Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Many people turn to supplements to combat the persistent tiredness and flu-like symptoms that characterise this poorly understood and disabling disorder. Although no one knows its cause, a weakened immune system may be a factor.

What it is?

Marked by profound and persistent exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects more women than men, most below the age of 50. Sufferers feel weak and listless much of the time, and often have difficulty in sleeping, concentrating and performing daily tasks; many also have underlying depression. Doctors disagree about whether CFS is a specific condition or a group of unrelated symptoms not attributable to a single cause.

What causes it?

The specific cause of CFS is unknown, but an impaired immune response may play a role in its onset. People with CFS have other immune disturbances as well: about 65% suffer from allergies (as against only 20% in the general population), and some have autoimmune diseases such as lupus, in which the immune system attacks the body's own healthy tissues.

Doctors are't sure what triggers CFS. Many patients recall having a flu-like illness before their fatigue began, and CFS symptoms do suggest a lingering viral illness. Suspected infectious agents have included Epstein-Barr (the virus causing glandular fever) and candida overgrowth (the cause of yeast infections). Other theories suggest that CFS is caused by low blood pressure, brain inflammation or abnormal levels of certain hormones. Nothing conclusive has been proved, however.

What are the symptoms?

  • Continuing recurring fatigue lasting at least six months and not relieved by sleep or rest.
  • Memory loss, inability to concentrate, headaches.
  • Low-grade fever, muscle or joint aches, sore throat or swollen lymph nodes in neck or armpits.

Are there any natural therapies?

The aim is to restore the immune system, so begin with vitamin C and carotenoids. Echinacea can be added to the mix, alternated with the herbs astragalus, which has anti-microbial action (especially on the yeast infections so common in those with low immunity) or goldenseal. For muscle pain, use magnesium, too.

In addition, you can safely include the herbs Siberian ginseng and licorice and the B vitamin pantothenic acid to bolster the adrenal glands, which secrete hormones, such as cortisol, that counteract stress and boost energy. Allow a month for these supplements to take effect.

What else can I do?

  • Try behavioural counselling and relaxation techniques, such as hypnosis or meditation, to manage stress and treat any underlying depression.
  • If needed, use supplements such as valerian or melatonin for insomnia.
  • A great supplement that has yielded much success in treating CFS is Orthoplex Mitolift.

Did you know?

Just one in every 10 000 adults who sees a doctor for fatigue actually has chronic fatigue syndrome. Many more have a condition called fibromyalgia, which can produce symptoms similar to those of CFS.