Are you constantly exhausted? The cause may be more complex than you think.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex illness affecting the brain and body. It is characterised by incapacitating fatigue that is not relieved by rest, and any of the following symptoms for at least six months:
- Impaired short-term memory or concentration significantly affecting daily life
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes in the neck or underarms
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain with no associated swelling or inflammation
- Persistent headaches
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Feeling unwell for more than 24 hours following physical exertion
Other common symptoms include: abdominal bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, night sweats or chills, brain fog, dizziness, shortness of breath, visual disturbances, irregular heartbeat or palpitations, jaw pain and multiple allergies or sensitivities to foods, alcohol, chemicals.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is more common in women than men.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown and there are no specific tests to confirm diagnosis. It is believed to be triggered by a combination of genetic mutations and environmental influences.
Multiple triggers may be involved, such as viral infection, stress, nutrient deficiency, toxins, and hormone imbalances. Examples include:
- Chronic infection with viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6, and cytomegalovirus; or bacteria such as Borrelia causing Lyme disease.
- Immune dysfunction, such as the inappropriate production of inflammatory substances.
- Decreased levels of the hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, may predispose to inflammation and activate immune cells.
- Thyroid disorders have also been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome.
- An exclusion diet can be useful to identify potential food triggers. Exclusion diets are best undertaken under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
- Staying hydrated is important to minimise fatigue and ‘brain fog’
- Removing caffeine and sugar-based foods helps to keep energy levels on a more even keel.
- A high intake of vegetables daily optimises nutrient intake. Including as many different colours as possible ensures a broad range of nutrients – “eating the colours of the rainbow” every day.
- Include healthy fats to provide energy and reduce inflammation – oily fish, walnuts, avocados are excellent examples.
It is important to keep exercising in order to keep muscles strong and prevent a worsening of fatigue. The most important thing is to create a moderate exercise plan which starts with a short and simple routine, such as one minute of activity followed by three minutes of rest.
As the routine becomes more manageable, increase the total duration whilst maintaining the rest breaks in between. If there is at any stage a worsening of symptoms, drop back to the last level of exercise that was well tolerated.
Nutritional Supplement Treatment Options
A number of nutritional supplements have been found to help the symptoms of CFS:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause fatigue. A number of research studies have shown that CFS patients respond well to supplementation of vitamin B12, or B12 with folic acid. These studies generally involve injections of vitamin B12. B12 can also be taken orally but higher doses are required due to poor absorption.
- Vitamin B6 – Research has shown that people with CFS have reduced levels of available B-vitamins compared to healthy controls, particularly vitamin B6.
- L-carnitine is responsible for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria – the engine-room of the cells – allowing these fatty acids to be converted into energy.
- Some people with CFS have a deficiency of carnitine and this has been linked to muscle fatigue and pain and low tolerance to exercise.
NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide)
NADH is an activated form of vitamin B3 that plays an important role in the production of energy in the cells. Trials have shown that some people with CFS who take NADH have less fatigue and improved overall quality of life.
Many patients with CFS are found to be deficient in magnesium and report significant improvements in their symptoms when magnesium is supplemented into the diet.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another compound found naturally in the mitochondria. CoQ10 is involved in the production of cellular energy and is also an antioxidant. Surveys have shown that a high percentage of people with CFS feel an improvement in energy when taking CoQ10.
EPA/DHA – Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that people taking Omega 3 had significant improvement in chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms compared to those taking placebo.
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