Overview and Symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease defined by severe, unrelenting, and unexplained fatigue lasting for six months or more. It affects over one million Americans. And women are twice as likely than men to be diagnosed.
Some report the onset of chronic fatigue feels like the flu. However, the symptoms never go away.
Those affected may also experience the following:
- digestive dysfunction
- joint and/or muscle pain
- inability to focus
- poor memory
- chills and/or night sweats
- exercise intolerance
- swollen lymph nodes
It’s important to note that the level of fatigue often experienced can be disabling. Some are unable to work or even socialize with friends and family.
In addition, conventional medicine is not well-equipped to diagnose or treat chronic fatigue syndrome. As a result, people are often told that they need more sleep or that the problem is in their head.
Therefore, emotional well-being is often a big concern. And people often suffer from:
- Guilt and shame
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
Leading Cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
According to current research, mitochondrial dysfunction is the main culprit behind the fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Mitochondria are cellular components mainly responsible for converting energy from the food we eat (i.e., glucose) into a form of energy our bodies can use (a.k.a. ATP). However, our mitochondria have many other functions, including:
- Storing calcium ions necessary for blood clotting, muscle contraction, and cellular fluid balance
- Making iron used by red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body
- Initial production site for the synthesis of steroid hormones (i.e., cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone)
Mitochondria also have the capacity to initiate cell death by halting energy production, creating harmful free radicals, and/or secreting deadly proteins. This process was most likely designed to protect the body from unnecessary or abnormal cells.
However, we now know that mitochondrial dysfunctional may also be brought on by chronic stress and inflammation. And the symptoms associated with mitochondrial dysfunction cause further stress and inflammation. Thus, it’s a vicious cycle!
Sources of Stress & Inflammation
In one way or another, stress leads to inflammation in the body. For example, there is evidence suggesting an overactive immune system may be at play with chronic fatigue syndrome. And an overactive immune system is stressful and inflammatory. In addition, there is a stressor that is causing the immune system to overact. Therefore, treatment must involve reducing all sources of stress and bringing the body back into balance.
Sources of psychological stress often include:
- Unhealthy relationships
- Poor work-life balance
- Family responsibilities
- Health status
- Significant life events (i.e., divorce, relocation, career change)
- Poor self-image
- Social pressure
However, there are also physical sources of the stress that must be considered, which include:
- Digestive dysfunction
- Imbalanced gut bacteria
- Environmental toxins
- Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances
- Chronically low or high blood sugar
- Physical injury or trauma
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor diet and nutrition deficiencies
Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Unlike conventional medicine, I won’t suggest taking pills to improve your sleep or medications to treat depression. Because then we’d just be treating the symptoms. And the underlying problem would still be there.
Therefore, if we determine chronic fatigue syndrome is troubling you, we’ll work closely together to identify and reduce all possible sources of stress discussed above.
The healing process will then involve personalized dietary and lifestyle changes as well as specific nutrients to support healthy mitochondrial function and reduce inflammation.
Conventional medicine may have you believe that chronic fatigue syndrome is a death sentence. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. While it’s not something that can be cured overnight, reversing this disease and regaining your health is possible.
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Booth, N. E., et al. (2012). Mitochondrial dysfunction and the pathophysiology of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, 5(3), 208-220.
Myhill, S., Booth, N. E., & McLaren-Howard, J. (2009). Chronic fatigue syndrome and mitochondrial dysfunction. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, 2(1), 1–16.
Morris, G., et al. (2015). Central pathways causing fatigue in neuro-inflammatory and autoimmune illnesses. BMC Medicine,13(1), 28. doi:10.1186/s12916-014-0259-2
Morris, G., et al. (2014). Oxidative and Nitrosative Stress and Immune-Inflammatory Pathways in Patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Current Neuropharmacology, 12(2), 168–185. doi:10.2174/1570159X11666131120224653
Morris, G., et al. (2015). The many roads to mitochondrial dysfunction in neuroimmune and neuropsychiatric disorders. BMC Medicine,13(1). doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0310-y