Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and How Diet And Supplements Can Help

There is a big difference between ‘I need another cup of coffee’ and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This debilitating condition impacts the mood, energy, and life of the people who suffer from it. CFS is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), or encephalopathy, and it affects all age groups. CFS can be very serious and very debilitating, causing long-term illness and disability.

Causes

Unfortunately, CFS is poorly understood although it is thought that to be the result of a mix of factors including past viral infections that were dormant and have been awakened due to lowered immunity, exposure to drugs, toxic metals, vaccines [1,2], bacterial overload, environmental factors, hormonal imbalances [3-5], or an imbalance of the gut microbiome. 

High levels of stress and oxidative stress, along with a poor diet with nutritional deficiencies may trigger lowered immunity and hormonal and microbial imbalances leading to this disease. Some research also shows that CFS is part of a spectrum of diseases including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms

CFS currently has no specific testing to diagnose it, so doctors firstly exclude other causes with similar symptoms. 

Some of the symptoms of CFS include:

  • an overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion that lasts over 6 months
  • sleep distortion or unrefreshing sleep
  • feeling worse after exercise
  • muscle or joint pain or weakness
  • headaches 
  • tender lymph nodes
  • recurrent sore throat
  • poor concentration or memory (brain fog)
  • nausea
  • intolerance to different foods as well as to alcohol, caffeine, or medications. About 50% of all people with CFS have reported food and drink intolerances [6-8]
  • symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (including bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea), [6-8] and symptoms of celiac disease [6].

How Can Diet Therapy Help?

Having a healthy diet can be an important part of managing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Eating foods that can boost your energy levels and prevent possible nutrient deficiencies may help with reducing muscle pain, nausea, poor concentration, sleep problems, minimize ongoing fatigue, and help you feel overall better.

A good Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diet consists of nutrient-dense meals while avoiding certain foods and drinks that can worsen your symptoms. 

Here are a couple of guideline to help you do just that:

  1. Avoid inflammatory foods – Inflammation seems to play an important role in chronic fatigue, so the best course of action is to ditch any inflammatory promoting foods including processed sugary foods and beverages, refined grains, fried foods, processed foods rich in fats, and processed meat and dairy products. [9] Processed foods also have much fewer nutrients that are needed to maintain health and high energy levels.
  1. Eat plenty of different colored fruits and vegetables – Eat fruits and vegetables of different colors daily to avoid nutritional deficiencies and to get each of their nutrients and benefits. Nutritional deficiencies are common among people with CFS and often include deficiencies of vitamin C, vitamin B complex, sodium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, l-tryptophan, essential fatty acids, and coenzyme Q10 [10].

Red colored fruits and vegetables are full of phytonutrients such as hesperidin, quercetin, lycopene, and ellagic acid that act as antioxidants and help reduce inflammation.

Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain important vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, potassium, and B6, as well as other carotenoids including zeaxanthin that remove harmful free radicals, and support a healthy alkaline balance.

Green are fruits and vegetables are rich in chlorophyll, fiber, calcium, folate, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and carotenoids that normalize digestion, and boost immune activity.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in lutein, resveratrol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin that support healthy digestion, improve mineral absorption, and reduce inflammation.

And white fruits and vegetables are rich in powerful immune boosting and hormone balancing nutrients like beta-glucans, EGCG, and lignans that are precursors to phytoestrogens.

3. Hydrate – Dehydration makes CFS worse, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Check out my article on how to ensure you are getting enough water for your body’s needs.

4. Keep a food journal – Track what you eat and how you feel afterwards so you can discover which foods either improve or worsen your symptoms. A food journal is also a very helpful record to show to your doctor since 35-90% of people with CFS experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, [11] and food intolerances. After you track the foods you eat and have a clue as to which food intolerances you may be suffering from, there are immunological tests that may be performed by an allergist to determine if you have an allergic response. Common food intolerances include intolerance to wheat, gluten and dairy products. 

5. Eat smaller, more frequent meals – People with CFS often feel too exhausted to eat or don’t feel hungry at all. If you’re struggling to eat enough during the day, try smaller but frequent meals, or eat small snacks through the day instead of full meals. These snacks can be some sliced fruits, some whole grain crackers, some vegetable sticks or cherry tomatoes, nuts and raisins, a handful of seeds, or a green shake. These will help you keep your energy levels up and supply your body with the nutrients it needs.

