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Chronic Fatigue

You’re Not Crazy but the Conventional Treatments Being Offered Are

Do you feel like you’re always exhausted? No matter what you try, do you often end up crashing for hours, even days, with absolutely nothing left in the tank? Does it get so bad that you have difficulty with basic tasks like bathing and getting dressed? Even when you know you slept long enough, do you still go through your day feeling zapped of energy and happiness? 

If so, you’re not alone – you could be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome affects over one million Americans, with most of those being women.1 It’s debilitating and scary for those suffering from this chronic condition. Sadly, chronic fatigue syndrome is often misdiagnosed and mismanaged by conventional practitioners, leaving you with just a few of your symptoms treated. Without the root cause never being addressed, you’ll never fully recover.

This is why it’s so important to identify and address the core causes of your chronic fatigue symptoms in order to find a path towards true healing. A functional medicine approach to treatment not only knocks out your symptoms, but it also works to prevent those symptoms from returning. 

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue (and often, pain). Other symptoms begin to arise and are made worse by physical or mental exertion.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:2

  • Severe fatigue that isn’t relieved with rest
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Post-exertional malaise which causes the “crash” feeling after activity
  • Inability to exercise or move
  • Lack of concentration or “brain fog”
  • Dizzy, lightheaded, faint particularly upon standing
  • Vision changes
  • Headaches
  • Digestion issues
  • Allergies
  • Sore throat or swollen lymph nodes
  • Depression or anxiety

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Causes

Chronic fatigue is an illness that’s often misunderstood. There isn’t one leading single cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. There are a variety of causes, which is why it’s so important to work with a functional medicine practitioner who can identify the root cause of your symptoms. 

Over time, functional medicine practitioners have been sought out due to their integrative treatment approaches. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome are often not believed and it’s time we change that response. 

Various integrative approaches used to identify the root cause of one’s chronic fatigue include: 

  • Mitochondrial Dysfunction – Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. So when the mitochondria in your cells aren’t working properly, your body is left without enough energy on a cellular level.3 
  • Inflammation – A lack of sleep is associated with changes in your inflammatory, immune, and neuroendocrine systems. Chronic inflammation leads to higher levels of inflammatory markers, reduced activity, and fatigue. The foods you eat also contribute greatly to the amount of inflammation you have. Processed foods and an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids significantly contribute to chronic inflammation.3 
  • Gut Health – Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut, food intolerances, infections, poor diet, and malabsorption issues are all problems that cause the gut to not function properly. Poor gut health negatively affects the gut microbiome by altering the amount and type of good bacteria naturally present. When this delicate balance is altered, problems occur.
  • Toxin Exposures – Pollutants from your environment and mycotoxins from mold exposure both increase your body’s total toxic burden, which further aggravates fatigue.
  • Chronic Stress – Stress, particularly chronic stress, affect your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). This axis controls your body’s immune response, temperament, energy usage, and digestion. Hormones are secreted by these glands and when they become unbalanced, inflammation and an immune system that’s chronically activated, are the result.4 

Conventional Treatment for Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue is typically treated by traditional physicians with a combination of pharmaceuticals and therapy.5 While pharmaceutical medications certainly have their place (I’ve used many in the ER setting), they’re often overused and mask the underlying root causes of disease. I find that oftentimes these drugs cause more harm than good. In addition, while cognitive training also has a place in healthcare, your counselor won’t be able to train away things like poor gut health or severe immune dysfunction. 

Ultimately, these are just a few reasons why many with chronic fatigue syndrome remain undiagnosed or are left to their own devices – because they’re misunderstood and treated as if their condition is all in their head. 

Functional Medicine Approach to Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A functional medicine approach to healing chronic fatigue syndrome involves uncovering and addressing each patient’s unique core causes, mediators, and triggers. As a functional medicine practitioner, I always address my patient’s diet and several lifestyle factors, then begin looking into their body symptoms, down to a cellular level, to gain a clearer picture of what’s leading to the constant fatigue symptoms. 

