Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a chronic illness characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for more than six months. This fatigue cannot be explained away by an underlying medical condition. In fact, one of the disease’s principle challenges is that it’s impossible to diagnose with laboratory tests. However, some physicians believe it is closely related to adrenal fatigue or system wide inflammation of the body.
The process for diagnosis usually begins with ruling out possible underlying diseases and chronic conditions … until the only choice left is chronic fatigue syndrome. Left untreated, it decreases stamina, memory and concentration.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can result in strained relationships with friends and family, especially when it remain undiagnosed and/or untreated. Guilt, anxiety and anger are all common emotional responses for those fighting chronic fatigue. (1)
Currently, over 1 million Americans are suffering from this debilitating illness that manifests with a lack of energy and motivation, and women are 2-4 times more likely than men to be diagnosed. (2)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
While the term “chronic fatigue” is fairly descriptive of this crippling illness, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Chronic fatigue often starts suddenly, with flu-like symptoms. But unlike the flu, it can last a lifetime.
In addition to the profound fatigue experienced, other serious symptoms often accompany CFS, such as:
- joint pain that moves from one spot to another
- muscle pain
- poor concentration
- loss of memory
- enlarged lymph nodes
- night sweats
- digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome also experience significant alterations in levels of irritability, mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety and depression. According to a study published in Family Practice, 36 percent of individuals with CFS were clinically depressed and 22 percent had “seriously considered suicide in the past year.”(3)
Simply, the emotional and mental side effects of CFS cannot be overlooked, and treatment must include the mind, body and spirit.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
We still know very little about chronic fatigue, and sadly, the cause is still unknown. While researchers continue to search for the root cause of CFS, there are preliminary findings that hormonal imbalances, poor immune system response, viral infections, chronic low blood pressure and nutritional deficiency are contributing factors.(4, 5)
In addition, research indicates that chronic fatigue syndrome may be linked to oxidative stress, Celiac disease, and food sensitivities or food allergies. (6)
Most researchers believe that it’s a combination of factors that can vary from individual to individual. Viruses that can cause CFS include HHV-6, HTLV, Epstein-Barr, measles, coxsackie B, parovirus and cytomegalovirus. (7)
4 Steps to Overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Conventional treatment protocols treat the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. Often individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome are prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills. In many cases, the side effects from these drugs are actually worse than the original symptoms.
Instead, I recommend the addition of vitamin B Complex, alternative and complementary health practices, a well-balanced diet rich with potassium and magnesium, and the elimination of food allergens.
According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, acupuncture, meditation, magnesium, l-carnitine and SAM-e (S-Adenosyl methionine), show the most promise in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. (8)
Step 1: Eliminate Food Sensitivities and Allergens
More and more research is pointing to a link between food allergies and sensitivities and chronic fatigue syndrome. Allergies to certain foods, pollen, metals and other environmental chemicals may be causing the rising number of individuals with CFS. (9)
According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are linked, and researchers were surprised. In a study of 84 patients that had been referred for “unexplained digestive problems,” nearly all patients (except for one) qualified for a diagnosis of IBS, 85 percent had chronic fatigue syndrome and 71 percent had fibromyalgia. The common denominator, researchers in this study believe, is poor digestion and food sensitivities. (10)
Gluten & Other Common Intolerances
For example, one of today’s most common food sensitivities is a gluten sensitivity. Lactose intolerance, a casein allergy and an intolerance of other common allergens also may be at the root of chronic fatigue. Other common allergens include tree nuts, peanuts, dairy, soy, shellfish and yeast.
I suggestion is to consider taking an IgG (Immunoglobulin G) test to help you determine the foods that you are sensitive to — then you can eliminate them from your diet. By getting rid of your personal known allergens, symptoms of IBS, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue can potentially be relieved.
When ordering the IgG test, be sure to add on a Candida albicans test. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, an astounding 83 percent of participants who followed an anti-candida diet experienced a reduction in their symptoms related to chronic fatigue syndrome! (11)
My candida diet includes foods high in probiotics including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as green vegetables, flax and chia seeds, and unsweetened cranberry juice. It also requires the elimination of foods that feed the candida in the body. These include sugar, fruit, alcohol and grains.
