Consumer Education
Dr. Nancy

Learn How to Fight Back Against Chronic Fatigue

May 21, 2019

"Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects nearly 25 million people around the world. It is often difficult to diagnose because it has so many symptoms that are very similar to other health conditions."

In today’s live with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutrition, we are going to look at chronic fatigue syndrome. We shall learn more about what it is and what makes it so difficult to diagnose. We will also learn about its most common signs and symptoms as well as some all natural tips to manage the disease.

Video Highlights.

  • 1:15: What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?
  • 4:05: Questions that doctors may ask you
  • 5:31: Symptoms of CFS
  • 10:14: Possible contributing factors to why people get CFS
  • 12:06: Steps that you can take to help deal with CFS
  • 13:37: Eliminate food sensitivities and allergies
  • 16:12: Increase your intake of probiotics
  • 18:52: Increase your vitamin B intake with the right foods
  • 20:51: Increase potassium and magnesium
  • 22:41: Relax
  • 24:21: Exercise
  • 33:48: Focus on getting quality sleep
  • 35:26: Wrap Up

What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is an illness that affects nearly 25 million people around the world. Unlike Lupus and fibromyalgia, it is not an autoimmune disease.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a chronic illness characterized primarily by extreme fatigue that lasts for more than six months, and is not caused by another underlying medical condition. In fact, one of the difficult challenges associated with CFS is that it’s impossible to diagnose it with laboratory tests, making it even more difficult to identify and treat. CFS is unpredictable; the symptoms not only come and go, but they often vary in frequency and intensity.

Since there is not a specific test to determine whether you have CFS or not, doctors assess the presence of symptoms, rule out other illnesses, and carefully analyze changes in lifestyle.

Questions that doctors may ask you

To determine whether you are suffering from chronic fatigue, your doctor may ask you some of the following questions:

  • What are you able to do now?
  • How does it compare to what you were able to do before you felt intense fatigue?
  • How long have you felt this way?
  • Do you feel better after sleeping or resting?
  • What makes you feel worse?
  • What helps you feel better?
  • What happens when you try to power through to do the activities that are hard for you?

While the exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, although there are many theories about what causes it, ranging from viral infection to psychological stress. Some experts believe that chronic fatigue syndrome might be triggered by a combination of factors. There is also growing evidence in the medical community that CFS is closely related to adrenal fatigue, or system-wide inflammation in the body.

Symptoms of CFS

CFS is often accompanied by three primary symptoms, called core symptoms. These are symptoms that are required in order for the condition to be diagnosed. The three core symptoms are:

  • Greatly lowered ability to do activities that were usual and normal before the illness. It is important to point out that CFS isn’t the same as just feeling really tired. It is very severe. It affects each person differently, but some people have really extreme severe reactions. Also CFS isn’t relieved by sleep or resting. You might feel better for a short time after you wake up, but symptoms of fatigue return quickly. The symptoms of CFS become worse or more intense after physical or mental activities that normally would not have caused issues before the illness. Doctors refer to this as Post Exertional Malaise (PEM). However, people with CFS will often describe these as a crash, a spell, or a relapse. These can include: difficulty thinking, problems sleeping, experiencing sore throats, headaches or dizziness.
  • Sleep problems. People with CFS often do not feel better refreshed even after a full night’s sleep. Illness can also interfere with the quality of your sleep by making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

When diagnosing CFS ,and in addition to the three primary or core symptoms, your doctors might also look for one of the following symptoms:

  • Problems with thinking and memory. CFS often make it really difficult to think quickly and can make remembering things and paying attention to detail really hard. This is often referred to as brain fog.
  • Symptoms that become worse when sitting upright or standing, also known as Orthostatic Intolerance. This is often characterized by lightheadedness, dizziness, and weakness or feeling faint while sitting up or standing.

Other common symptoms experienced by people with CFS include:

  • Pain, especially in the muscles and in the joints
  • Headaches
  • Frequent recurring sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes or tenderness in the lymphatic system
  • Chills and night sweats
  • Allergies and sensitivities to food or chemicals

Possible contributing factors to why people get CFS

Why CFS occurs in some people and not in others is still unknown. Some people may be born with the genetic predisposition for the disorder which is triggered often by some combination of factors, such as:

  • Viral Infections — Some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having a viral infection, especially the Epstein Barr virus. Researchers question whether some viruses may trigger the disorder.
  • Immune system problems — The immune systems of people who have chronic fatigue syndrome appear to be impaired and underperforming.
  • Hormonal imbalances — People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, or adrenal glands.
  • Chronic Inflammation — Inflammation correlates with symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome. Studies reveal several biomarkers of inflammation and a sustained immune response in the blood of people with CFS. It appears that inflammation has a direct and profound effect on CFS.

Steps that you can take to help deal with CFS

Like most illnesses, many doctors will opt to treat the symptoms by prescribing medications for pain, depression, and sleep issues. In many cases however, these medications can result in other side effects that actually contribute to or intensify the symptoms of CFS. If you are struggling with what you think may be CFS, try keeping a journal to record important details, including any changes caused by prescription medications. It just makes it easier to look for patterns; it’s quantifiable data that you can see and chart and measure, and then you can share this information with your doctor.

