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Alternative Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
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
- 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.
- The fatigue must interfere with the ability to perform daily activities and work.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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 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:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Lupus Erythematosus
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.
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.
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