Casein, a protein in dairy, can cause serious allergic reactions. A casein allergy is more than just lactose sensitivity; it stems from the immune system producing antibodies to protect against protein and can cause the body to release histamine. This can cause hives, nasal congestion, wheezing, the swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat, and even anaphylaxis. (12)
Of course, the best way to avoid these symptoms is to avoid casein. This protein is concentrated in high-protein dairy products, including yogurt, milk, cheese and ice cream. However, most individuals will not have a problem with ghee or clarified butter.
In addition, bacteria called H. pylori are believed to be a contributing factor, and they are common in nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. (13) This unfriendly bacteria attacks the lining of the stomach; left untreated, these germs can lead to stomach ulcers.
Researchers found that once H. pylori was out of the body of study participants, their physical and psychological symptoms, including those from IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, got well.
Step 2: Increase Your Vitamin B Intake
According to a study published in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, researchers found a direct link between reduced vitamin B levels and chronic fatigue syndrome. (14)
The study focused on B-6, riboflavin and thiamine, and researchers believe that B-6 (or pyridoxine) is particularly important. Vitamin B-6 rich foods include wild tuna and salmon, bananas, grass-fed beef, sweet potatoes, turkey, hazelnuts, garlic and cooked spinach.
Vitamin B-6 helps to prevent and relieve fatigue, and it supports a healthy immune system. As stated above, some researchers believe that certain viruses play a role in CFS, therefore increasing B-6 levels can be a helpful treatment. B-6 helps supports T-cell functioning, allowing them to more adeptly fight infections.
Importance of Methylation
Methylation is the term given to the process in the body where methyl compounds (one carbon, three hydrogen atoms) are used in the critical functions of the body — immune function, energy production, mood, inflammation, nerve function, detoxification, and even DNA — all of which are challenges in chronic fatigue syndrome patients.
Methylation helps you process toxins, make hormones, and even helps in the production of neurotransmitters such as melatonin. How well your body can methylate effects all of these important areas. Poor methylation can lead to a variety of chronic conditions including certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, digestive upset, mood and psychiatric disorders, and chronic fatigue.
Methylation requires Vitamin B6, folate and B12 in order to methylate and for your body to function at a cellular level. When you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it impairs the methylation process and can cause numerous malfunctions that directly contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome.
It’s estimated that nearly 40 percent of Americans have a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Many symptoms of the deficiency echo the symptoms of CFS. These include a lack of motivation, low energy, poor focus, poor memory, emotional mood swings, fatigue, muscle tension and more.
Vitamin B-12 can boost energy, reduce depression, prevent against neurological degeneration and protect against some types of cancers. B-12 is a critical nutrient that supports the methylation cycle and can help to stimulate improved moods, more energy and better cognitive function. (15)
Vegans and vegetarians are at particular risk for B-12 deficiency, as it’s most commonly found in animal foods. Vitamin B-12 rich foods include beef liver from grass-fed cows, sardines, tuna, raw cheese, cottage cheese, lamb, raw milk, eggs and wild salmon.
To effectively treat chronic fatigue syndrome, the B vitamins are essential. In addition to vitamin B–rich foods, a vitamin B complex supplement can help. Overall, the B vitamins work together to support healthy metabolic functioning, hormone production and vitality.
Step 3: Increase Potassium and Magnesium Intake
Research shows that both potassium and magnesium can help improve the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
In a study published in the UK medical journal The Lancet, chronic fatigue syndrome patients were found to have low magnesium levels that accounted for a low red blood cell count.
In this study, patients that were treated with magnesium supplements self-reported improved energy levels, a more balanced emotional state and less pain. At the end of the six-week study, all patients that were given magnesium had their red cell magnesium levels return to normal. (16)
If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, consider adding these magnesium–rich foods to add to your diet: spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, yogurt and kefir, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
These delicious foods can help you overcome chronic fatigue, one of the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, and support healthy nerve function, healthy blood sugar levels, blood pressure regulation, and much more. It’s estimated that nearly 80 percent (!) of Americans are currently deficient in this essential mineral.
Potassium is responsible for proper electrolyte balance in the body. Potassium-rich foods include avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, coconut water, kefir and yogurt, white beans, bananas, acorn squash, dried apricots and mushrooms.