I like to take my time to develop a personalized plan of care that’s unique to each patient. This ensures your plan of care is fully comprehensive and thorough. I begin by going through each body system to determine the culprits of your symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as assisting in the development of your health timeline. There are usually “A-ha moments” when patients see the development of symptoms with regard to key periods in their life that may have included a career change, a death of a loved one, starting a new medication, overseas travel, divorce, a head injury, mold exposure, etc. It’s a discovery process.

Mitochondrial Health and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

An overwhelming amount of research shows time and time again that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a large role in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.6 These little energy machines called mitochondria are damaged by poor diet, toxins, stress, infections, and allergens.

Another factor to consider is oxidation, which occurs when the mitochondria metabolize food with oxygen. Free radicals are the waste that results. When there are too many free radicals in your body and not enough antioxidants, your body’s mitochondria become damaged and unable to produce energy. This can be due to something as simple as not eating enough whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. These are a source of antioxidants and nutrients that help keep your mitochondria working properly. 

Some ways to keep your mitochondria healthy include:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Eat less processed foods, additives, and sugar which leads to nutrient deficiencies
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Eat more whole foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, and iron
    • Beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Get adequate and restful sleep
  • Increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
  • Keep properly hydrated
  • Take a daily supplement for support mitochondrial health

Gut Health and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Gut dysfunction is common in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. This dysfunction results from interactions between the microbes in the intestine, mucosal barrier function, and the immune system. In fact, a previous diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is common in those with chronic fatigue syndrome.

When the microbiome of the gut is unbalanced, the mucosal layer of your intestines works to prevent the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria. This defense mechanism prevents inflammation and infection. The chronic, low-grade inflammation that occurs in chronic fatigue syndrome causes immune system mayhem.8 In fact, 80% of your immune cells reside around your GI tract. Your GI tract is a HUGE part of your immune system.

Some ways to improve your gut health include:

  • Improve your diet by eliminating processed foods and eating more whole foods
  • Make sure you don’t have any food intolerances by completing an Elimination and Reintroduction Diet. Everyone should do this right from the get-go. It’s an extremely valuable diagnostic tool.
  • Take an enzyme supplement to support optimal digestion
    • My favorite is our Enzyme Support because it also supports optimal absorption of nutrients from food
  • Eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation
    • Salmon, herring, mackerel, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and eggs from free-range chickens
    • Turmeric Plus is an excellent anti-inflammatory to take daily
  • Take a probiotic daily to keep a healthy balance of intestinal microbiota
    • My favorite probiotic is our Optimal Probiotic because of its varied species of bacteria to support a healthy, well-rounded digestive system

Adrenal Health and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Your adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline, two important hormones. The glands also play a critical role in the HPA-axis dysfunction commonly found in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. When the parts of the HPA-axis aren’t running smoothly, your body’s stress response is altered. 

These important glands simply cannot keep up with the demands of our fast-paced, busy lifestyles. Your adrenal glands can become fatigued and overworked by poor nutrition, stimulants, chronic stress, toxins, and chronic infections. But there are some things you can do to help keep your adrenal glands healthy and your HPA-axis in tune such as9

  • Mental, physical, and emotional rest
  • Getting enough restful sleep each night
  • Check out the Adrenal Support Tea to support both your adrenals and gut health 
  • Eat real foods rich in healthy fats, carbohydrates, protein, and lots of fresh produce
  • Decrease your toxic load 
    • Use natural beauty and cleaning products that do NOT have ammonia, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, or phthalates
    • Aim for eating organic produce as often as possible
    • Eat organic, free-range meats whenever possible
  • Keep your gut bacteria balanced to enhance your body’s ability to digest and detoxify
  • Take time for relaxation and socializing with others

Thyroid Health and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Thyroid hormone levels are typically lower in those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. But this is different than your average case of hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism, your body isn’t making enough thyroid hormones so it overcompensates by making more thyroid-stimulating hormone. In chronic fatigue syndrome, your body has low levels of thyroid hormones, but no thyroid disease.10  However, hypothyroidism can certainly be present. 