Before you decide on the best way to treat your CFS, or even if you are currently treating CFS with prescribed medication, here are a few natural, easy-to-implement suggestions for you to consider.

Eliminate food sensitivities and allergies

The number of food sensitivities and allergies is on the rise. These changes in nutritional food quality and increase in food allergies that we’re seeing everywhere, are demonstrating more and more that something may be contributing to the increase in recent cases of CFS being diagnosed. In fact, in one recent study examining unexplained digestive problems, researchers found that 85% of the participants being studied also had chronic fatigue system, and 98% also experienced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is a really positive correlation.

The common denominator in this study, researchers believe, is the poor digestion and food sensitivities, which is often directly linked to inflammation and to leaky gut syndrome. This is why it’s a good idea to eliminate gluten and dairy from your diet, especially if you have autoimmune issues. This is because foods that contain gluten and lactose are very inflammatory; just take them out, regardless of your health. You also want to be on the lookout for allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, soy products, yeast and shellfish. These can also cause a number of serious health issues including contributing to the symptoms of CFS.

Increase your intake of probiotics

Researchers now know that if you have chronic fatigue syndrome, your body likely produces high levels of immune cells directly against the toxins given off by unhealthy gut bacteria. This is a sign of leaky gut and a cause of inflammation. Probiotics are very important, especially if you have CFS. They are essential  to help increase the numbers of healthy bacteria that live in the gut, and also to decrease the unhealthy bacteria. They restore a healthy balance to your gut.

Probiotics also improve the ability of the gut wall to act as a barrier to keep unwanted compounds out of the body. They decrease your body’s own production of inflammation-producing compounds, improving your immune system health and lowering inflammation in the gut and throughout the body, which in turn may help reduce several debilitation symptoms associated with CFS, especially muscle and joint pain and swelling.

To ensure that you’re getting your probiotics fix, load up on your fermented vegetables, and Kombuchas. They’re really good for you and they’re packed with the healthy bacteria that we need for our gut. Remember to supplement with a probiotic formula with multiple clinically tested probiotics strains that come with prebiotics as well (prebiotics is the food that the probiotics eat) such as Smarter Gut Health.

Increase your vitamin B intake with the right foods

Researchers have identified a direct link between reduced vitamin B levels and chronic fatigue syndrome. Vitamin B6 helps to prevent and relieve fatigue, and it supports a healthy immune system. Researchers also believe that certain viruses play a very important role in CFS, and vitamin B6 in particular help support T-cell functioning, allowing the immune system to more effectively fight inflammation and infections. Vitamin B6 rich foods include wild tuna, salmon, sweet potatoes, turkey, hazel nuts, garlic and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale.

Vitamin B12 is also very important. It is estimated that nearly 40% of Americans have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Many symptoms of the deficiency echo the symptoms of CFS, including a lack of motivation, low energy, emotional mood swings, fatigue, muscle tensions, and more. So vitamin B12 helps to boost energy and reduce depression, it prevents neurological degeneration, and provides support against inflammation. Vitamin B12 is often found in animal sources including salmon, lean meats, and eggs. However many plant foods are also fortified with B12, like nutritional yeast and some plant milks. Supplementing with a B12 vitamin is also a very viable option.

Increase potassium and magnesium

Research shows that both potassium and magnesium can help improve the symptoms that are associated with CFS. Most people are deficient in magnesium and can benefit from including more in their diet. In fact, people increasing magnesium intake often report improved energy levels, a more balanced emotional state, less pain, and better sleep. Food sources of magnesium include avocados, spinach, almonds, black beans, Swiss chard, and dark chocolate. Potassium is essential for proper electrolyte balance throughout your body. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include fatigue, irritability, and muscle cramps. Eating a diet rich in potassium can help to relieve these symptoms and you will feel better. Potassium-rich foods include broccoli, apricots, dried fruits, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas and cucumbers.

Relax

Chronic fatigue syndrome takes a really big toll on your body, both physically and mentally. Your body is under persistent stress in dealing with exhaustion, brain fog, debilitating muscle and joint pain, digestive issues, and emotional stress. CFS is a very difficult illness to live with it. That’s why rest is so important. When treating CFS, you should try to get one full day each week to rest and allow your body to address the symptoms causing your issues. Rest and give your mind a break. Listen to your body and allow it to fully recharge.

Exercise

If you don’t move, you’re going to be worse off, no matter what condition you are in. You need to exercise in order to be healthy. Exercise has been shown to help with fatigue, mental clarity, and depression in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome need to exercise at a controlled intensity. A lot of times this is just restorative active recovery yoga. You need to be really aware of the exercises that you choose if you have CFS. High intensity workouts can leave you drained for several days and make your CFS worse.

