|Chronic fatigue syndrome
one of the most controversial disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
often has flulike symptoms, no apparent cause, and no proven cure. It is
marked by persistent, debilitating fatigue, as well as other baffling
symptoms that include headaches, muscle aches and weakness, tender lymph
nodes, sore throat, joint pain, sleep that doesn't lead to feeling
refreshed, difficulty concentrating, postexercise exhaustion that lasts for
24 hours, and short-term memory problems. There may also be a chronic or
recurring low-grade fever.
There is no laboratory test for CFS, so a
doctor must systematically rule out all other medical causes that produce
similar symptoms. According to diagnostic criteria set up by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chronic fatigue and at least eight
other nonspecific symptoms must persist for at least 6 months.
some claim that CFS is a new disorder (for example, the "yuppie flu" of the
1980s), doctors since the 1800s have reported similar disorders but given
them different names, including hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), chronic
Epstein-Barr virus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and postviral fatigue
syndrome. Many theories regarding possible causes have been advanced, but
none have been proven. In many cases, CFS develops in the aftermath of a
viral illness, such as mononucleosis or the flu, but no single viral cause
has been identified. Other possible contributing factors include prolonged
stress, hormonal imbalance, low blood pressure (hypotension), allergies,
immune system disorders, and psychological problems. Some experts suggest
CFS is a group of ailments that share similar symptoms. In any event, it is
estimated that more than one-half million North Americans suffer from the
disease. AT least two-thirds of the sufferers are white middle-class women.
Most CFS patients eventually recover, but it may take a year or more to do
medications are prescribed to treat CFS symptoms, but none appear to cure
the disorder. Aspirin and other painkillers may alleviate headaches, joint
pain, and muscle soreness, and antidepressant drugs help some patients. Some
doctors advocate antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir, or injections of gamma
globulin, a substance containing antibodies from the blood serum of a number
of people, but studies have failed to document their value.
Although there is no known cure for CFS, certain nutrients in foods may
help. Doctors stress the importance of a well-balanced diet.
Start with ample starches. Fruits and vegetables help to provide the
carbohydrates the body needs for energy. They also supply the vitamins
needed to resist infection.
Avoid alcohol. It lowers immunity, so should be avoided, and
caffeinated drinks should be used in moderation to minimize sleep problems.
Eat to strengthen your immune system. Foods rich in zinc, such as
seafood (especially oysters), meat, poultry, eggs, milk, beans, nuts, and
whole grains, as well as foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits,
berries, melons, kiwis, broccoli, and cauliflower, may help keep the immune
system working properly. A robust immune system can help ward off certain
viruses, such as flu and colds that may possibly precede the onset of CFS.
Consume more essential fatty acids. Some of the symptoms of CFS
include swollen glands and inflammation of the joints, which may be relieved
temporarily by foods rich in essential fatty acids. These include fish,
nuts, seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola oil, wheat germ, and leafy
One study indicates that low blood pressure may contribute to the fatigue
experienced by CFS patients. Usually, blood pressure rises slightly during
periods of stress or physical activity. But in some people, blood pressure
remains constant or goes down, resulting in fatigue. These people may be
salt-resistant and need a higher salt intake to raise blood pressure.
Researchers have noted that many CFS patients have low-slat diets, which may
explain their hypotension and fatigue. Symptoms became less severe when the
patients increased their intake of salty foods.
Some alternative practitioners advocate injections of vitamin B12, along
with supplements of vitamins A and C, iron, and zinc, to treat CFS. But a
balanced diet is preferable to taking supplements. Another approach that
appears hopeful is for patients to take a combination of evening primrose
oil and fish oil; in one study, 85 percent reported some improvement after
15 weeks. Caution is needed when taking herbal remedies – many contain
potentially harmful stimulants.