Colder and darker months are often associated with worsened tiredness and fatigue. Whilst prolonged lack of sun exposure in the winter can potentially impact mood and consequently energy levels, some behaviours we tend to engage in more during winter months such as spending less time outside and indulging in less-than-optimal food choices, especially in the run up to Christmas, can also contribute to these symptoms.
Tiredness and fatigue are common presentations in general practice. Regardless of the time of the year they have to be always taken seriously and assessed on a case-by-case basis.
There are several nutritional deficiencies that can make you feel tired or exhausted. However, when it comes to your health, guessing games is never a good idea. To make sure your energy levels are where they need to be this winter, keep your vitamin and mineral blood levels in check. Lack of energy and tiredness among other symptoms could be signs of the common deficiencies such as iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin B12 anaemia, vitamin D deficiency and folate anaemia.
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common winter deficiency simply because this vitamin is created in our skin through direct exposure to sunlight. We can also get it from some foods although these sources are limited to oily fish, liver, red meat, egg yolks and cereals. This is why it is advised by the government that healthy adults should be supplementing themselves with 400UI of vitamin D during autumn and winter months.
Whilst almost all necessary vitamins and minerals can be obtained from the food we eat, busy lifestyles and festive periods frequently lead to less optimal food choices and those following a vegan or vegetarian diet are at the higher risk of various deficiencies. For example, 11 % of vegans in the UK are B12 deficient since the best sources of B12 are meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. This particular deficiency can result in tiredness and irritability as well as decline in mental abilities among other symptoms. The daily requirement of vitamin B12 for a healthy adult is 1.5 microgram. Those who are deficient require higher doses for treatment.
Folic Acid & Iron
Folate (folic acid) anaemia is often discussed in the context of pregnancy and the importance of folic acid supplementation for foetal neural tube development. However, folate, just like iron and vitamin B12 , contributes to normal red blood cell formation which carry oxygen around the body. Anaemia, (whether due to vitamin B12, folate or iron deficiency) might make you feel tired and experience cold hands and feet, which is definitely not how you want to feel in winter months.
If for any reason you suspect that you don't get enough nutrients from your diet and experience low energy levels you might need to consider speaking to your GP, running full blood tests including essential vitamin levels and then supplementing yourself accordingly. In that order
Abdelaziz Shabaneh, MD, MRCGP, MBA is a Board Medical Advisor at Novomins. Aziz is a GP with a special interest in preventive medicine. He underwent 2 years training in cardiothoracic surgery/ organ transplantation in the university clinic of Essen, Germany before completing his GP training in the UK. He holds an MBA from Durham University with focus on Pharma & Healthcare.