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Dr. Weil Q & A: Alternative Treatments For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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Dr Weil: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is not classified as a disease, but the term is used by medical experts when a patient experiences unexplained, persistent fatigue for more than six months. About 3 out of every 1,000 Americans may suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. It typically affects people between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. It seems that Caucasian women are more prone to chronic fatigue syndrome, and it may be even more widespread than breast cancer, lung cancer and hypertension.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue?
There are many symptoms associated with chronic fatigue, but disabling fatigue and exhaustion are most prominent. Other symptoms include headaches, short-term memory loss or severe inability to concentrate, muscle pain, joint pain, depression, lack of restful sleep, muscle weakness and lymph-node pain.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?
At this time, there seems to be no primary cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, but many experts suspect that there are multiple factors that play a role, such as a hyper-reactive immune system and a viral or other infectious agent.

How is it diagnosed?
A physical exam will show only subtle abnormalities, typically lymph node tenderness or throat inflammation. Laboratory tests will most likely be normal, or reveal only minimal abnormalities. Instead, physicians will rule out other possible causes of the fatigue lasting more than six months, and if nothing can be found, then the patient will be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. There are several medical conditions that could cause prolonged fatigue. The conditions that are ruled out include: depression, the Epstein-Barr virus, long-term autoimmune disease, pregnancy, sleep disorders, anemia, cancer, hepatitis, diabetes, extreme exercise and excessive stress.

• The Center for Disease Control recommends using the following criteria for diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Unexplained, persistent fatigue or relapsing chronic fatigue that is of a new onset (versus life-long), and is not the result of ongoing exertion, is not alleviated by rest, and causes a significant decrease in the ability to function at work, school or daily routine.

Concurrent occurrence of at least four of the following symptoms: Significant impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; headaches of a new type or severity; joint pain without redness or swelling, muscle pain; tender lymph nodes; poor quality of sleep; and exhaustion lasting more than a day after exertion.

What can I do to help improve my symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment or reliable cure.. It seems that the best predictor of improvement is to remain as active as possible. It is important to have a physician who is sensitive to the syndrome, and avoid those who recommend expensive treatments that have no proven validity.

The following treatments have been shown to be beneficial for many patients:

• Exercise — Some studies have shown that those who engage in exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, actually feel less fatigue and an improvement in normal functioning. It is important to increase activity gradually to avoid overexerting yourself. As with any exercise program, you want to start out slowly, maybe just five minutes a day depending on the level of tolerance. Increase activity about 5-to-10% each week. Some activities to try are walking, biking, swimming and yoga.

• Simplified diet — Follow a simple diet of whole foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein sources. Avoid sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and alcohol.

• Stress-reduction exercises — Learn and practice a relaxation technique such as yoga or meditation on a regular basis.

What can you do for General Fatigue?

• Get enough sleep — Sleep deprivation is one of the most common reasons for fatigue.

• Eat small, balanced, frequent meals — Keeping blood sugar levels stable can ward off periods of low energy.

• Be active — You may need to expend some energy every day in order to have more of it.

• Stay hydrated — Not drinking enough water can cause fatigue.

Nutritional Supplements and General Fatigue
The following are a list of supplements that are supported by scientific research with respect to general fatigue:

• Magnesium and calcium – Oral magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms of fatigue in persons with low magnesium levels.

• Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – Studies show that Eleuthero can enhance mental acuity. Research also demonstrates that Eleuthero improves the use of oxygen by the exercising muscle. This means that a person may be able to maintain aerobic exercise longer and recover from workouts more quickly.

• Coenzyme Q10 – This nutrient is involved in energy production in the body’s cells.

• Cordyceps – This traditional fungus is used as an energy-boosting tonic.

The following supplements may be helpful for general fatigue even if you do not suffer from CFS:

• Cordyceps – This medicinal mushroom is a good energy-boosting tonic.

• Ashwagandha – This Ayurvedic tonic herb, sometimes called Indian ginseng, appears to be useful as a general tonic to increase energy.

• Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – Siberian ginseng may be useful for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and General Fatigue because it has been shown to enhance mental acuity.
Research has also shown that this type of ginseng improves the use of oxygen by the exercising muscle. This means that a person is able to maintain aerobic exercise longer and recover from workouts more quickly.

Source: Copyright © 2004 Polaris Health, LLC

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