Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an emerging illness characterized by debilitating fatigue, neurological problems, and a variety of flu-like symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control officially recognized this condition in 1988 and it is more common in women than men. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not classified as a disease, but the term is used by many health care providers when a patient experiences unexplained, persistent fatigue for more than six months. Symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Persons with CFS must often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of illness. In some cases, CFS can persist for years. Severity can vary between getting unusually fatigued following stressful events, to being totally bedridden and completely disabled. The symptoms will tend to come and go over time. There are many symptoms associated with chronic fatigue, but disabling fatigue and exhaustion are most prominent. Many other symptoms will also be present, however they will vary among different patients. These include:
•Significant impairment in short-term memory or concentration
•Headaches of a new type or severity
•Joint pain without redness or swelling
•Tender lymph nodes
•Poor quality of sleep
•Exhaustion lasting more than a day after exertion
•multi-joint pain without swelling or redness
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown and there are no specific lab tests to diagnose this condition. Multiple triggers may be involved, such as viral infection, hyper-reactive immune system, stress, nutrient deficiency, toxins, and hormone imbalances.
The cause or causes of CFS is complex, and no two persons have exactly the same set of causes. There are several medical conditions that could also cause prolonged fatigue, and the diagnoses that need to be ruled out include: depression, Epstein-Barr disorder, long-term autoimmune disease, pregnancy, sleep disorders, anemia, cancer, hepatitis, and diabetes, in addition to non-medical causes such as extreme exercise and excessive stress. In many cases, a high-stress event seems to “trigger” the illness. For a slight majority of patients, the illness begins suddenly as though one had come down with the flu, except that this “flu” doesn’t seem to completely go away. For many other patients, the onset appears gradually over a long period of time. The degree of severity can differ widely among patients, and will also vary over time for the same patient. A physical exam will generally reveal only subtle abnormalities, typically lymph node tenderness or throat inflammation. Laboratory tests will most likely be normal. Physicians will frequently rule out other possible causes of the fatigue and if nothing can be found, the patient will often be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome by exclusion.
Treatment for CFS
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment or universally reliable cure. It seems that the best predictor of improvement is to remain as active as possible. It is important to have a physician who is sensitive to the syndrome. The following treatments have been shown to be beneficial for many patients:
Exercise- Some studies have shown that those who engage in exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, actually feel less fatigue and an improvement in normal functioning. Aim for 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days a week. Do not over-exercise; maintain a moderate-to-low pace.
Stress-reduction exercises- Perform breathing exercises daily and practice a relaxation technique such as yoga or meditation on a regular basis.
Be selective about support groups for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Seek those that are positive and avoid those who give you ideas for new symptoms and convey the impression that the disease will be with you for the rest of your life.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)- It can help you regain a sense of personal control, improve physical functioning, and reduce fatigue.
Do not despair! Chronic fatigue syndrome is not a lifelong malady. Many patients recover well after one to five years of feeling ill. Do not expect to wake up cured one wonderful day. Do expect to have ups and downs, with the downs becoming less severe and less frequent.
Get enough sleep- Sleep deprivation is one of the most common reasons for fatigue.
Be active- You need to expend some energy every day in order to have more of it.
Nutrition and Supplements
Your dietary choices have a direct effect on your energy levels. A poor diet–such as one high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in essential nutrients–can lead to exhaustion or extreme fatigue.
When you don’t get enough of the nutrients your body needs to function, you can easily become exhausted. A healthy diet gives you the energy you need and helps strengthen your immune system to prevent exhaustion and illness. The best diet consists of foods that are rich in nutrients, such as:
Vitamins A, C and D
Saturated fats raise cholesterol, causing poor circulation and stress on the heart. To reduce saturated fats in your diet, avoid red meat, high fat dairy products and fried foods.
Nutrient-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Nuts, seeds and cold-water fish contain healthy fats that can counteract the effects of saturated fats and balance the body’s cholesterol.
Chronic fatigue, as well as a host of other diseases, may be caused in part by oxidants or free radicals which are toxic byproducts that build up in the body. They can also result from exposure to cigarette smoke, sunlight or pollution in the environment.
The following nutrition tips and supplements can also be helpful for CFS:
•Stay hydrated– Be sure to drink enough water every day; Not drinking enough water can cause or contribute to fatigue.
•Avoid excessive levels of caffeine, refined sugar and alcohol.
• General antioxidant vitamin formula- Antioxidants are substances that remove oxidants from the body. Many are found naturally in foods, particularly in fruits and vegetables, but they may be added to your diet through supplementation. Some important antioxidants include vitamins C and E and carotenoids like beta-carotene and lutein.
•Coenzyme Q10 – (Co Q10) is a compound found naturally in the mitochondria, the energy-producing center of our cells. Co Q10 is involved in the production of ATP, the main energy source of body cells. Co Q10 is also an antioxidant.
•B vitamins – help support adrenal function, help calm and maintain a healthy nervous system, and are necessary for key metabolic processes. Vitamin B12 is important to DNA synthesis and maintaining healthy nerve cells.
•Ginseng – eleuthero ginseng can help boost and maintain energy levels. Ginseng is an herb that has been used in Asia for centuries to increase energy and combat fatigue.
•astragalus root – has antiviral and immunity-enhancing properties.
•Garlic – Garlic is a very powerful natural antibiotic. It is good for treating general infections of all types, plus it works wonderfully against fungus and yeast related growth problems. Garlic will also help normalize your body’s blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
•Cayenne – is an herb which stimulates your body, and this increases the speed at which your body is able to heal. it is an excellent herb to combine with other infection fighters – such as garlic, so their healing effects are enhanced. Cayenne can also help with improved energy levels, and it also helps to regulate blood pressure.
•Kelp – is an herb, or seaweed, which is very high in natural iodine. This natural iodine helps regulate your thyroid, which can help combat viral bacteria in your body, and regulate your energy levels. Kelp is also very high in other essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, trace minerals, and many of the B vitamins too.
Alternative Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There are a number of medications that are used to treat the various symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although medication may be prescribed to address the various symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, there is currently no known conventional treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome,which is why many people seek complementary and alternative treatments.
At the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine, our approach to Chronic Fatigue varies from patient to patient depending on the symptoms and severity. We begin by doing a thorough health history and health assessment to try and determine what the underlying cause might be. We then devise a treatment plan based on those findings. To learn more about our treatment methods or to schedule an appointment, please contact The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine at (407) 355-9246. Also check our website under ‘Areas of Expertise’ to learn more about Chronic fatigue and our approach to treatment.