We all experience periods of fatigue, “brain fog” or muscle aches once in a while. But for those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), these symptoms are a daily reality. People with CFS may also suffer memory loss, headaches, depression, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and a host of other symptoms that can lead to serious personal, social and occupational disturbances.
While a specific cause of CFS is not yet known, experts believe a weakened immune system may play a role in the onset of the condition. In fact, over 65% of CFS patients also suffer from allergies. Many CFS cases begin after lingering viral illnesses.
Thus far, the treatment of CFS centres on restoring a healthy immune system and aiding symptoms such as muscle pain and low energy. There are many natural remedies that work in this regard, but the following have been found particularly helpful for CFS.
Research reveals that many CFS patients are low in magnesium and that supplementation with the mineral can improve symptoms. In one study, patients reported increased energy, improved emotional state and less muscle pain after magnesium supplementation. Magnesium is essential for proper nerve transmission, energy production and muscle contraction and it is well-known to help ease muscle cramps.
A recent preliminary study suggests that CFS patients may have “decreased functional B-vitamin status” — that is, they are less able to use the B-vitamins they take in, and are therefore in a state of deficiency. The research points to vitamin B-6 as particularly critical in this regard. Interestingly, vitamin B-6 deficiencies, while rare, can cause impaired immunity and mental confusion. Other research has pointed to the importance of vitamin B-12 for CFS patients. In one small trial, 50% to 80% of the volunteers reported improvements after B-12 supplementation. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause fatigue. Another study found that a majority of CFS patients tested had low levels of the B-vitamin folic acid.
Ashwaganda & Rhodiola
These two herbs appear to have similar benefits for CFS, as they both improve mental and physical energy and may relieve stress. Ashwaganda is used as a general tonic in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It has also has been researched for its immune-building properties. Rhodiola is an “adaptogen.” Like ginseng, it can aid the body in dealing with stress and fatigue. Rhodiola is also said to help fight depression, aid immunity and improve energy levels.
Sources: The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs by Reader’s Digest:1999; Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau