Diet For Chronic Fatigue


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition which leaves both your body and mind feeling exhausted most of the time. Your muscles feel weak, and sleep may not refresh you. Many people with this condition are bed-bound.

People with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may also suffer from a permanent muscle pain known as fibromyalgia, and secondary symptoms which vary from one individual to the next, including nagging headache, joint pains and irritable bowel syndrome. In the UK, CFS is also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). It often seems to develop after a feverish illness such as flu.

Energy Production

The body produces energy from food by turning it into glucose, which is processed by the mitochondria–tiny units within our cells where a series of chemical reactions takes place. Energy production can stop if any of these reactions is blocked. Very small amounts of cyanide, for example, can kill because they completely stop one of these chemical reactions. Without energy, none of the body’s processes can take place.

The body does have an alternative method to produce energy. It’s known as glycolysis but is very inefficient and creates a lot of lactic acid. Lactic acid causes muscle pain–the same muscle pain which everyone gets after over-exertion.

What Causes Chronic Fatigue?

It seems likely that toxins are hindering hindering some processes in the mitochondria, but it is not known which toxins these are. Some toxins which are capable of blocking energy production processes include:

  • Toxins from bacterial or viral infections. If it is of the cell wall-deficient type, the infectious micro-organism cannot be detected by normal medical tests.
  • Toxins produced by undesirable bacteria and yeasts which reside in the patient’s intestines. For example arabinose from Candida albicans, and tartaric acid from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Undesirable micro-organisms often thrive out of control after a feverish illness if the illness has been treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy the beneficial bacteria which normally keep them under control. This overgrowth is known as intestinal dysbiosis.
  • Environmental toxins such as organophosphorus pesticides, which are designed to paralyse the nervous system of insects and other pests. Farming communities are especially vulnerable.

It seems likely that dysbiosis plays a major role in chronic fatigue syndrome. One strong indication that dysbiosis is present is the development of food intolerances–getting unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, irritable bowel, joint pains or sinus congestion after consuming certain foods. Chronic fatigue sufferers often have food intolerances. In our experience, food intolerances are responsible for most of the secondary symptoms of CFS.

Nutritional deficiencies can also slow down or hinder energy production. All the processes which take place in the mitochondria depend on nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium and iron. Nutritional deficiencies are not just caused by poor eating habits. The assimilation of nutrients into cells requires energy, so cells which are not producing enough energy can find it hard to assimilate enough nutrients–a highly vicious circle.

Liver And Adrenal Glands

A combination of chronic high toxin/low nutrient levels is stressful to the liver and adrenal glands. To deal with toxins and food intolerances, these organs need extra amounts of nutrients. If the extra nutrients are not available, the liver will be less able to process toxins, and the adrenals cannot calm down inflammatory reactions which result from toxins and food reactions.

Conventional Treatments

In his book Living with ME physician and chronic fatigue sufferer Dr Charles Shepherd says ‘Doctors only play a relatively minor role in any recovery process. What is often of far more importance is how patients learn to help themselves.’

Although there is no evidence that anti-depressant drugs can improve fatigue, they are commonly prescribed because there is a widespread view that CFS is simply a form of depression. A major side effect of anti-depressants is constipation.

Other doctors may prescribe the artificial adrenal hormone cortisone, because the body’s levels of natural adrenal hormones are often very low (this itself can lead to depression). However, cortisone is a steroid, and like all steroids it may cause problems of its own.

Painkillers are usually prescribed for the muscle pain which accompanies CFS.

How Nutritional Therapy Can Help Chronic Fatigue

According to members of the UK patient organization Action for ME, ‘Diet and supplements’ is described as the most effective therapy for CFS. This approach can do many things to support energy production functions and reduce the drain on resources, for example it can

  • Discourage the growth of bacteria and viruses
  • Reduce intestinal dysbiosis
  • Optimize levels of liver enzymes required for the clearance of environmental and other toxins
  • Remove dietary items which provoke intolerance reactions
  • Increase the concentration of nutrients in the blood to force a higher uptake by cells with assimilation problems
  • Supporting adrenal gland function with nutrient supplementation and blood sugar control. Adrenal hormones play an important role in mood, so these measures may enable anti-depressant medication to be reduced.

Diet For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The diet for CFS is in three phases

Phase I: (4 weeks)

1. A diagnostic (base-line) diet to exclude foods to which you may be intolerant. During this diet, a reduction in some of the symptoms which accompany your fatigue is a strong indicator that digestive problems and harmful intestinal bacteria (which cause food intolerance) are contributing to your overall poor health.
2. Maintaining good blood sugar control.
3. An antimicrobial program to reduce harmful bacteria and fungi which may be in your intestines or elsewhere.
4. Liver enzyme and adrenal gland special nutritional support.
5. High-level nutritional supplementation to force an increased uptake of nutrients from your blood, by cells which have assimilation problems.
6. Supplements to enhance the clearance of lactic acid from your muscles.

Phase II: (4 weeks)

1. Testing four of the most common foods which can trigger the symptoms which accompany CFS.
2. Repopulating your intestines with beneficial bacteria.

Phase III: (indefinite)

1. Continued avoidance of any problem foods
2. Maintaining a healthy intestinal environment
3. Careful energy management
4. Continuing any necessary supplements until your energy improves sufficiently for you to wean yourself off them.

Click here for more information about nutritional therapy.

Linda Lazarides is Course Director of the School of Modern Naturopathy and author of eight books on health, nutrition and naturopathy.

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