Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the most mysterious and controversial health conditions of our time. More than fifteen years after chronic fatigue syndrome was recognized and named, medical doctors still argue about its origination: Is it caused by a viral infection? Blood pressure abnormalities? Chronic infection? Food allergies? Chemical sensitivities? Some medical doctors wonder if the symptoms of CFS are indeed real.
Although there are a few skeptical doctors who have their doubts, chronic fatigue syndrome most definitely is real and can also be horribly debilitating. Its predominant symptom is persistent, overwhelming fatigue that dramatically reduces its victims ability to participate in the regular activities of life. Along with the fatigue are problems with memory and concentration. It is also accompanied by one or more other symptoms, including but not limited to headaches, insomnia, sore throat, and muscle and joint pain. These problems can come and go over a period of years. If you have deep fatigue for more than two weeks, or if for any reason you suspect that you have CFS, do not make a diagnosis on your own. See a qualified practitioner so that he or she can rule out other possible disorders. Once other disorders have been ruled out, your best chances of recovery is with the use of natural therapies.
CFS is probably caused by a combination of factors and often results in a depressed immune system. Of course, the key to treatment is to find out and treat the reason(s) for the immune system imbalance, which can be related to many factors. For example, chronic infections are thought to play a role for some people, such as the viruses Epstein-Barr (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and human herpes virus (HHV-6). Other infections, such as mycoplasma and chlamydia, are also suspect. The overgrowth of fungi (Candida albicans) seems to be a common problem for people with this condition, and health practitioners frequently find parasite infection to be present.
One common finding in people with this condition is hormone imbalance. The most common one is adrenal gland insufficiency, also referred to as “adrenal burnout.” The adrenal glands, located on top of both kidneys, produce the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA. These hormones are commonly depleted in people with chronic fatigue, and we find that restoring the levels to normal is generally quite helpful. The same can be said of many of the hormones in the body. Low thyroid function can be a core problem and will result in suboptimal energy production within the cells. In addition, deficiencies in testosterone or growth hormone and deficiencies or imbalances of estrogen and progesterone are common. Underlying much of the hormone imbalance can be hypothalamic dysfunction. This refers to an imbalance of the hormonal and the neural messages from the brain to the adrenal and the thyroid glands and other hormonal organs of the body.
Poor digestion and impaired detoxification also need to be considered as root causes of chronic fatigue. Malabsorption of foods and nutrients contributes to nutritional deficiencies. Environmental toxins, such as mercury and others, inhibit enzyme functions that are required for energy production.
An unhealthful diet can set the stage for chronic fatigue. A high amount of refined carbohydrates contributes to blood sugar problems, yeast overgrowth, increased demand on the adrenal glands, and chronic inflammation, and immune suppression can set in. In addition, a diet of processed foods is deficient of nutrients required for energy production and a healthy immune system.
Also of prime importance are the effects of chronic stress on the body. People who do not deal with mental, emotional, and spiritual stresses effectively are more likely to suffer fatigue. As well, unresolved problems with anxiety and depression contribute to fatigue.
Low neurotransmitters can also contribute to chronic fatigue.
Movement and exercise are fundamental keys to health. Too little exercise contributes to fatigue, while, at the opposite end of the spectrum, over-training and overexertion lead to breakdown of the organs involved with energy production.
A final area worth mentioning is sleep. This is your body’s way of recovering and regenerating. Adequate sleep is essential. If you suffer from a sleep problem, seek medical help and focus on natural ways to alleviate it.
A good complementary care regimen will address the whole body—and therefore many of the possible causes. If you have CFS, it’s important to find the treatments that give you the most relief; what works for one person might not be right for another.
Constant, disabling fatigue is the primary symptom, but CFS usually incorporates several of the following:
- Low-grade fever
- Sleep disturbances
- Depression and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Temporary loss of memory
- Muscle and joint pain
- Exhaustion after even mild exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Sore throat
- Intestinal problems
- Sore or swollen lymph nodes
- Chronic infection (often viral)
- Immune system damage
- Low blood pressure
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Intestinal permeability
- Impaired detoxification
- Parasites and dysbiosis
- Food allergies
- Chemical sensitivities
- Neurological malfunction
- Chronic fungal infection
- Poor adrenal function
- Sleep disorders (such as apnea)
- Hormone deficiencies
- Environmental toxins (e.g., toxic metals)
- Unresolved stress
- Side effects of pharmaceutical medications
- Neurotransmitter deficiency
Your diet should be dense with nutrients and strong in immune-building foods. Sea vegetables and whole grains are high in minerals that your body may lack; cultured foods with probiotics will fight infection, especially candidiasis; cruciferous vegetables are high in nutrients and fiber; and nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish contain lots of essential fatty acids, which support immune function.
Drink a glass of clean quality water every two waking hours to flush out toxins and encourage good general health.
Intestinal pain is an unpleasant symptom of CFS. Keep your digestive tract working efficiently by eating foods that are high in fiber, especially cruciferous vegetables.
Food to Avoid
Individuals with CFS usually have severely depleted immune systems. Keep as much stress off the body as possible by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, junk and processed food, and refined sugars. In addition to taxing the immune system, some of these items aggravate conditions that may cause CFS. Caffeine depresses the adrenal glands, excess sugar consumption can lead to hypoglycemia, and junk and processed foods contain additives that stimulate chemical sensitivities.
CFS is often accompanied by food allergies; in fact, allergies may cause some cases of CFS.
Be wary of wheat. Fatigue is a common symptom of wheat or gluten allergy or intolerance. Talk with your nutrition-oriented practitioner about testing for a reaction to this food. Or, avoid gluten products for two to four weeks, and see if you notice an improvement.
When eliminating processed foods, a good rule of thumb is to watch out for the “whites.” White flour, white sugar, and salt are all hallmarks of artificial or junk food products.
CFS sufferers can grow weary of well-meaning friends and family members who suggest that their problem is “all in your head.” But don’t let exasperation regarding this popular misconception prevent you from seeking relief from depression, tension, and anxiety—all of which are linked in some way to CFS, as either a cause or a symptom. Experiment with several stress-reduction techniques, and practice them daily.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
If you’re ready for a gentle workout, take a yoga class. Yoga relieves joint and muscle pain, and several of the poses help strengthen the digestive muscles. If you suffer from anxiety, consider EEG biofeedback to teach you to control your brainwaves.
- Take a walk every day in the early morning sunlight. You’ll stimulate your immune system, get vitamin D, and ward off the depression and the anxiety that often attend CFS.
- Don’t try to do too much. Listen to your body; when it tells you to get rest, do so.
- Don’t smoke or expose yourself to secondhand smoke. You’ll wreak havoc on your immune system.
- Breathe slowly and deeply to encourage relaxation and to diminish stress.
- Try to keep an optimistic outlook, and focus on a positive outcome.
- Go to bed by 9 P.M. and take a thirty-minute nap after lunch each day.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and feel you may be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, finding a qualified holistic health practitioner in your area can be helpful. They will be able to evaluate your personal needs and help guide you through the process of eliminating your symptoms.
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