If you or someone you know suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), you may know how devastating CFS can be. While some people are able to function quite normally, others can be so debilitated they unable to go to work, school, or engage in a lot of their favourite activities.
Fatigue is one of the most common health complaints we receive at Changing Habits, buts its cause is not always easy to determine. At Changing Habits we believe in vitalistic living and natural approaches to health and well-being. Changing Habits has empowered thousands of people to take control of their health by providing the tools and information to make sustainable changes for long-lasting health. Your body has amazing healing abilities given the right tools and conditions.
What is CFS?
“Severe and unexplained, persistent or relapsing fatigue that isn’t the result of ongoing exertion and isn’t alleviated by rest, and results in a significant reduction in previous levels of educational, occupational, personal and social activities that lasts for six or more consecutive months.”
CFS is most commonly found in young to middle aged adults, and is twice as common in women than men. Four or more of the following symptoms that continue or relapse during six or more consecutive months and that don’t predate the fatigue:
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes
- Extreme exhaustion and sickness following exercise or mental exertion
- Muscle and joint pain (without redness or swelling)
- Difficulties with memory and concentration
- New onset headaches
- Problems with sleep (feeling unrefreshed)
Fatigue has numerous potential causes and often requires a lot of investigation to determine the primary causes. Here are just a few possible contributing factors:
- Poor diet and nutrient deficiencies
- Lack of quality sleep
- Chronic infections (viral or bacterial)
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
- Gut dysfunction – including parasites (often overlooked)
- Impaired Methylation – generic and environment
- Hypoadrenalism (low or worn out adrenals)
- Low cortisol levels
- Undergone early trauma
- A low HPA axis reactivity – see below
What can help?
- Conventional treatment options include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy. While this can work to some extent, it doesn’t help everyone.
- Fermented foods
- Stress management
- Good quality sleep
- Looking after yourself not only physically but mentally
- A support system
- Adrenal support
- Parasite cleanse
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Hypothalamic-Adrenal-Pituitary (HPA) Axis
HPA axis dysfunction is not currently evaluated in potential CFS patients as part of the diagnostic process. However, looking at recent research, it is clear that HPA axis function is an important part of the symptoms experienced by CFS patients.
What is the HPA axis?
The HPA axis is the body’s control centre for reactions to stress, and in turn regulates many other body functions like immunity and digestion. When we interact with a stressor, the body releases a cascade of hormones which eventually reach the adrenals and stimulate the production of other hormones like cortisol. This process is important in maintaining life in a true ‘fight or flight’ response, however in our modern world the HPA axis is constantly activated from small stressors (traffic, running late to work etc) which wears out our adrenals. Because there seems to be a connection between HPA axis functioning and CFS, it’s important to make sure your adrenals are working well.
Where to from here? Changing Habits recommends
- Focus on lifestyle factors like sleep and stress reduction techniques and mind-body activities for the best results. These are perhaps the most important (and most overlooked) factors for recovery of adrenal function and improvement of CFS symptoms.
- A healthy nutrient diet of wholefoods rich in fat soluble Vitamins A,D,E,K and C, magnesium, pantothenic acid, potassium and enough choline.
- Increase seaweed salt intake to minimise the symptoms of low blood pressure. It may also be a good idea to include liquorice tea/ root which potentiates the action of cortisol (only for low blood pressure, not high).
- Consider toxins. Is your environment, food, water toxic and full of chemicals?
- Consume fermented foods rich in probiotics such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kombucha etc.
- Mind-body medicine techniques help to re-train the HPA axis. The more consistently you practice the more benefits you’ll receive (yoga, tai chi, meditation, deep breathing etc)
- Sleep deprivation and disordered sleeping cause HPA axis hyperactivity so get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night.
- Heal and fix immune dysregulation
- Practice time management skills. With proper time management, you will be able to find time to fit in mind-body medicine, quality sleep and make delicious healthy meals and you’ll get more done in less time. Additionally, when we’re getting things done our stress level goes way done, helping the HPA axis to function more appropriately.
- Undertake the Changing Habits 21 Step Reset program if you are currently on the standard Australian diet
- Undertake the Changing Habits Hunter Gatherer Protocol
- Get some additional guidance and support from our Changing Habits Nutritionists.
Changing Habits – The Bored Immune System
Changing Habits – Boost Your Immune System
Changing Habits – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health
Changing Habits – How to choose a probiotic (bugs) and the importance of prebiotics (food)
- Kresser C. 2015. RHR: Chronic Fatigue – Treating the Cause Not the Symptoms. Retrieved from: http://chriskresser.com/chronic-fatigue-treating-the-cause-not-the-symptoms/
- Fukuda K, Straus SE, Hickie L et al. 1994. The chronic fatigue syndrome: a comprehensive approach to its definition and study. Ann Intern Med; 121:953-959
- Hornig, Mady, et al. 2015. “Distinct plasma immune signatures in ME/CFS are present early in the course of illness.” Science Advances 1.1.
- Cordain, Loren. 2002. “The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups.” J Am Neutraceutical Assoc 5: 15-24.