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck. Although small, it’s task is quite mighty. When thyroid function is suboptimal, or when your body’s cellular response to thyroid hormone is dysfunctional, you may begin to feel tired, experience weight gain, feel depressed or anxious, experience menstrual irregularities, and lose hair. Luckily, there are some things you can do to boost and rebalance your thyroid health and function. These include:

  • Lower or eliminate sources of stress
  • Aim for eight hours of restful sleep each night
  • Check for heavy metal toxicity and reduce your toxic burden
  • Address food allergies and nutritional deficiencies
  • Be sure to eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods in their whole form
  • Get some form of daily exercise
  • Consider a thyroid supplement after discussing with your healthcare provider

Immune Health and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Many afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome are dealing with chronic infections due to a decreased ability to fight off infections.11 Since many different body symptoms are affected, it causes a cascade of bodily dysfunction. As infections become chronic, the pathogens become entrapped in biofilms.12 They produce toxins and use up nutrients, leaving you with deficiencies. 

Biofilms essentially act as armor for pathogens, which in turn allows infections to go chronic because they’re undetected by lab tests. The key is to dissolve their armor so antimicrobials can go in and kill what’s hiding inside.13 

Not only are we dealing with biofilms here, but since a huge portion of your immune system is actually inside your gut, you must also be working on gut health.14 This is exactly why the conventional approach to treating chronic fatigue is never going to address the root cause. Because the root cause is multi-dimensional and needs to be treated as such.

Some ways to increase your immune health include:

  • Use a supplement that acts as biofilm busters
    • Monolaurin, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), or colloidal silver
    • Here’s a great chart with natural plant extracts that target specific bacteria and biofilms
  • After breaking biofilms, follow-up with an antimicrobial agent to get rid of the pathogens inside
    • Goldenseal, oregano oil, monolaurin, andrographis, and traditional antibiotics, among others
  • Once biofilms are disrupted and the pathogen inside is eliminated, you’ll need to work on cleaning up the mess they left behind with a binder
    • A few common natural binders are activated charcoal or bentonite clay
  • Once chronic infections are addressed and managed, it’s imperative to address gut health so that these pathogenic biofilms don’t develop again.
    • Take a daily prebiotic and probiotic
    • Address nutrition by eating foods in their whole form, organic whenever possible, plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, and free-range meats
  • Green Immuni-Tea and Antimicrobial Tea are great for your immune system 

Detoxification and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 

As a whole, everyone could benefit from reducing exposure to toxins in their daily life. But for those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s imperative since toxins make you sick and slow you down. We live in a toxic world. Toxins are in our air, water, food, home and beauty products, and lawn care and pet products, just to name a few. In fact, new research is proving you can develop chronic fatigue syndrome following a toxin exposure.15                          

This is often the case with TILT Syndrome (Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance). This syndrome can be associated with a wide array of symptoms after an acute exposure to toxins. I’ve seen this occur in patients after moving into new homes. New homes are notorious for “off-gassing” of toxic non VOC paints, carpets, cabinetry, solvents, glues, etc. 

Some ways to reduce your toxin exposure include:

  • Eliminate hidden mold sources in your home as mold produces mycotoxins which not only cause health decline but also contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction16
  • Test your water for possible contaminants
  • Avoid processed, GMO and non-organic foods 
  • Avoid the use of pesticides
  • Use natural, chemical-free cleaners and beauty products 
  • Quit smoking
  • Eliminate toxins from your body
    • Drink plenty of water 
    • Consider the use of an infrared sauna
    • Support your immune system
    • Eat healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables
    • Make gut health a priority
    • Reduce inflammation
    • Get quality and sufficient rest each night

Chronic Fatigue Is Real, But We Can Help

Chronic fatigue syndrome can be isolating and make you feel like you’re going crazy, especially when you feel misunderstood by conventional doctors. Luckily, there is a better way and that’s through the use of functional medicine. The key is to develop a tailored approach that encompasses all aspects of your health, lifestyle, and environment to uncover the root causes of your illness. 

It’s time you get back to feeling great and doing all the things you love. Click here to begin your journey towards a new you! 

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