Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a disorder characterised by extreme fatigue or tiredness which is not due to any underlying medical condition and does not go away with rest. Basically, the main symptom is fatigue which lasts more than six months. Symptoms don't really improve with rest and any sort of exertion could worsen the condition.

The exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is still unknown but it may be due to genetic or environmental factors. The other thing about this disease is that it mostly affects women and not men.

Since the exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, there is no cure available for it as yet. One can only manage or treat some of the symptoms, thus bringing relief to those afflicted by this debilitating condition, which could last for years or be lifelong.

There is also a school of thought which believes that it is caused by a change in our immune system or the way in which our body reacts to stress. It is believed to be similar to certain autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body.

Some symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

•   Headache
•   Sensitivity to light
•   Fatigue and weakness
•   Tender lymph nodes in neck and armpits
•   Pain in joints and muscles
•   Insomnia
•   Brain fog
•   Forgetfulness & confusion
•   Low-grade fever
•   Depression

Besides providing us with nourishment, the food that we eat goes a long way in impacting the way we feel as well. So, while food won’t cure chronic fatigue syndrome, it will help boost your energy levels, address any nutrient deficiencies and keep inflammation in check. This, in turn will reduce symptoms like muscle pain and tiredness.

Therefore, you should definitely avoid fast food, fried food, frozen meals, sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine. Instead, your diet should include fruits, especially berries, leafy green vegetables, legumes, fish, soy products, yogurt, kefir, spices, herbs and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.

Foods that will not help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

1.  Wheat – If you are gluten intolerant- also in many sauces, and packaged foods, know to release cytokines of an inflammatory nature. Change to gluten-free flours: sorghum (jovar), amaranth (rajgeera), buckwheat (kuttu).

2.  Dairy - Releases insulin rapidly, and today’s milk is not assimilated. Instead leaves us with un-digested protein sticking to our gut making our intestines absorb very little. Substitute with almond, soy (minimize), and nut milks.

3.  Sugar (includes jaggery) and refined carbohydrates – Increase the insulin levels causing free radicals to float around and damaged cells. Refined carbohydrates will raise the body’s load to absorb high glycemic (GI) foods, raising the inflammatory markers three times higher. Sugar will also impact the stress response and impact cortisol. Reach out for fruit, whole grains like: brown rice, including sweeter vegetables like pumpkin (bhopla), carrots, cabbage, onions, sweet potato and beetroot, to stave off sugar cravings.

4.  Excessive alcohol – Inhibits the production of an enzyme, that helps convert plant based sources of omega 3 fats, into inflammation fighting compounds. Keep it minimal: three times a week not more than three drinks.

5.  Saturated fats, trans fats and refined oils – Saturated fats from dairy and meats, will increase inflammation. Trans fats and refined oils will do the same causing oxidative damage to the cells. Use olive, sesame, avocado, ghee, coconut oil, oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, seeds and take a fish oil supplement.

6.  Colas, aerated beverages, artificial sweeteners, additives – Everything that disrupts the digestion process feeding the bad microorganisms. Reach out for a lime juice instead.

7.  Excessive Coffee or caffeine – Inhibits the digestion process, increases acidity, first kicking up the production of hydrochloric acid, then depleting it. Less of it makes for an unhealthy digestive environment, promoting bad microorganisms. It will worsen the stress response, and causing fatigue to get worse. Reach out for a herbal tea instead.

8.  Obesity and a big belly – Inflammation, weight are co-dependent and stress are all related to each other; the more you weigh the higher is your inflammation; the higher your inflammation the harder it will be for you to lose weight, the harder it is to lose weight the more stressed you will be. Keep away from processed, refined foods, eating out. Exercise and avoid everything listed above.

9.  Stress – Couple of things go wrong which are pre-cursors to things going haywire up there, by this I mean your mind. When you are stressed, a release of excessive cortisol and adrenaline release inflammatory cytokines (proteins) that affect the behaviour of inflammatory cells even in the brain. Biochemicals in the brain of people with disturbances, indicate inflammatory markers are high. Build in meditation, yoga, any activity that will bust stress, pranayam, exercise to release endorphins, write to release serotonin.