So you need to make sure that the exercises you choose are very smart for your particular condition. You want to start slowly, maybe 10 to 15 minutes per day, or even every other day, or maybe four or five days a week. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling drained or tired or experiencing muscle aches or joint pain, scale back or adjust. Constantly monitor and adjust your exercise to make sure that it’s helping and not hurting your progress.

Yoga Poses for CFS

Here are a few yoga poses specifically for people with chronic fatigue syndrome:

Straddle stretches — This is a yoga exercise that involves sitting up and just opening your legs to any degree that you feel comfortable. It can be just a little bit, or more. However open your hips and your groin are, that’s where you want to be. Inhale while sitting up tall and exhale while crawling your fingers forward. Inhale, sit up tall, and elongate your spine, gain more space in between all the vertebra and then exhale, walk your hands forward where your back is still flat and your chest is going towards the floor. Inhale, bringing your forearms will be to the ground. Your gaze is soft, staring down at the floor, keep your face relaxed, close your eyes. Inhale and exhale through the nose very relaxed. When you inhale you gain more length and when you exhale you gain more depth. This really helps to invigorate, energize, stretch and relax.

Bridge Pose – Here you start out lying down flat on your back with your knees pointing up to the ceiling and then with the inhale you’re going to press into your heels and then lift up your hips towards the sky. Your arms are straight next to you and you’re pressing into your arms. So inhale, press into your heels and lift your hips high. If you like, you can use your hands right underneath your hip bone to press a little higher, but you don’t have to. Simply stay there and breathe. Very calmly, inhale and exhale, put a little bit more weight into your heels and push your hips and pelvis up the sky a little bit more and exhale.

Bring your backside down to the ground. Do that again. You want to hold it as much as you can, maybe five to 10 breaths, and this straightens up your entire back. This really gets the blood flowing on your spine and the spine is where all the central nervous system ends. When you stimulate the spine doing exercises like the bridge pose, it really energizes immediately and makes the brain calm. At the same time, it delivers oxygen to the nooks and crannies of your body.

Gentle Forward Fold — This is the magic exercise move for every single thing from child to adult. You can do this with your toes and heels together or you can open you feet hip distance apart. Inhale, gain more length in the spine, exhale, flat back, hinge at your hips and your hands will go to the ground. You can bend your knees if you want, cascade your torso onto your thigh, and hang your head. You can close your eyes here and make sure that you’re not holding on to your jaw. Relax your jaw, neck, and face. Allow your neck to dangle free and just breathe in and out through your nose for five to 10 breaths.

This calms your central nervous system and allows blood to rush to your head which re-oxygenates every single cell in your body. This releases any tension from your neck, your lower back, and your hamstring. Come back up in a very slow inhale, and bend your knees. Go very slowly because you might be dizzy, take a little bit of time to get grounded, and then you can begin again.

You can go from a straddle stretch, to a bridge then stand up to do a forward fold, for a CFS-friendly gentle yoga flow. You can also include a down dog, which is a perfect transition to all of them. It is literally just placing your hands and feet on the ground into a table top position, and then pressing your tailbone up into an upside down V. Your tailbone is high to the sky, you’re pressing your even weight on the heels of your hands, and you’re drawing your heels to the ground, your tailbone high to the sky and you’re pressing your hips.

Focus on getting quality sleep

Chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers commonly experience difficulty with their sleep, and in particular falling and staying asleep; restless legs, nighttime muscle spasms, and vivid dreams. It is important to establish a regular bedtime routine where you wake, eat, and sleep at the same time. This includes a physical, mental, and emotional wind-down period as part of your bedtime routine.

Practice some good sleep habits that include going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, avoiding electronics, phones, and screen time for at least 60 to 90 minutes before bed. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine like reading a book, practicing deep breathing exercises, and using a variety of essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, or sandalwood. You can rub a little bit on your temples, behind your neck, on your wrists, or spray a little bit on your pillow or into the room before you go to bed.

Wrap Up

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects nearly 25 million people around the world. It is a chronic illness characterized primarily by extreme fatigue that lasts for more than six months. It is not being caused by any other underlying condition. CFS is often difficult to diagnose because it has so many symptoms that are very similar to other health conditions including fatigue, joint and muscle pain, sleep disturbances, headaches, confusion, and brain fog.

The exact cause of CFS still remains a mystery, and research indicates that adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, and chronic inflammation all contribute to the condition.

To address your symptoms of CFS better, there are a number of recommended steps that include remove the foods that cause allergies and sensitivities from your diet, including gluten and dairy. Eat plenty of probiotics to reduce the inflammation, support gut health and strengthen your immune system. Increase your intake of Vitamin B, especially B6 and B12, eat foods rich in magnesium and potassium, schedule time for regular rest. Remember, rest is different than sleep and both are very essential when dealing with CFS. Exercise on a regular basis but do so with controlled intensity. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Some simple yoga poses and gentle stretching are great starting points. Ensure that you are getting enough quality sleep.

Managing your CFS symptoms is not an easy task but it’s also not impossible. We now have better tools to manage it and the lifestyle choices, especially your diet are essential in managing CFS.

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