Tired? Who isn’t these days? It’s all a part of keeping pace with the modern world, isn’t it?
We’re conditioned to regard tiredness as something we just have to cope with, a sign that you’ve been working hard or something’s been keeping you awake at night. It’ll pass. Grit your teeth, dig in and get through it.
But what if you never get through it?
For a significant proportion of the world’s population – as much as 2.8% according to some estimates – the fatigue doesn’t go away and is often accompanied by pain.
This isn’t everyday tiredness, it’s a condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and the pain that frequently accompanies it is called fibromyalgia or fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Both conditions have only recently been recognized by the medical profession and are the subject of ongoing research to determine the cause or causes.
Recognized symptoms of CFS and FMS include a malaise (following any exertion) that lasts longer than one day, feeling unrefreshed after sleep, poor short-term memory and unexplained pain, including muscle pain, joint pain without any swelling or redness, new headaches, tender neck or armpit lymph nodes or a recurrent sore throat.
CFS is defined as profound disabling fatigue that lasts at least six months and is not due to ongoing exertion or another medical condition. It affects at least twice as many women as men and until recently it was not recognized as a bona fide condition by the medical profession. While there is still much to be learned about the causes of CFS and FMS, it is possible to provide effective treatment through naturopathy – a holistic approach that addresses a range of possible causes, such as cell dysfunction, toxin build-up, hormone imbalance, and nutrient deficiency. For a significant proportion of the world’s population – as much as 2.8% according to some estimates – the fatigue doesn’t go away and is often accompanied by pain.
Suspected causes of CFS
Research into CFS and FMS has so far focused on a wide range of factors. It’s likely that a body-wide energy crisis underlies the condition and it has been suggested that this suppresses the activity of the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls sleep, hormone function, blood pressure, bowel activity, and many more functions. This could explain why sufferers experience such a wide variety of symptoms.
A 2016 study into the metabolism (how the body turns food into energy) of people with CFS identified reduced levels of the amino acids and enzymes the body needs for turning carbohydrates into energy. Instead of getting energy from carbohydrates, the CFS sufferers were using less energy-rich substances like amino acids. Other research has found that CFS sufferers may have different variants of genes for mitochondria (the part of the cell that produces energy) and these genes may influence the severity of resulting CFS symptoms.
Deficiencies of key nutrients, namely B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and essential fatty acids, have also been implicated in the development of CFS, along with a reduced ability to process and dispose of toxins, which could include the long-term ingestion of heavy metals. Hormonal imbalances and psychological conditions like depression and stress are considered to play a role in CFS by many authorities, including the UK’s National Health Service. Hormonal imbalances and psychological conditions like depression and stress are considered to play a role in CFS by many authorities, including the UK’s National Health Service.
Treating CFS through naturopathy
With so many factors implicated in the development of CFS, it makes sense to treat the condition with a holistic approach that doesn’t just focus on one possible cause but identifies and corrects a range of imbalances specific to each patient. To achieve this, advanced medical tests must first take place. The naturopathic treatment of CFS and FMS often begins with a mitochondrial health assessment to identify any problems the patient may have in producing energy. One of the easiest ways of assessing mitochondrial function is by testing urine for organic acids produced during normal metabolism. Blood tests are also taken to shed light on a patient’s mitochondrial function, nutritional deficiencies, and thyroid, adrenal and sex hormone imbalances.
The build-up of toxins and waste products is investigated with phase one and two liver testing (in which the liver’s ability to convert a toxic chemical into a harmless one is tested), or heavy metal challenges (in which a patient is given a chelating agent that specifically binds to heavy metals and their urine tested to see how much heavy metal was picked up).
Once testing is complete, naturopathic doctors have a clearer idea of the specific imbalances that need to be treated. If high levels of toxins are detected, a detoxification programme can be put in place, usually involving the elimination of dietary sources of heavy metals, such as mercury in fish, and supplementing with the amino acid glutathione, which binds to heavy metals and helps to remove them from the body.
Nutritional deficiencies can be corrected by increasing consumption of key nutrients like magnesium through green vegetables, seeds, and nuts, as well as establishing good digestive practices, such as thoroughly chewing food, and supplementing with digestive enzymes and probiotics. Intravenous nutrient therapy (giving vitamins and minerals through a drip) can also be used to speed up the correction of nutritional imbalances.
The use of ozone and ultraviolet irradiation of the blood to stimulate the immune system and boost vitamin D levels – a method that predates the use of penicillin – is also favored as a way to combat the many ‘silent’ infections that may contribute to CFS and FMS. Nutritional deficiencies can be corrected by increasing consumption of key nutrients like magnesium through green vegetables, seeds, and nuts, as well as establishing good digestive practices, such as thoroughly chewing food, and supplementing with digestive enzymes and probiotics.
Tired of being tired
While the exact causes of CFS and FMS continue to challenge scientific research, the important thing is that we do all we can to help sufferers lead a normal, pain-free life. The naturopathic approach has proven effective because it leaves no room for a possible cause to go untreated. The key to success is tailoring the solution to the patient’s personality, lifestyle, symptoms and test results.
If you have any of the symptoms I described at the top of this article, or you’ve been living with tiredness and physical discomfort long-term, don’t ignore it or be put off from seeking medical help.
A naturopathic doctor will take your condition seriously and can help to restore your energy levels, making a real difference to the way you feel day-to-day.