Foods that will help with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

1.  Include complex carbohydrates are a good source of sugars and fibre, and also promotes smooth functioning of the digestive tract; ensuring proper waste elimination. Here, I cannot emphasize the necessity of whole grains from a brown/red rice to any good millet that really aids with the amounts of antioxidants and anti-aging benefits (brown rice alone has 70 anti-aging antioxidants). Have you heard of grain gain for your brain? it is very real. Whole grain will supply the right sugars for our brain for 8 hours, and support brain glucose.

2.  Good quality protein helps you stay satiated, keep blood sugars stable, supports the mind and the body. Protein also maintains our muscles; your intestinal lining has muscle fibres; this means lean protein if you eat fish and meats and plant-based protein if you are a vegetarian/vegan. Excess protein (animal protein) is not good for you, so balance it with vegetables and greens. We don’t want those body pathways getting blocked we must maintain the quality of blood being clean and not toxic.

3.  Vegetables, which not only have good quality fibre; especially coloured vegetables that have plenty of beta carotene that converts to Vitamin A to repair skin (of the gut lining). Plus, leafy greens and green vegetables (also in the form of barley grass or wheat grass), these mimic the blood structure and are necessary for cleansing the blood and the much-needed chlorophyll they provide. Chlorophyll in-turn also provides magnesium, that calms the muscles and gut lining promoting relaxation in the body.

4.  Fermented foods, serve a crucial part of any diet plan supplying good amounts of probiotics to nourish our guts. Foods like sauerkraut, quick pickles, non-dairy kefir, kimchi are highly recommended, anything that brings in lactic acid bacteria fermentation. Just remember people who are stressed in the gut, get fatigued easily.

5.  Nuts and seeds bring in the trace minerals, good fats and oils that are needed.

6.  Fruits again provide a plethora of vitamins and antioxidants to help gut repair.

7.  Just the right amount of water or liquids as too much will loosen and expand our tissues, a lot of water comes from the foods you eat. An excess of liquids puts a pressure on the kidneys, bladder and sweat glands as well; making us tired over time. We need just enough, one way of measuring this is to ask ourselves: are we really thirsty?

8.  Adding sea vegetables like spirulina helps in detoxification, vitamins, protein, minerals and antioxidants.

9.  Workout and exercise regularly, and keep your lifestyle in-check by establishing a regular eating habits, sleep habits and positive thoughts. One asana which will help is Vrkshasana (tree pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose)- these 2 will enhance concentration while shavasana will help in calming you down.  A brisk walk always helps or a run. This will help to produce endorphins which will make you feel good.

10. Sleep hygiene is also important, by this I mean catching a power nap for 20 minutes in the day, or getting your 8 hours of sleep.

11. A new mantra today is meditation. Practice makes you perfect and indulging in it will only increase focus and your capacity to work.

12. Keep a journal for food and symptoms since there is no standard diet for chronic fatigue syndrome, you may have to experiment with your diet till you get it right. Keeping a journal will help you to recognize what foods make you feel good and what do not. It will help you to find patterns between what you ate and your symptoms.

Sometimes the fatigue may prove to be too much and you may find it tough to wake up. Even though you may have had sufficient sleep, but your body just refuses to rise and shine. Generally, a cup of coffee may be your answer to fight off this sluggishness. But maybe you can do things differently.

Since dehydration can also lead to fatigue, it may be a better idea to reach for a glass of water instead of a cup of coffee or a de-caffeinated tea. Through the day, you can continue to fortify yourself with water and herbal teas, instead of caffeinated drinks.

Most of us begin our day with the alarm on our phones. And most of us go ahead and hit the snooze button. You could instead set two alarms, 90 minutes apart. The second alarm is for when you actually want to wake up while the first is set for 90 minutes before. This 90-minute snooze allows you to complete one full cycle of sleep unlike the fragments that you manage while hitting snooze after every 5 or 10 minutes. The result is a more rested you.

Simple stretching exercises or yoga may help to rejuvenate you. A cold shower or even a splash of cold water on the face could be invigorating. Lastly, start your day with some breakfast as it will fuel your body for the day ahead.
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