6. Cut or limit caffeine intake – Caffeine is famous for boosting alertness, but it comes with consequences such are disturbed sleep or, in some cases, insomnia. People suffering from CFS already have similar sleep issues and caffeine can make these symptoms worse, so be mindful and try to limit, or even better, stop consuming caffeine drinks such as coffee and some teas altogether.

7. Healthy fats – Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids and healthy fats. Such food as walnuts, avocado, chia, pumpkin and flax seeds have healthy fats that are vital for brain health and reduce inflammation. Avoid inflammatory saturated and trans fats found in animal products and processed foods. These foods have a high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. This leads to a changing of the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet, leading to increased prostaglandin synthesis [12,13] which suppresses immune cells that fight off viral infections.

Supplements

If you’re suffering from CFS, here are a couple of recommended supplements:

  1. Essential fatty acids – Low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) appear to be a common finding in chronic fatigue syndrome as well as an imbalance in the ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Abnormalities in essential fatty acid metabolism are common during excessive or prolonged stress. These changes in essential fats cause the immune, endocrine, and nervous system issues as seen in CFS. Supplementation with the fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid was found to reduce depression in people with CFS. Their depression scores dropped from 27 at baseline to 3 in 16 weeks. [10]
  2. Green Superfood Supplements – Any products which contains powdered greens such as barely grass, spirulina, chlorella, and wheat grass contain a huge amount of nutrients, enzymes, protein, and antioxidants that help support the immune system. These greens also help prevent oxidative stress that results from diminished antioxidant capacity [15, 16].  
  3. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydride (NADH) – NADH is the reduced coenzyme form of the vitamin B3 niacin. Many studies mention the benefit of NADH supplementation for CFS due to the role NADH plays in energy production in the body. One study showed a significant reduction in fatigue after 8 weeks of supplementation of 20mg a day of NADH compared to placebo [17]. I recommend supplementing with 10-20 mg NADH 5 times a week for two months.
  4. Cocoa and dark chocolate – Dark chocolate consumption is known to have a number of positive health effect on chronic diseases [18-21]. Cocoa is rich in antioxidants and also has the potential to decrease fatigue and improve daily function. The chocolate I recommend is dark chocolate with 85% cocoa solids or more.
  5. Probiotics –  supplementation with healthy bacterial strains were shown to provide significant improvement in neurocognitive activity for people with CFS [21].   Probiotic bacteria can be consumed through probiotic rich foods such as sourdough bread, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, or through supplementation of probiotic supplements for one month twice a day. Ensure the supplement has Lactobacillus F19, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis in it. 
  6. Coenzyme Q10 – Most cellular functions are dependent on an adequate supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which provides energy for the body’s processes. CoQ10 is an essential cofactor in the production of ATP and thus can increase the body’s energy levels, boosts immunity, and helps with healing. [24]  Reduced levels of CoQ10 have been reported in people with CFS compared to healthy controls [22]. One study has investigated supplementation of CoQ10 for 12 week in CFS patients [23] and found that supplementation reduced night?time awakenings thus reducing overall fatigue in people with CFS. I recommend supplementing with 200 mg/day, 5 days a week for three months. 
  7. Selenium is an essential element for human body and also an active center of glutathione peroxidase [25], an enzyme that protects cells from oxidative damage. Although I do not recommend supplementation with selenium, I do recommend Xinyang Green Tea which is very rich in selenium and has potent antioxidant activity. It has been found that this specific tea can be very helpful for people with CFS. It can be found sold on Amazon. 
  8. B complex is also very useful since studies show that people with CFS generally suffer from vitamin B deficiencies. Folate deficiency is common among people with CFS causing impairment in brain function. Folate deficiency also leads to fatigue, and immunodepression. [26] Other B vitamins including Vitamin B12, riboflavin and thiamine, were also found to be deficient in people with CFS and were found to benefit healing.  [27, 28] I recommend taking a B-Complex supplement 4 times a week and supplementing with 1000 mcg of vitamin B12 once every week until symptoms subside.

Take Away

A healthy diet full of nutrients from foods of varying pigment colors, as well as focused supplementation with the supplements I mentioned here until symptoms subside will support your body in healing and help you to quickly recover and feel better. 

In 2001 when I was divorcing my first husband I suffered from CFS along with a streptococcus infection and mononucleosis. I was hospitalized for a week and slept the whole time I was there. When I woke up I decided that I needed to supplement my body. I made a complete recovery within one month. The effect dietary modification and supplementation has on this disease is absolutely immense and very recomended. 

References:

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