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Nutrition and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is the name for a group of weakening medical complaints characterized by persistent fatigue and other symptoms that lasts for a minimum of six months.

Tips to Improve Energy

  • Drink at least 1½ litres of water daily plus fresh juices to detoxify the body and reduce muscle pain and fatigue.
  • If stress has played a major part in your life, your adrenal glands may be exhausted. A nutritional therapist can organise a laboratory test to investigate the levels of your stress hormones (cortisol and DHEA). Based on this information, symptoms can be improved with appropriate nutritional therapy.
  • Foods to enjoy: beans and pulses, fresh vegetables, organic white meat, fish, seeds and freshly cracked nuts, organic brown rice and millet, natural yoghurt, yeast-free bread, oat cakes, rice cakes, cold-pressed vegetable oils (for dressings).
  • Protein helps to build and maintain body tissue and balance the fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which could lead to fatigue. Protein can also alleviate pain and muscle weakness. Sources: lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and rice.
  • Many nutritional therapists have found that clients suffering from CFS respond well to an anti-candida diet so it might be worth getting yourself checked out for candida.
  • Some experts suggest that CFS is linked to the immune system which may explain why certain foods could worsen symptoms. A good place to start when trying to identify food sensitivities is to keep a food diary of what you eat and when you experience the worsening of symptoms which could help you spot any patterns.
  • Low blood sugar is common in CFS. Having blood sugar level tests may help eliminate this possibility.
  • Foods to avoid: sugar, yeast, refined grains such as white rice and white flour products, malted products – some cereals and drinks, fermented products (vinegar, soya sauce, alcohol), most milk products, fresh and dried fruit (high in fructose), mushrooms, tea and coffee, artificial sweeteners, soft drinks, fried foods.
  • An inefficient digestive system can result in feeling sluggish. In order to avoid this, whole grains should be included in your diet to insure that the digestive system is kept moving e.g. brown rice, barley, quinoa, oatmeal and whole wheat.

Supplements and Herbs

Supplements that may be helpful in alleviating CFS symptoms:

  • Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, vitamin E, vitamin C help protect cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress.
  • Probiotics such as acidophilus and bifido bacteria enhance intestinal colonies of friendly bacteria.
  • Milk thistle encourages detoxification.
  • Siberian ginseng, vitamin B5 and vitamin C support the adrenal glands.
  • Chromium and vitamin B3 have been shown to balance blood sugar.
  • CoQ10 is a fat-soluble coenzyme and involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate, the cellular source of energy. In addition to reducing fatigue, CoQ10 may alleviate muscle weakness and pain and reduce cognitive dysfunction. Its role as a free radical scavenger may lead to improvement in immune responses.
  • Essential fatty acids such as omegas 3 and 6, EPA, DHA, fish oil, flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil and borage seed oil are vital for maintaining the structure and function of cell membranes, particularly in the nervous system and can help reduce fatigue. They can also enhance immune system activity.
  • Magnesium may help reduce fatigue.
  • The herbs ginseng and Echinacea may help improve energy and boost the immune system.

NOTE: Before taking on any nutritional programme or herbal supplements as part of your CFS treatment, consult a qualified nutritionist through the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (www.bant.org.uk) or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (www.nimh.org.uk).

Young woman slicing pomegranate

Natural Anti-Inflammatories


The following can aggravate inflammation, so avoid or limit:

  • Sugar and caffeine.
  • Known allergens such as wheat, gluten, yeast, eggs, dairy, soy and nuts.  To help you identify sensitivities that could be causing you problems, follow an elimination diet avoiding a substance for two weeks, and then introducing it for a day or two.
  • Saturated fats found in meats, dairy products and eggs.  An important source of minerals and vitamins, these foods also contain arachidonic acid, which although essential for health, too much in the diet can make inflammation worse. Choose low fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat, which will not promote inflammation.
  • The nightshade family of plants such as tomatoes, aubergines, red and green bell peppers and chili and paprika may increase pain from inflammation.

To decrease inflammation, include:

  • Raw nuts especially walnuts and freshly ground flaxseeds to provide you with nutrients that balance blood sugar and provide the amino acids that muscles need for good health.
  • Foods rich in antioxidants such as spinach, strawberries, carrots, red grapes, kale, apples and dark chocolate to repair cell damage and help you feel better.
  • Ginger which is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Grate some into juice or tea.
  • Enzymes which contain bromelain. The most effective enzymes are ones that break down proteins and are found in several fruits such as kiwi, pineapple (especially the stem) and green papaya. When consumed raw, a portion of these enzymes are absorbed into the blood stream where they break down inflammatory complexes.
  • Olives and extra virgin olive oil which are packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. However, these important phytochemicals are not present in refined oil, so use the extra virgin, cold-pressed oil or the whole olives.
  • Generous portions of brightly-coloured vegetables for their fibre and natural anti-inflammatory compounds.
  • A daily intake of honey which is a natural anti-inflammatory and cleanser, both outside and inside the body.
  • Peppermint, spearmint, and Earl Grey (contains bergamot) teas to help reduce inflammation and fight uric acid levels (main contributor to inflammation).

 Further Steps to Reduce Causes Of Inflammation

  • Substances like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine place a burden on your system, so eliminate or moderate your intake.
  • Use natural cleaning products and detergents. Test your air and water and, if necessary, get high-quality filters. Bring in lots of houseplants to help filter the air.
  • It’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to environmental toxins, so it’s a good idea to periodically detoxify.

Investigate alternative therapies to deal with pain management:  Use anti-inflammatory drugs for short periods during acute crises. If you still notice symptoms of inflammation, you may want to try some form of adjunctive therapy such as acupuncture, massage or water therapy that reduces pain and inflammation naturally.  An easy self-help tip to reduce inflammation is the topical application of a frozen wheat bag used as a cold compress. To prevent frostbite, let the area warm completely before repeating.