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Interview: Dr. J.E. Williams on Viral Immunity and Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia

  [ 232 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • March 17, 2004

Internationally known for his pioneering work in integrative medicine, Dr. J.E. Williams has over twenty years of clinical experience in Oriental and Naturopathic medicine. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Integrative Medicine, served as a professional advisor to several national health companies, several hospitals and medical groups including Scripps Clinic, regularly speaks at scientific and medical conferences, and is a member of the editorial board for the journal Alternative Medicine Review. He has published numerous articles in medical journals and is the author of Prolonging Health (2003) and Viral Immunity (2002). Do you regularly see Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia patients in your practice? If so, do you have a standard treatment protocol you follow to help these patients manage their symptoms? Also, do you treat symptoms in any particular order? Dr. Williams: Yes, I've treated CFS/CFIDS, FM, and chronic viral cases since 1982. In my clinical opinion, it's necessary to diagnose each case carefully and as accurately as possible to determine the cause. As you know, there may be several underlying causes. Diagnosis consists of standard chemistry panels and blood counts, hormone studies, and specialized immunology tests such as natural killer cell count and activity. However, symptoms need to be addressed as well and there are a number of ways to approach symptom management such as with acupuncture for the soft tissue pain of fibromyalgia. If, and importantly, there is an infectious cause that should be treated first. Improving sleep is also a priority in the early stages of treatment. As you know, there is much debate surrounding the causes of CFS and FM. In your opinion, do viruses contribute to the onset and pathology of “mystery illnesses” such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia? If so, which viruses do you believe contribute to the chronic symptoms of these illnesses? Dr. Williams: Viral infection certainly may be a contributing factor. However, fatigue, present in all cases of CFS/CFIDS and in at least 75% of FM, is likely a result of imbalances in the immune system and not a direct cause of viruses. Cytokines and chemokines, immune chemicals released by certain white blood cells, are well-known to cause fatigue during infection. Chronic infection by latent viruses result in continual immune activity where a wide range of these substances are released. I am currently working on discovering if there is a specific cytokine profile associated with fatigue syndromes and if any parallels can be drawn between chronic viral infections and fatigue states. This might help in evaluation of patients and treatment strategy. In your book Viral Immunity, you outline a 10-Step Plan to help people enhance their immunity against disease. Could you give us an introduction to and overview of this plan, and describe how it is helping people? Also, how does this plan benefit people who are beyond the prevention stage – that is, people who are already suffering with a chronic illness? Dr. Williams: Viral immunity is the ability of the immune system to prevent, defend against, neutralize, and eliminate viruses from the body. My book tells how to do this using a 10-step plan. Steps 1-4 inform the reader about the importance of lifestyle, diet, and exercise in health and the prevention of disease. In these chapters I outline how to use antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, and how to detoxify the body safely and effectively. In step 5, I discuss the role that inflammation plays in chronic and degenerative illnesses, and in particular how to manage inflammation during viral infections. Step 6 discusses how to enhance your immune system with specialized nutrients and natural medicines like beta-glucan. In step 7, I discuss effective natural antivirals like olive leaf extract and how to use them. In step 8, I review why Chinese medicines are so important in the treatment of viral illnesses and tell the reader which ones are the most effective. Step 9 informs the reader of the importance of hormones in maintaining a strong immune system and I discuss in detail how to improve hormone deficiencies. Step 10 outlines how to put steps 1-9 into practice. This plan is for both prevention and treatment of viral illnesses. Steps 1-4, and 9 are mainly prevention oriented. Steps 5-8 are treatment specific. In the case of severe fatigue and a compromised immune system, how do you help patients raise their energy levels and strengthen their immune response? Dr. Williams: It's important to be clear here. Healthy people are not fatigued. Therefore, I help patients' energy levels by identifying and treating the underlying cause of their fatigue. It's contraindicated in CFS to use stimulants of any type. With that said, here are some natural compounds that raise energy levels without stimulant effects: the homeopathic COBAT, adaptogenic agents like Rhodiola and Eleutherococcus, immunomodulating herbs like Astragalus, and nutraceutical substances like phospholipids and acetyl-l-carnitine. For overall muscle and tissue pain and soreness, how do you help patients achieve maximum overall comfort and a healthy inflammatory response? Dr. Williams: I prefer acupuncture for this. It is effective, does not compromise the patient by adding more medications, and has little potential side-effects. However, the first thing on the agenda for pain in FM patients is to improve sleep: both duration and quality. The inflammatory response can be mitigated by having the patient stop all foods containing Omega-6 fatty acids and increase Omega-3s. Proteolytic enzymes are helpful. Rebalancing cytokines produced by TH1 and TH2 immune response cells plays a critical role. Extra magnesium plays a role in managing imflammation in these cases. Brain fog and cognitive problems are very common among CFS and FM patients. What methods do you use to help ‘clear up the fog’ and achieve increased mental sharpness and focus for these patients? Dr. Williams: Again, as the underlying cause(s) are effectively treated this aspect of CFS clears of its own. However, it's important to regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. I believe this can be accomplished with the support of 5-HTP, phosphytidylcholine, and phophatidlyserine. Have you found effective ways to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Dr. Williams: IBS is frequently a part of the FM syndrome pattern. Dietary changes are essential here. No processed foods, manage fiber, and not too much if any raw foods. L-glutamine is the most important nutritional support. I believe vitamins E and A also help. How do you help patients achieve restorative, restful sleep? This is a major issue with CFS and FM patients, and lack of healthy sleep of course stands in the way of healing and optimal functioning throughout the day and gets patients into a vicious cycle. Dr. Williams: Daily restorative sleep and healthy resting are a critical component in effective therapy for these patients. Normalizing stress response is a first step here. Too much cortisol at night, especially if patients become hypoglycemic during the early hours of the morning, is one of the main causes of disrupted sleep. They should have a light snack before bed or a cup of chamomile tea with a little honey. Grandma's recipe of milk and honey increases tryptophan and prevents hypoglycemia. If a patient is not allergic to dairy, this old fashion remedy works miracles. 5-HTP and phosphatidylserine help regulate cortisol. Healthy sleeping patterns are so important that if natural measures prove insufficient, I recommend deseryl or an SSRI in low dosage. What kind of patient or person do you feel is the best candidate to benefit from your 10-Step Plan? What are the best results you’ve seen from people following this program? Dr. Williams: The current chronic viral problem is close to becoming a viral dilemma. Pandemics of emerging viruses and mutations of commonly occurring viruses like influenza loom on the immediate horizon. I think a copy of my book should be in every family in America. With that said, those that would most benefit are patients with chronic viral illnesses like EBV, CMV, HCV, HIV, and HHV-6. How/where can people buy your book, Viral Immunity? Dr. Williams: My book is available at major booksellers like Barnes & Noble, through health food stores, and online on For more information, visit my website at

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