By Michael A. Smith, MDChronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a mysterious medical condition that affects approximately 500,000 Americans.1 It typically targets women between the ages of 25 and 45, but it can actually affect anyone at any age. Unfortunately, the disease has no known cause, and there aren’t any tests that can measure for it.
CFS is defined as a set of symptoms that include prolonged, overwhelming fatigue that begins when you wake up and lasts the entire day. This fatigue is often amplified when exercising, as your muscles become tired very quickly.
Many people afflicted with CFS have complaints that extend well-beyond fatigue. Mood swings, muscle spasms, pain, headaches, sleep disturbances, and loss of appetite are all common complaints that come along for the ride. And some experts now believe it may run in families.2
Many researchers believe that CFS is triggered by a number of factors including infectious agents, mental or physical stress, nutrient deficiencies, immune system abnormalities and maybe even allergies.2,3
How is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosed?A diagnosis of CFS can be made only when a patient has suffered from persistent, unexplained fatigue for at least six months. In addition to the fatigue, four of the following symptoms must also be present for a diagnosis:1
- Disrupted, non-restful sleep
- Lack of short-term memory or concentration
- Sore throat and cough
- Tender lymph nodes
- Aching or stiff muscles
- Multi-joint pain without swelling or redness
- Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
- Post-exertion fatigue lasting more than 24 hours
- Persistent feeling of illness for at least 24 hours after exercise
Below are our top nutritional suggestions for anyone dealing with CFS. They’ve helped a lot of our members, and they may help you too.
Fighting Fatigue with CoQ10The first place to start is with coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This is a potent antioxidant that aids in metabolic reactions, including your cellular energy formation.
One particular study measured CoQ10 levels in people afflicted with CFS. The authors compared CoQ10 plasma levels in 58 people who had CFS and 22 healthy individuals. What they found was that CoQ10 plasma levels were significantly lower in the CFS group.4
The researchers also reported that there were significant and inverse relationships between CoQ10 and the total score on the test used to measure fatigue. Patients with very low CoQ10 suffered significantly more from concentration and memory disturbances.4
The average CoQ10 dose for healthy individuals is between 100 and 200 mg/day. So, if you suffer from CFS, you might want to target your dose at the upper end of this average range.
DHEA is a Powerful Fatigue Buster
In a study of 15 subjects with CFS, 15 subjects with major depression, and 11 healthy subjects, DHEA levels were significantly lower in the CFS subjects compared to the healthy group. As a result, the authors concluded that DHEA has a potential role both therapeutically and as a diagnostic tool in CFS.6
Another study of DHEA levels in 22 CFS patients found normal DHEA levels but a blunted serum DHEA response to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) injection. This means that people dealing with CFS are unable to produce DHEA when they need it. The authors concluded that this blunted response represents an endocrine abnormality in CFS.7
However, before taking DHEA yourself, we suggest a blood test. From there, our Health Advisors will be happy to suggest an appropriate daily dose for you.
Additional Energy Boosters to Help Manage CFSA number of nutrients have been studied for their ability to boost cellular energy in people with CFS. Let’s take a look at three important ones.
NADH is essential for optimal cellular energy production. A well-designed, placebo-controlled clinical study examined the use of NADH in 26 CFS patients. They received either 10 mg of NADH or placebo for a four-week period. The results showed that 31% of those who took NADH felt more energy, compared to only 8% for the placebo group.8
Researchers have found that people who have CFS are often deficient in the energy-boosting amino acid L-carnitine. 9 Studies show that carnitine given as a supplement to CFS patients results in better functional capacity and lessening of disease symptoms.10 Life Extension suggests a daily dose of 1,000–2,000 mg of L-carnitine.
Magnesium plays an important role in energy metabolism as well. The body vigilantly protects blood magnesium levels, in part because 350 enzymatic processes depend on magnesium for activation. A placebo-controlled clinical study was conducted on CFS patients who were found to have low magnesium levels.
Thirty-two patients received either a placebo or intramuscular magnesium injections every week for six weeks. Patients treated with magnesium reported improved energy levels, better emotional state, and less pain.11
Traditional Medicine Offers No Hope for Chronic FatigueA diagnosis of CFS often leaves people feeling alone and pretty helpless. Since traditional medicine doesn’t have any treatment options to offer, conventional doctors usually prescribe antidepressants as a Band-Aid. We think this should be a last resort though.
A targeted nutritional approach is really a much better place to start. Supplementing with the right nutrients can at least improve your energy levels and offer you a path toward returning to a normal life. So please consider this route when weighing your options.
Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome? What has helped? Please share your story in the comments.
- Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Feb;160(2):221-36.
- J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1998 Aug;102(2):222-30.
- Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2009;30(4):470-6.
- Van Rensburg SJ et al 2001
- J Affect Disord. 1999 Jul;54(1-2):129-37.
- Horm Metab Res. 1999 Jan;31(1):18-21.
- Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1999 Feb;82(2):185-91.
- Neuropsychobiology. 1995;32(3):132-8.
- Neuropsychobiology. 1997;35(1):16-23.
- Lancet. 1991 Mar 30;337(8744):757-60.
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