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Alternative Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Updated on July 26, 2016

Complete Exhaustion

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What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Also known as CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a disorder of constant fatigue (or tiredness) and weakness with no known cause. It is a very frustrating disorder, and can lead to emotional and psychological effects such as anxiety and depression, which often exacerbate the symptoms.

Although they are different disorders, the symptoms of CFS and fibromyalgia are quite similar, which can make it difficult for doctors to differentiate the two. These symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue, lethargy, tiredness
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Stiffness after being in one position for a long period of time (like sleeping)
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Jaw and facial pain or tenderness
  • The lymph nodes in the armpit area and neck become swollen
  • Chronic muscle pain, spasms or tightness
  • A feeling of swelling in the hands and feet, but there is no visible swelling
  • Joint pain that moves from joint to joint and has no associated redness or swelling
  • Sleep that leaves you feeling groggy, and unrested / insomnia
  • Extreme exhaustion after physical or mental exercise that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Headaches of a different or new type, severity, and /or pattern
  • Migraines or tension, stress headaches
  • Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold
  • Numbness or tingling in the face or extremities

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Scientists have not been able to find one exact cause for CFS; some scientists suspect there may be multiple triggers for the disorder. However, scientists suspect some possible triggers are:

  • Viral Infections – there is no conclusive evidence that links viral infections to CFS, however it is thought that some viruses can trigger the syndrome including the Epstein – Barr Virus, human herpes 6 and mouse leukemia viruses.
  • Problems with Immune Function – an impaired immune system may also trigger CFS, or even be a cause, but again evidence is inconclusive.

  • Hormonal Imbalances – things like hypothyroidism, pituitary gland dysfunction or adrenal gland dysfunction can produce abnormal levels of hormones in the blood, which may cause CFS. Again, results are inconclusive.

CFS is extremely hard to diagnose. There are no diagnostic tests such as lab work or MRIs that can be used to diagnose the illness, and there are many different illnesses that have very similar symptoms. Differentiating a true CFS case from someone who has any other disease is all but impossible.

Because of this, in 1994 the CDC developed three criteria to help doctors diagnose CFS. These criteria included the following:

Headaches Are a Symptom of CFS

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  1. Severe fatigue that persists for 6 or more consecutive months and is not associated with any disease or illness that can be ruled out using diagnostic testing.
  2. The fatigue must interfere with the ability to perform daily activities and work.
  3. The individual has 4 or more of the following symptoms:
  • post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • significant impairment of short-term memory or concentration
  • muscle pain
  • pain in the joints without swelling or redness
  • headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
  • tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
  • a sore throat that is frequent or recurring

Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

If you don’t know what causes something, it’s awfully hard to treat it. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is no exception. Finding a treatment that works is really trial and error. There are some things that have proven to be at least somewhat effective. Treatment tends to be focused on managing the symptoms, something CFS sufferers have in common with chronic pain sufferers.

The muscle relaxant Robaxin (methocarbamal).
The muscle relaxant Robaxin (methocarbamal). | Source
The painkiller Ultram (tramadol).
The painkiller Ultram (tramadol). | Source

Medications

  • Antidepressants – pain is depressing, and especially when it’s chronic. Being chronically tired and unable to do things you once used to enjoy is also rather depressing. Antidepressants, such as Zoloft and Celexa, can be used to alleviate these symptoms of depression and prevent suicide ideation.
  • Sleeping Pills – even though those with CFS are constantly tired, many of them can’t stay asleep for very long, or can’t fall asleep to begin with. Medications such as Lunesta or Ambien can help someone with CFS get the necessary rest they need to prevent them from becoming even more tired.
  • Pain Killers - Although this tends to be an exercise in futility, some patients are prescribed pain killers such as tramadol, hydrocodone or even the heavy meds such as oxycodone to treat CFS. Pain killers do not work very well on CFS, however, and often aren't even enough to take the edge off the pain.
  • Muscle Relaxants - In some cases, muscle relaxants may alleviate some of the pain that may be caused by tight muscles that are the result of poor sleep. Medications like Robaxin (methocarbamal), Soma (carisoprodol) and Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) may not only help with stiff muscles, they may also make it easier for the person to get more quality sleep.

Therapy

  • Graded exercise – A physical therapist helps you determine what exercises would be most beneficial for you, usually starting with range of motion and stretching exercises. However, if you’re exhausted afterwards or even the next day, you did too much. Strength and endurance is gradually built up at a pace you can tolerate.
  • Psychological counseling – As with chronic pain, chronic fatigue can make it difficult to deal with life especially when you can’t get everything done that you need or want to get done. Speaking with a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you find other ways to cope and work around your limitations. This can make you feel more in control.

