chronic fatigue syndrome and how functional medicine can help

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how functional medicine can help

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long-term illness characterised by extreme tiredness. CFS is also known as ME, which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. CFS/ME can affect anyone of any age but it’s more common in women, and tends to develop between 20 and 40 years of age.

In addition to fatigue, people with CFS/ME may have other symptoms, including:

  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Feeling dizzy or nauseous
  • Depression

The severity of symptoms can vary from day to day, or even within a day.

The symptoms of CFS/ME are similar to the symptoms of some other illnesses, so diagnosis is often a process of ruling out all the other possible causes of fatigue.

CFS/ME is a multifactorial disease with lots of different underlying causes. Conventional treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms, but success is limited and many people suffer with the condition long term.

Treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this is a talking therapy that can help CFS/ME sufferers to learn to modify their thoughts and behaviours to facilitate recovery
  • A structured exercise programme called graded exercise therapy – appropriate exercise can actually speed recovery from CFS/ME
  • Medications to control pain, nausea, sleeping problems and depression

How can functional medicine help with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Functional medicine looks at CFS/ME differently to conventional medicine. The aim is to uncover imbalances or environmental factors that may be contributing to the chronic fatigue.

A full functional medicine work-up for CFS/ME will include:

Evaluation of the energy production pathways – Energy production is carried out by tiny cell structures called mitochondria. The process involves many different chemicals steps and relies on a number of nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can result in compromised energy production. In addition environmental toxins, heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury and an excess of free radicals can all damage the mitochondria making them less effective. Assessing the health of the mitochondria and the energy pathways is one of the most important steps in getting to the bottom of CFS/ME.

Assessment of adrenal function – these are the glands that regulate our sleep wake cycle and regulate our response to stress. If they’re under functioning, tiredness and fatigue can result.

A functional thyroid screen – an underactive thyroid should have been ruled out by the GP but subclinical low thyroid function can also contribute to fatigue and isn’t picked up by the standard tests.

Identifying food sensitivities – reactions to foods don’t always cause obvious digestive symptoms. Sometimes a food reaction manifests as tiredness, brain fog, headaches, joint pains or mood changes which are all associated with CFS/ME. Working out which foods may be a problem and creating a personalised eating plan can alleviate these symptoms.

Checking for increased gut permeability – Food reactions, stress, gut infections, bacterial imbalances or inflammation in the digestive tract can lead to the lining of the gut becoming leaky. This allows particles that should normally stay in the digestive tract such as undigested foods, bacteria and toxins to enter the body. These particles then interact with the immune system and need to be removed by the liver. The resulting chronic inflammation and the extra work for the liver can manifest as fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating and joint pains.

Detection of chronic infections – CFS/ME has been linked to chronic unresolved infections, especially viruses that affect the liver such as Epstein Barr. These may not cause overt signs and symptoms but instead rumble away in the background.

Assessment of environmental load and liver function – People with CFS/ME seem to be more sensitive to toxins from the environment. This can go hand in hand with a reduced ability to detoxify these chemicals causing them to build up. This accumulation of toxins can contribute to chronic fatigue symptoms directly or indirectly by damaging the cell structures that produce energy.

Once all this information has been collated a personalised functional medicine programme can be created to target the key imbalances and restore energy balance.

For a list of other complaints that we can help with, please visit our conditions we can help page