Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex condition, the exact cause of which remains disputed. It is characterised by persistent, unexplained and disabling fatigue that lasts more than six months. This fatigue causes a significant reduction in previous daily activities, and is made worse by exercise. Mentally, concentration is impaired and short-term memory in particular is poor. Psychologically there may be some level of depression, while physically, CFS presents with sore muscles and joints, a sore throat with some glandular involvement and sleep disturbances.
Chronic fatigue alone may be a symptom of other conditions and it is therefore important to exclude these in order to make an accurate diagnosis. The diagnosis of CFS is very specific and requires at least four of the above mentioned symptoms, all of which must not have predated the onset of the fatigue. A noticeable decline in social and occupational involvement often results, and sufferers generally experience a sense of withdrawal from their normal activities.
There is no one specific cause or risk factor known, but rather CFS appears to have multiple potential factors that lead to the same end point. These include infectious agents, hormonal abnormalities, orthostatic intolerances (symptoms standing that are relieved sitting) plus nutritional and environmental factors.
While nutritional factors are common, fatigue as a result of iron and b12 deficiencies are excluded as a cause. What has been seen, however, is low levels of essential fatty acids as well as L-carnitine and magnesium. These nutrients are essential to the functioning of the mitochondria, the energy production part of all cells. Allergies and systemic toxicity as a result of chemical overload may also be a contributing factor. The integrity of the digestive system, particularly intestinal permeability, should be taken into account also.
Because of the different potential contributing factors, it is important to assess each case separately and treat them accordingly. In all cases, while working to treat the cause of CFS, improving the quality of life involves concurrently addressing each symptom of the condition. Most importantly, this includes addressing the common and defining symptom – fatigue.
Diet may have a positive influence with the removal of all inflammatory foods including processed sugars, known allergens, dairy and gluten. Excluding foods that are nutritionally dense by eating mostly a macrobiotic diet, meaning foods in their whole form, will offer the most energy, providing the body with the most nutrients.
While stimulants such as coffee may be very enticing for the energy poor, they are counterproductive to the long-term treatment of CFS. Coffee negatively affects the adrenal glands and also provides a short-term increase in energy followed by a sudden slump.
Circulatory stimulating foods that increase the flow of blood around the body will provide a natural increase in energy. Try ginger, cinnamon and turmeric for that natural boost in energy that won’t come crashing down. Ensuring adequate levels of protein for energy production and muscle health is also vital. As this is a chronic condition, supplementation will be necessary until nutritional deficiencies are corrected.
Essential to addressing the fatigue is ensuring the mitochondria are functioning well. Magnesium, L-carnitine and CoQ10 as well as essential fatty acids will be required as these nutrients are essential to energy metabolism. In addition to this, any nutrient deficiencies should be addressed.
B12 is essential to cognitive function, mood regulation and immune response, while vitamin C deficiencies can also present with mild depression. It is important for immune response as well as adrenal function. B vitamins are essential for energy production and are best taken as a complex that includes all b’s. In addition to this, complex b12 and b9 may each be taken on its own. Supplementation should always be done under the guidance of a qualified naturopath or nutritionist. Zinc plays a large role in mood regulation as well immune response and optimum levels should be maintained. Probiotics should be considered to ensure the digestive system is well balanced and immunity is optimised.
Fish is a great source of protein. Tuna and salmon are packed with omega-3 essential fatty acids but can potentially have levels of mercury and so should be consumed occasionally. Try other varieties of fish, too.
Apple Cider Vinegar
An anti-inflammatory that will help to break down food, allowing nutrients to be utilised well by the body. Apple cider vinegar provides support to the digestive system as well as the immune system.
Ginger & turmeric
Both great anti-inflammatories, but most importantly will increase blood circulation therefore increasing energy levels. Grate ginger and turmeric root and add them to scrambled eggs for a zingy start to the day.
A great source of essential fatty acids, flaxseed oil is an easy, tasty way to increase your energy as well as your immunity and mood all in one go. Add a tablespoon to a smoothie and see how good you feel.
These are high in folate as well as magnesium, both essential in treating CFS. Add some kale and spinach to your summer salad for extra freshness, making a powerful nutrient-rich dish.
Coconut oil is a great source of immediate energy. Add a drop to tea or spread some over toast in place of butter. The oil present in coconuts is processed by the liver and used immediately rather than being stored.