Symptoms of a potassium deficiency include the common CFS symptoms: fatigue, irritability and muscle cramps. Eating a diet rich in potassium can help to relieve these symptoms, particularly when foods that cause allergies have been removed.
Step 4: Build Peace and Relax
CFS can be debilitating both physically and mentally. Suffering from persistent exhaustion, reduced brain cognition, chronic muscle and joint pain, stress, and even guilt takes a toll on the body, and psyche.
Long-term stress control and relaxation must be a vital portion of any protocol used to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome. While seemingly impossible, it’s imperative that sufferers of CFS do their best to effectively manage stress, and rest.
The Power of Rest
“Rest” means more than just sleep. Dedicate one day per week when you don’t have any responsibilities or commitments. Truly commit to a full day of rest. This gives your body and mind a much-needed respite — helping to fight stress, anxiety and exhaustion. It’s also important during the week, if you are having a particularly difficult day, to not overtax yourself.
While regular exercise supports wellness and helps to diminish stress, individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome need to exercise at a controlled intensity. High-intensity workouts can leave you drained for several days.
Exercise therapy has been shown to help with fatigue, mental clarity and depression in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. (17) According to a study released in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, individuals with CFS were recommended to perform aerobic activities, at the clinic twice per month, in combination with at-home exercises for roughly 5-15 minutes in duration, five days per week. (18)
Chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers commonly experience difficulty with their sleep. In particular, falling and staying asleep, restless legs, nighttime muscle spasms, and vivid (sometimes frightening) dreams. It’s important to establish a regular bedtime routine, which includes a physical and emotional wind-down period.
Yes, this means unplugging from technology —including computers, tablets, television, and smartphones — at least 90 minutes prior to bed. According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the use of interactive technology devices one hour prior to bedtime results in poor sleep and general sleep disturbances. (19)
Make your bedroom a haven for relaxation and escape from the stressors of the day. Your bedroom should be cool in the evenings to help facilitate sleep, and the lighting shouldn’t be too harsh. Setting the stage for restful sleep really is half the battle to fall asleep fast and stay asleep.
Essential oils are wonderful to help when you can’t sleep. Try a few drops in a diffuser or dotted on your temples. Essential oils that aid in relaxation and sleep include eucalyptus, lavender, valerian, Roman Chamomile, marjoram, bergamot, clary sage, jasmine and ylang ylang.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, as these stimulants can cause additional restlessness at night. Be sure to exercise at least four hours before going to bed, as exercise can also act as a stimulant and create restless sleep.
Incorporate deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation, yoga and muscle relaxation techniques into your daily routine as they can help manage symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. (20) As part of your wind-down routine, especially if you experience restless legs or muscle cramps at night, try massaging my homemade muscle rub into your legs, or take a nice relaxing bath with epsom salts to soothe achy muscles.
Try progressive muscle relaxation during your wind-down period. The goal is to isolate each muscle group, and then tense and relax them. You can start at your head or toes, but many find that working the way up the body is more beneficial.
Start by visualizing the muscles in the target area, and then tense/contract them for five seconds; then relax and exhale through your mouth. Move to the next muscle group, tense/contract them, and then relax. Continue until you’ve completed each muscle group in turn.
This can help facilitate muscle relaxation throughout the body and encourage a good night’s sleep. This process is also great during the night if you awaken to muscle cramps or restless legs.
Take a vacation! A change of scenery is important from time to time, for it allows our body and our minds to recover from our daily lives. Get away with family or friends, or even by yourself, to fight burn out, relieve stress and stimulate closer relationships.
Travelling opens up new doors, changes our perspective, and gives our minds something to focus on instead of our daily tasks. Just like regular exercise, regular vacations and getaways are imperative for long-term health and wellness.
Ideas for soothing retreats include yoga weekends, trips to a dude ranch, a cottage on a quiet beach or lake, or a cabin in the mountains, with a stack of your favorite books.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause a division in relationships, as sometimes people simply do not understand your level of exhaustion, pain, and lack of interest.
After you have eliminated foods from your diet that are causing the symptoms of CFS, and you’ve increased your Vitamin B, potassium and magnesium intake, your energy levels will increase.
Then reach out to your friends and schedule get-togethers where you can catch up, share a good laugh or two, and re-engage. Research has proven that social support is essential for maintaining psychological and physical health! (21)