Despite sleeping 16 hours a day, Stacey couldn’t muster the energy to take her garbage to the curb. A once active 30-year-old, her energy levels had dropped so low that she couldn’t do basic daily activities. She knew this was more than something a good night’s sleep or anti-depressants could fix. Finally, Stacey found a naturopath who diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS.
It can have a sudden onset, explains Simon Lo of the Toronto Naturopathic Clinic. Usually a period of severe stress precedes the condition, or an infection. Warning signs can range from flu-like symptoms, such as low energy, muscle pain, poor sleep patterns, swollen lymph nodes and headaches, to digestive issues, such as cramps, diarrhea and bloating.
Brain fog, in terms of both concentration and memory, can make you feel disoriented. Increased sensitivity to chemicals can also be an indicator that something’s not right. The symptoms have an effect psychologically and emotionally, and the most common misdiagnosis is depression.
“I have had patients who cannot go to work, or school, and these are patients who sleep upwards of 12 to 14 hours a day,” says Lo. It affects more women than men, with the most common age group being from 40 to 55, though it can occur even in teenagers.
CHRONIC FATIGUE VS. CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
Not all fatigue is the same — there’s a difference between chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. CF is a feeling of tiredness that has persisted for a long time — months or even years. It’s often a symptom of underlying conditions such as candidiasis, lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, or an allergy. CFS, in comparison, is continual tiredness that no amount of sleep can fix — one that’s not caused by other medical conditions. Basically, CF is a symptom of other ailments, while CFS has no known cause. If you suspect you have one of these conditions, make sure to explain exactly the way you’re feeling to your doctor or naturopath.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
The most common cause behind this long-term debilitating feeling of exhaustion is depleted adrenal glands. “These glands are like your bank account,” explains Lo. “You can take $20 out everyday, but if you only put $15 back at the end of the day, after a while, there is nothing left. You have overspent. Now your savings can run very low, but people with CFS basically have bankrupted their account. And just like in real life, it takes a long period of time to recover from bankruptcy.”
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
To diagnose CFS, extensive testing is required for things such as anemia, diabetes, Lyme’s disease and checking food sensitivities and B12 levels.
The best treatments, according to Lo, are specific adrenal support using vitamins, herbs, intravenous therapy and a B12 vitamin injection. Dietary changes are also usually necessary after doing a food-sensitivity test. In terms of supplements, Lo suggests multi-vitamins, iron, an adrenal extract, ginseng, vitamin C, vitamin D, licorice, eleutherococcus, rhodiola, ashwagandha, astragalus and various homeopathics — you’ll need a naturopath to tell you exact amounts that will work safely for you.
Once the initial adrenal support is in full swing, Lo suggests treating other organ systems affected, such as the thyroid, digestion and immune system.
While acupuncture, chiropractics and exercise are all helpful, patients should be wary. Massages can be painful due to inflamed joints, and exercise can push the body to high levels of exhaustion. Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, walking and deep breathing exercise can all help. Lo recommends starting with light walking and working your way up.
Remember, no two people with CFS are alike, so don’t compare your issues with other sufferers.