Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.” The symptomatic picture of CFS may vary widely among patients. For years the mainstream medical community did not consider CFS a valid medical condition. Increased prevalence of CFS has forced clinicians and researchers to recognize the issue. While the medical community has learned more about CFS and created a definition for the disease, the manifestations of the syndrome remain elusive. From a naturopathic standpoint, finding the cause of the disorder is important, but even more important is finding the root cause of the body’s derailment from optimal health.
The first step in treating CFS is running lab work that rule out hormonal imbalances, viral infections, environmental toxicity levels, food sensitivities, bowel disorders and nutritional deficiencies. A hormone panel that includes assessment of the thyroid and adrenal glands, and testosterone, estrogen and progesterone levels will typically show any pattern of hormonal imbalance. Lab work may clearly point to a plausible cause of CFS and (if not) it rules out these factors contributing to the condition. Discovering nutritional deficiencies, chronic viral infections, or adrenal fatigue helps develop a road map that guides the treatment plan. Lab work can also show primary areas of dysfunction within the body that need further support.
Treatment for CFS varies according to the lab results, symptomatic picture, and specific health goals of the patient. It generally begins with an elimination diet that removes all potential aggravating foods, and focuses on increasing fresh, organic produce. The frequency, quality, and nutritional density of daily dietary choices will affect metabolism and energy stabilization throughout the day. Eliminating potential aggravating foods can assist in decreasing inflammation, lethargy, and remove dietary obstacles to achieving optimal health. Assessing any chronic viral infections such as Epstein Barr Virus and Cytomegalovirus is also extremely important. Decreasing the body load of these viruses can significantly improve energy, physical stamina and sleep.
Next in treatment is a focus on detox mechanisms, nutrient absorption, sleep habits and exercise. A build-up of environmental toxins will negatively impact energy levels, memory, bowel health and nutrient levels. Environmental test results may indicate a need for an individual to undergo heavy metal chelation or specialized detox protocols. A major exacerbating factor in CFS symptoms is poor nutrient absorption or decreased nutrient levels in the body. Optimizing nutrient intake with diet, nutritional supplements and potentially high dose nutritional IV therapy can rapidly reverse many symptoms of CFS. Adding a high dose B-complex may result in noticeable improvement in energy and overall sense of well being. Healthy sleep habits are essential to establishing a proper circadian rhythm. Going to bed and waking at the same time with scheduled naps of no more than 15 minutes can regulate the body’s energy and cortisol levels. Strenuous exercise can be overwhelming to a person with CFS, but a small amount of daily physical movement is encouraged to improve stamina.
CFS is a debilitating disease but fortunately a reversible condition. It takes time and adherence to a comprehensive treatment plan. The body will heal given the opportunity to build itself back to optimal health.
Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a Naturopathic Doctor at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568-2598.