Chronic fatigue syndrome is usually defined as the presence of severe fatigue that lasts more than six months. Low-grade fevers, chronic sore throats, and swollen lymph glands often accompany this disorder. Sufferers frequently experience disturbed sleep, irritability, and difficulties with concentration and memory.
This disorder almost certainly has a physical basis and is not “all in your head.” Research in the United States has shown that there is a genetic component to this disorder and that genes regulating how the body handles stress are involved. People with chronic fatigue respond to all stressors–whether physical, like a virus, or psychological–differently than other people. Additionally, there seems to be dysregulation in the hypothalamic-pituitary–adrenal axis, a system that regulates many bodily systems. Other researchers suggest that there is immune dysregulation–as evidenced by the high level of allergies among chronic fatigue sufferers. Majid Ali, M.D., in his book on chronic fatigue, The Canary and Chronic Fatigue has written that without exception, all of his patients who suffer from chronic fatigue have a history of childhood allergies. Other sufferers may have defects in the mitochondria, which are the organelles within the cell involved in energy production.
In his book and on his website, Dr. Ali recommends as the first step, the diagnosis of allergens and their removal from the diet and environment. In particular, he emphasizes the importance of removing mold from the environment. Dr. Majid Ali’s Website has a wealth of other useful advice, much of which requires medical supervision.
If you do have chronic fatigue syndrome, here are some steps you can take on your own:
1. Eliminate all artificial foods from your diet, including dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners.
2. Eliminate all refined carbohydates, including white flour, white rice, sugar, corn syrup, honey, and fruit juice. If you crave sweets, use stewed, unsweetened fruit or brown rice syrup in small quantities.
3. Eliminate caffeine from your diet.
Both sugar and caffeine stress the adrenal glands, which play a key role in energy levels. It is easier to give up sugar if you eliminate red meat from your diet. The reason is that protein and sugar are involved in neurotransmitter production. Protein stimulates dopamine production. Too much dopamine will cause your brain to want more serotonin. Since carbohydrates, particularly refined ones, increase serotonin production, you will crave carbohydrates and send your adrenal glands off on a roller coaster ride.
4. Find food allergens and eliminate them. If you can’t afford an allergist, you can get a rough idea of what you are allergic too by eating only brown rice for five days and then introducing foods one at a time. Be sure that each food you introduce is pure. In other words, if you are testing yourself for wheat allergy, don’t eat bread because it contains substances other than wheat. Try eating pure wheat, which can be found in foods like Wheatena or Cream of Wheat. Be sure that foods don’t contain spices, natural flavorings, hydrolyzed protein, or MSG because you might be reacting to those substances. Be sure to test yourself for spices, which are common but frequently overlooked allergens.
5. Seek out and eliminate environmental toxins. Mold is the most common. Eliminating mold from a house is actually quite difficult. People think of mold as the stuff that grows in the grout between bathroom tiles but these organisms can also grow in air conditioning ducts, ceilings, and walls, particularly if the house has a history of plumbing problems. If you live in a humid area and use air conditioning frequently, be sure that the drain pan is properly connected and that the condensation pipe that removes moisture and brings it outside the house, is not clogged. Once mold has taken root in the structure of the house, it may require the assistance of a company specializing in mold removal. Unfortunately, many insurance companies balk at paying for it. It may be cheaper to move.
If there is a need to use pesticides in the home, try to use the services of a company that is Green Shield Certified as their practices are safer. For more on Green Shield Certification, click here.
6. Install a good water filter, preferably one made of metal and not plastic, to remove contaminants from water. Even if your water does not contain bacteria, it may contain heavy metals and residues from pesticides and drugs.
7. Experiment with the amount of protein in your diet. I have found that eating fish in the morning and carbohydrates at night has made me more energetic during the day and has helped me sleep better at night.
8. Try adding flax oil to the diet because it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and it contains fatty acids that are the precursors to substances that help your body initiate and maintain sleep.
9. Eat a lot of green, leafy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are rich in calcium and magnesium, which are calming and promote good sleep. They also contain large amounts of alpha-lipoic acid, which nourishes the liver and helps it break down and discharge toxins, and a plant form of omega-3 fatty acid which has anti-inflammatory properties.
10. Try eliminating gluten from your diet. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, teff, spelt, and triticale. Research has shown that gluten can lead to severe fatigue, even in people who did not test as gluten-intoleranct.
11. Take steps to improve your sleep. Wear earplugs to filter out noise. Keep the sleeping room cool. Some research has shown that exposure to electromagnetic fields disrupts sleep. For example, a Japanese researcher, Tetsue Nakazawa, has shown that people working with computers have more insomnia (and irritability and depression) than sedentary office workers who don’t work with computers. Other researchers have linked cell towers and cell phone use to insomnia. Oddly, cell phone radiation seems to have no effect on men while if often impairs the sleep of women. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid computers and cell phones for a few days to see if it makes a difference. Unplug your router before going to bed and turn off your cell phone. A later post will discuss shielding electromagnetic fields.
The steps listed above should improve your energy levels but for full healing, the guidance of a physician specializing in chronic fatigue is helpful. A physician should test for:
- Thyroid hormone levels
- Adrenal hormone levels, including cortisol and DHEA
- Sugar metabolism, including the Hemoglobin A1c test, which measures how well your blood sugar has been controlled over the past 3-6 months. This is a rough predictor of diabetes risk
- Nutrient Levels
- Liver Function
A local doctor, Kenneth Woliner, specializes in treating chronic fatigue. He is highly knowledgeable and kind. He treats his patients with respect and exhibits real caring. He also has useful perspectives on thryoid disorders, weight loss, and sleep.
You may also want to consider a night in a sleep lab to test for sleep disorders and tests of mitochondrial function.
Chronic fatigue is a life-long condition but it doesn;t have to be a life sentence of suffering. A natural foods diet, removing toxins from the environment, and professional guidance from a doctor can greatly restore not only your energy but also your joy of life.