Alternative Treatments

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome could be a result of sustained long-term nutritional deficiency. Vitamins such as Niacin and other B vitamins help the body metabolize sugar into energy. If the system is missing these nutrients, the body cannot provide energy efficiently. A lack of nutrients will also affect mental functions and even the immune system.

Eating a vegan diet or limiting the amount of animal products consumed can also benefit those with CFS. Animal products stay in the digestive tract for up to 72 hours, which means you are constantly expending energy on digestion for three days.

Plant products, on the other hand, only stay in the digestive tract for 24 hours. It doesn’t take as much energy to digest a salad as it does to digest a steak. However, abstaining from meat and animal products is not an option for everyone. In which case, it is wise to eat lean meats such as fish and poultry.

Vitamin C

One of the most important vitamins for people with CFS and connective tissue diseases such as lupus is vitamin C. Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, is essential to the production of collagen which is mainly found in fibrous connecting tissue. Without vitamin C, the body is unable to make collagen, which leads to a disease known as scurvy.

Interestingly, the initial symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy are malaise and lethargy. Other symptoms of scurvy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Loosening and loss of teeth
  • Emotional changes
  • Bone, joint and muscle pain (myalgia)
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Bruising
  • Jaundice

In patients with vitamin C deficiency, the pain is caused by a lack of carnitine. This tiny molecule is essential for transporting lipids (fats) to the mitochondria of cells. The mitochondria burn nutrients to provide energy to the cell, and that energy is used to either power the cell’s activity or prevent oxidation by providing antioxidant effects. If someone has even a slight vitamin C deficiency, they may not produce enough carnitine which would make it difficult to provide energy to cells. This affects every cell in the body, including the ones that make up our muscles.

Niacin

Niacin is one of the medical community’s best kept secrets. I say this because most doctors will instantly dismiss anyone who brings up the niacin (or any vitamin) as a medical treatment. Despite this, there have been studies conducted by orthomolecular scientists such as Andrew Saul, PhD, and Abram Hoffer, MD PhD on the use of vitamins as medical treatments. Niacin is one of these vitamins.

Dr. Hoffer has successfully treated thousands of patients with arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteo) with niacin. It was William Kaufman Ph.D., M.D., who began treating osteoarthritis with niacin during the Great Depression. By 1950, he had published two books on the subject.

Interestingly, niacin has been used to successfully treat numerous other illnesses including:

  • Allergies
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus Erythematosus
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADHD

Niacin increases blood flow through the vasculature of the body, especially the capillaries. For patients with fibromyalgia, CFS, and other similar illnesses, increased blood flow delivers more oxygen to the cells, reduces inflammation in the joints and relaxes muscles.

When taking niacin, it is important to take a B complex vitamin as well. All of the B vitamins are meant to work together, and are much more effective when taken that way.

Vitamin E Capsules
Vitamin E Capsules | Source

Vitamin E

Although not as effective as vitamin C, or Niacin, vitamin E does have its benefits. It reduces C-reactive protein, which decreases inflammation. It is also very effective in reducing the amount of oxygen required by tissues, and preserves the walls of capillaries. While vitamin E does not directly influence CFS, it may indirectly alleviate some of its underlying causes.

© Copyright 2012 - 2016 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" Flagg ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I have two friends with CFS and I am going to share this with them. Some good alternative ideas. It is a terrible condition and affects their lives. Thanks for this and voting up and sharing.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I was truly not aware of all the treatments you listed here. My cousin actually has Fibromyalgia and I was aware it was similar and going to pass your article to her. Thanks so much for all the wonderful and valuable information on this and have of course voted and shared all over!!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Every once in awhile this happens, where two hubs about the same somewhat obscure subject, come out on the same day. Weird, huh? Anyway, I have never had this, but I know people who have, and still do...so passing this on in helps that your great suggestions can help them. Good job as always!

    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 4 years ago from Katy, Texas

      very informative. I've never had this problem, but it's good to know this information.

