Fatigue is an incredibly common symptom of ill health; up to 30% of patients complain to their doctors of symptoms of fatigue, with a wide variety of possible causes. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), formerly known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a much rarer condition and describes a health problem where levels of fatigue are often so debilitating that they prevent sufferers from continuing with their normal daily life. CFS sufferers often have to take a significant period of time off work, since ‘rest and recuperation’ are the main ‘treatment’ recommendations given by medical doctors.
Whilst it is still a relatively rare health problem, the worrying news is that the incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome is increasing. The good news is that nutritional strategies may be effective in addressing the root causes of this health problem.
Symptoms of CFS include fatigue for 6 months or more and experiencing other problems such as muscle pain, memory problems, headaches, pain in multiple joints, sleep problems, sore throat and tender lymph nodes. CFS is most common in women in their 40s and 50s, but anyone can develop CFS and it can last for years. Since other illnesses can cause similar symptoms, CFS is typically hard to diagnose.
Unfortunately, there is no single definitive answer to this question. Prevailing medical opinion today is that CFS may be a common endpoint of disease resulting from multiple causes such as viral infection, traumatic conditions, stress and toxins among other causes. Medication is often prescribed to treat symptoms of pain, sleep disorders and other problems, but does not address any underlying cause(s).
From a nutritional perspective, we do know that there are likely to be a wide range of underlying causes. Your health care practitioner can help to identify underlying causes and support these with tailored nutritional interventions.
Symptoms reported by CFS sufferers are similar to the hallmarks of Gulf War Syndrome, which is now widely believed to be the result of exposure to organophosphate pesticides, coupled with the effects of nerve gas protection tablets. Studies have now found high levels of environmental pollutants in the blood of chronic fatigue patients. Studies have also shown chronic fatigue syndrome to be responsive to a nutritional treatment programme, which focuses on supporting optimal detoxification processes.
Stress has become the leading health problem in Western society and as a society we are suffering from an epidemic of stress-related health problems. Significant physical or emotional stress is commonly reported in patients with CFS. Supporting a balanced stress response through targeted nutritional intervention is therefore a key part of any CFS treatment strategy.
Studies have shown that people with CFS are more likely to have a history of allergies than healthy controls. A low allergen diet is therefore recommended as part of any treatment strategy in individuals with CFS.
Maintaining and supporting effective digestion is key to optimal health. Symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, flatulence and constipation can all indicate underlying digestive problems. Like all other processes in the body, energy production relies on a steady supply of essential nutrients and without effective digestion, these nutrients are simply unable to enter the bloodstream and reach the areas where they are most needed. Your health care practitioner will assess your digestive function and recommend additional support if required.
The mitochondria are the key organelles within our cells required to release energy from our food. Effective mitochondrial function requires multiple vitamins and minerals be present to function effectively. Fatigue is a classic deficiency sign of many nutrients, the most consistently beneficial for CFS sufferers is the mineral magnesium. Magnesium has many important functions for optimal health and is commonly found to be deficient in a typical Western diet.
In the process of releasing energy and storing it in the form of ATP our mitochondria are vulnerable to damage from free radicals, hence ensuring optimal availablility of antioxidants is an important strategy for people with Chronic Fatigue.
More recent research has focused attention on investigating mitochondrial membrane function - evidence is available that suggests improvements in energy and symptoms of fatigue are possible through nutritional support of mitochondrial membrane function.