for them and they're looking for a bit of extra guidance, you could seek help then as well.

I think some common markers that can be looked at when you get pathology done is, those iron studies, vitamin B12, Thyroid markers can be a really good one for people. You can also look at your cortisol levels, so AM and PM cortisol. See if the cortisol levels are doing the pattern that they should have, starting high and decreasing throughout the day or whether they're just staying low the whole time.

Amy: I don't know if I've ever had that tested. Can Pathology test tell you those things?

Brooke: Yeah, you can get cortisol done through your general practitioner or through your natural health practitioners also.

Brooke: This is a fascinating test that you can delve into. I tend to work predominantly with just regular Pathology because that's quite a common language between different health professionals, but there are some real fancy tests that you can get into if that's your interest. I hope that has been clear for you and useful in some regard as said it is a big area, so it's quite broad.

Amy: Oh, this was definitely a good starter for anyone who's interested. Did you want to let listeners know where they can find out more about you and your work?

Brooke: The best place to find me is on Instagram and my handle is Balanced by Brooke Scheller. I love sharing health tips on there, but I also work at a really beautiful clinic in Surry Hills called House of Health. We’re predominantly a hormone clinic, but my area of specialty is digestive conditions and Adrenal health. So, that anxiety, stress and fatigue that we've been speaking about. If anyone wants to find me, Instagram is probably the best bet.

Amy: Awesome. Well, I'll link your handle in the show notes.

Brooke: Thank you.

Amy: All right. We'll wrap up. Thank you so much.

Brooke: My pleasure. So nice to speak with you both.


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