    • grumpiornot profile image

      grumpiornot 4 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks, very useful hub! Often feel tired etc so regardless of whether CFS would be the diagnosis, there is lots of useful info. Need to buy some vitamin supplements tomorrow.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Carol Indeed, I'm a chronic pain sufferer myself, so I know what it's like to be tired all the time AND in pain. I really feel for these people. I've been taking the vitamins myself (and a few herbs which I plan on adding at a later time when I know more about the effects they have on me). I've noticed a HUGE improvement in my pain and fatigue. So I hope these alternatives help someone else as much as they have helped me!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Janine Most people aren't aware of the effects caused by vitamin deficiency, mainly because the symptoms can be so subtle. My sister suffers with chronic pain and fatigue (it seems it runs in the family). These diseases are becoming more and more prevalent, and the longer the deficiency is left untreated, the worse the condition gets. Vitamin C deficiency is especially hard to pinpoint because most people get enough Vitamin C in their diet to stave off severe scurvy, but may still have symptoms. My husband is one of these people. He has had severe problems with his teeth (an exact symptom of scurvy) and since he's been taking megadoses of vitamin C he hasn't had any problems. It's amazing what one little vitamin can do!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @billybuc Really? Someone else published a similar hub??? Well, the nerve of some people!! lol just kidding. :D The more information the people have the more empowered they become. So I welcome anyone who has good, fact-based information to write on the subject. Knowledge is power, and we need as much of it as we can get!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @joanwz thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad to hear you don't suffer with this, and hopefully you don't know anyone who does. But should you ever meet someone a CFS sufferer, you'll be able to help!! :D

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @grumpiornot Interestingly, most people suffer from low grade vitamin deficiency. It's just the nature of the modern diet. If you plan on starting supplements, I recommend you read my hub on Vitamin C. It explains how to determine the proper dose for you, which varies from person to person. I also have a hub on Natural energy boosters, so if you are tired more often than not, it may interest you. I would highly recommend starting with Vitamin C, it's the most common deficiency. Also keep in mind, you can't take one dose a day, Vitamin C is quickly metabolized, so you'll need to take several doses throughout the day. If I can help in anyway, just let me know!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      DOM...I'm beginning to think you have been spying on me. This is the second time you have written a hub concerning something I just recently searched info for....unbelievable. I was very interested in understanding all about CFS.....and to tell you the truth....yours is the most complete and informative of all that I read. Thank you so much!! This is better than having my own personal research assistant!! LOL! UP!!!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Effer, you know it would be a lot easier if you just sent me topics you wanted researched rather than me spy on you all the time. It's a lot of work! lmao :D I'm glad this came out more thorough than I thought it was, however. I'll be adding more info soon, I want to add in a few herbal treatments that I'm trying.

    • Dr Pooja profile image

      Dr Pooja 4 years ago

      Great job! A very scientific approach a topic.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Dr Pooja, thank you! That's what I was aiming for. I like to keep it objective, so thank you for the compliment!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Some believe that chronic fatigue syndrome may be an autoimmune condition. It could also be due to food sensitivities such as to gluten and casein. It certainly is worth to try a gluten-free casein-free diet.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Most autoimmune conditions are actually the result of vitamin C deficiency. Without going into all the biochemistry, Vitamin C helps keep the immune system in check, preventing it from attacking the body's native cells. hence the term autoimmune. It's one of the main reasons Vitamin C actually helps prevent cancer and why it's an ideal treatment for cancer. Gluten and casein only serve to aggravate the problem.

    • visionandfocus profile image

      visionandfocus 4 years ago from North York, Canada

      I'm very interested to read about the different conditions that niacin has a positive effect on. I agree that the modern diet is highly deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, and most doctors are just as ignorant as the general public when it comes to what constitutes good nutrition. Thanks for a very helpful hub. Voted up, interesting and useful!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @visionandfocus There is so much research out there on niacin, I was dumbfounded when I found that it had so many uses and no one is ever told about it. But that's how it is with all vitamins and minerals it seems. Our diets just cause all of our sicknesses and no one wants to get the truth out because then the drug companies and the meat industry wouldn't make any money, or so it seems. :D

    • rosaleelaws profile image

      Rosalee Laws 4 years ago from New York, NY

      Great article. I actually have Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue myself and it is what I write about here on hubpages. Your information on Niacin was very useful to me and there is so much truth into what you mentioned about vitamin C.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Rosalee! It's unfortunate that so many people don't know about the benefits of vitamin C and niacin and are suffering in pain because of it. I hope you find the niacin helps you!

    • philabustah profile image

      Philip 3 years ago from Boston, MA.

      Thanks for this article. Very good advice. I will give them a shot.

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 10 months ago from UK

      Thank you for this informative hub. I have lupus, fibromyalgia, raynauds and cfs and really struggle with pain and fatigue. I have learnt a lot here so thank you. I am going to get some vit C.

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