Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) affects millions of individuals each year. It is generally defined as extreme fatigue that lasts for six months or more and does not improve with sleep or rest.
Individuals suffering from CFS may find it difficult to participate or engage in physical activity, and may struggle with concentration, memory, or the completion of mental tasks.
While no laboratory test will diagnose CFS, there are a few theories about what contributes to it. Certain viruses, hormone imbalances, a compromised immune system, as well as high levels of chronic stress are all possible considerations.
Additional factors that can contribute to CFS include:
- Food allergies /sensitivities
- Celiac / Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity
- Hypothyroid / Hashimotos
- Insulin Resistance
- Oxidative stress / cell damage
- Certain medications
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Intestinal permeability / Leaky gut)
- HPA Axis dysregulation / adrenal fatigue)
- Impaired sleep
- An imbalance in energy demand vs energy expenditure
Although there is no definitive treatment for CFS, many individuals are able to find relief through diet modification, gut healing, and supplementation. One key factor to consider is mitochondrial support.
The mitochondria are the main energy source or “powerhouse” of the cells. They are found throughout the body. When they are damaged, less energy is produced. By targeting and supporting the mitochondria, individuals often find that higher energy levels can result.
For those suffering from CFS, it is important to evaluate nutrient insufficiencies related to mitochondrial damage and replete if necessary. A micronutrient test is a great place to start.
The following nutrients are often associated with fatigue and CFS:
- B Vitamins (especially B12)
- Vitamin D
- Fatty Acids
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
To help promote restful sleep and provide additional support, the following supplements have shown beneficial effects:
- L-Theanine – Found in foods like green tea, L-theanine supports healthy sleep.
- Melatonin – A naturally occurring hormone, Melatonin supports restful sleep and supports mitochondria homeostatis
- Magnesium – This amazing mineral has many purposes. Magnesium promotes restful sleep, healthy gut motility, stress reduction and is a natural muscle relaxer. If you want to sleep well, include magnesium rich foods to your diet and either an oral or topical magnesium supplement.
- Rhodiola rosea – A natural adaptogen, Rhodiola has been shown to improve energy levels in those who suffer from CFS.
Finally, look for ways to modify your lifestyle in order to replete your energy stores. I recommend these tips:
- Improve your diet – reduce intake of white sugar and highly processed foods. Adopt a whole foods diet with a high intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins that include organic poultry, wild caught fish or grass-fed beef and non-GMO whole grains. In addition consider the following types of foods that will supply your body with melatonin, tryptophan (a precursor to melatonin), magnesium, and choline.
- Cow’s milk
- Black and red rice
- Poultry (Chicken, turkey)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
- Nuts (Almonds, cashews)
- Peanuts/Peanut butter
- Soy milk
- Beans (black beans, kidney beans, lima beans)
- Brown rice
- Wheat germ
- Brussels sprouts
- Identify food sensitivities and intolerances. Work with a qualified dietitian to identify any potential foods that are antagonizing your symptoms. Do a trial elimination with a food journal and analyze your results.
- Balance your plate with the correct ratios of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to stabilize blood sugar and promote energy balance. Include protein at every meal.
- Be sure to incorporate enough calories to support activity and energy output. If calories are too low to support your level of activity, fatigue will result. Remember that food provides your body with energy and fuel.
- Identify sources of inflammation including environmental toxins, and work to reduce them.
- Identify nutritional deficiencies especially if taking certain medications such as acid suppressing mediations, lipid lowering, oral contraceptives, anticonvulsants, loop diuretics, and anti-hypertensives. I recommend a Spectracell Micronutrient test.
- Strengthen and heal the gut. In addition to removing inflammatory foods, incorporate a probiotic supplement that contains Bifidobacterium infantis, F. prausnitzii, and L. acidophilus.
- Improve sleep; Increase daytime light exposure and reduce exposure to blue light / screens especially at night. Strive for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Consistency is key.
- Reduce stress. Consider deep breathing exercises, daily meditation, delegating tasks, asking for help, being out in nature, laughter, journaling, and seeking out a licensed counselor when needed.
- Begin a steady exercise program. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day of cardiovascular exercise.
For more tips like these to or schedule a consultation with me personally, contact me here.
Ferreira, S. 2018. A dietitian’s guide to assessing and treating fatigue.