Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a defined clinical condition. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is also known as chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome. This is a mysterious medical condition that affects approximately 1 million Americans. The disease has no known cause, and there is no specific test that can measure for it. CFS is basically a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, many other common conditions must be ruled out first, before physicians consider the possibility of this now accepted medical condition we call Chronic Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
CFS usually manifests as extreme tiredness or fatigue, which cannot be alleviated with normal sleep patterns. Symptoms may intensify after physical exertion. The following appear to be the most common symptoms according to database surveys on this unique condition:
- fatigue that lasts 6 months or more
- muscle aches
- short term memory loss
- joint pain
- sore throat
- tender lymph nodes
- sleep disturbances
- psychological elements like depression
Nutritional supplements may play a role in alleviating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms and enhancing energy levels. CFS patients are often deficient in several vital nutrients due to poor dietary food choices and lack of supplementation.
WHO IS AT RISK FOR CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) primarily affects women between the ages of 25-50 years but can affect anyone. While the cause is unknown, it can be triggered by several factors, including infections, Epstein Barr virus (EBV), mental or physical stress, nutrient deficiencies, immune system abnormalities, allergies, hormone imbalances, and low blood pressure. It tends to run in families, so some researchers have hypothesized there may be a genetic predisposition involved.
CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME IS OFTEN MISDIAGNOSED
A physician’s role in diagnosing CFS can be challenging because reliable testing is limited, and CFS symptoms are very similar to those of other conditions. The CDC estimates that only 20 percent of people with CFS are correctly diagnosed by their primary care physician. A patient may be told they have any number of diseases, including depression, Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, mononucleosis, or hypothyroidism, which all present with a similar clinical pattern.
WHAT CAUSES CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME?
There is not one known specific cause of CFS. Generally, several factors combine to create the syndrome. Some common factors that may contribute to a diagnosis of CFS include:
- nutritional deficiencies like amino acids, magnesium, and vitamin D
- undiagnosed viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections
- heavy metals, chemicals, or molds
- unhealthy digestive tract
- thyroid issues
- immune conditions
- adrenal exhaustion
- hormone imbalances
- chronic inflammation
- mitochondrial dysfunction
- chronic mental stress
- physical stress
- herpes viruses
A CFS diagnosis can be made only when the patient has suffered from persistent, unexplained fatigue for at least 6 months plus four of the following symptoms must be present: disturbed sleep, short-term memory changes, sore throat, aching or stiff muscles, multi-joint pain without swelling or redness, headaches, persistent feeling of illness for at least 24 hours after exercise. CFS does tend to arise suddenly in otherwise active individuals. Many people who have CFS feel their concerns are initially dismissed by physicians, friends, and family which may also contribute to a feeling or sense of isolation. Once diagnosed, the symptoms may fluctuate, but usually, CFS is not a progressive disease. Most people tend to improve or get better by degrees, and some will fully recover.
REGAINING ENERGY WITH NUTRITION
Most people with CFS seem to gradually improve over time. It appears the best approach is to boost energy levels and support the immune system as much as possible. Several nutrients have been suggested to be deficient in people with CFS including but not limited to: B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and essential fatty acids including omega 3 fish oils or flaxseed oil.
FIGHTING FATIGUE WITH NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Some studies have looked at nutrients or hormones with immune-boosting properties and found promising results. In one study conducted at the University of Iowa with 155 patients diagnosed with CFS, nutrient depletion was found to be the common link to many of the symptoms in CFS in this group. The supplements most noted and proven to enhance and increase energy levels include:
COQ10 – this is a potent antioxidant that aids in metabolic reactions, including the process of forming ATP (the molecule used by the body for energy).
DHEA – also singled out for its ability to help with CFS. This valuable hormone primarily produced by the adrenal glands has been shown to improve energy levels in chronic fatigue individuals.
ADREBOOST – this blend of vitamins and herbal medicines increase the adrenal gland to help modulate cortisol levels for increased energy. This is especially beneficial in people with hypothyroidism (low thyroid).
B-COMPLEX – most notable is that vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are consistently low in patients with CFS. Energy levels and stamina are generally noted to be improved.
GLUTATHIONE – this is the most potent antioxidant that we know of. It helps prevent damage to DNA and RNA, detoxify heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium, and also boost immune function. Low levels of glutathione, which is frequently seen in CFS, has been associated with muscle fatigue and muscle aches.
LIPOIC ACID – this antioxidant helps with the absorption of both CoQ10 and glutathione, as seen above. It is known to help with neuralgias or numbness and tingling sensations.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS– these are the important fatty acids that cannot be made by the body. These are instrumental in producing new cells, increasing blood flow and circulation, and have some natural lubrication properties. Best known in this group is Omega-3 fish oils with the proper ratio of EPA to DHA.
MAGNESIUM – this essential mineral, which is lacking in 80 percent of adults, participates in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. It also provides benefits in muscle recovery, calms the nervous system, and helps support healthy sleep patterns and digestion.
GLUTAMINE – this essential amino acid is particularly useful for the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract to increase energy metabolism and enhance gut motility, which converts healthy foods into energy.
Since CFS is a complicated illness with few clinical studies to validate the best therapeutic treatment approaches, many patients will start their first-line therapy with nutritional supplements to help support the immune system and, at the same time, enhance energy levels. It is always recommended to contact your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that resemble CFS, especially if extreme fatigue prevents you from fully participating in activities at home, work, or school.