You MAY suffer from Chronic Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic Fatigue syndrome can be debilitating and affects more than 1 million people in the United States. It is characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition or disease. Tens of millions of people don’t fit the criteria of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but suffer from a CFS-like condition which makes living a normal life difficult to impossible.
The causes of CFS and CFS-like fatigue are not well understood. Some theories indicate a genetic predisposition, viral etiology, psychological stress or perhaps a combination of factors. Because of so many varied causes, and because so many other illnesses cause similar symptoms, chronic fatigue can be difficult to diagnose and treat. There are no specific tests for chronic fatigue and this means your doctor has to rule out other underlying causes for your fatigue.
In conventional medicine, one of the biggest problems in dealing with fatigue is the focus on symptoms and diseases. If you go to a doctor and you have high cholesterol, you may get a drug to lower your cholesterol. If you go to a doctor with high blood pressure, you may get a drug to lower your blood pressure, and there’s often little investigation into why your cholesterol or blood pressure are high in the first place. The intent is to bring these numbers into the normal range, and that’s generally the end of the story. In functional medicine, we focus less on the symptoms and more on the underlying mechanisms and causes. As we address those underlying mechanisms, the symptoms tend to resolve on their own, so we often don’t have to worry about going after each and every symptom individually. Functional Medicine looks to address the root cause of the condition.
The difference in the approach between conventional and functional medicine is based on the fundamental difference in the training doctors receive. Conventional medicine is great for acute problems like pneumonia or a heart attack or a broken bone, but it often fails us when dealing with a chronic health problem like chronic fatigue. Conventional medicine doctors don’t typically have time to think about the patient’s genetics and epigenetics and diet and lifestyle.
So what is the functional medicine approach to treating Chronic Fatigue?
The answer depends on the individual patient. In my practice, I consider 7 main factors when assessing chronic fatigue. I begin with my core assessment which includes a complete nutritional evaluation, and a close look at lifestyle, stress, sleep, exercise and environment. I then focus on Gut Health and look for evidence of gastrointestinal dysfunction with comprehensive stool testing. I also look at nutrient deficiencies with advanced functional medicine lab tests. A very significant factor in fatigue is adrenal dysfunction so I also assess the adrenal glands with specialized hormone testing.
Once these first three factors are addressed and treated, we can then focus on the next 4 factors. We can begin to look at additional hormone imbalances including metabolic hormones like insulin, as well as thyroid imbalance, and sex hormone imbalance. Some patients have toxic exposures or inability to detoxify hormones, heavy metals, biotoxins or chemicals. Some patients suffer from chronic infections such as Lyme disease, mycoplasma, chlamydia, candida or chronic viruses. Some patients have a problem with their immune system and develop autoimmunity from an overactive immune system and some suffer from an underactive immune system while others have inflammation. A fairly new factor is genetic polymorphisms which are mutations in genes that can lead to problems with normal cellular function.
As you can see, the assessment of chronic fatigue is not straightforward and requires a complete and personalized evaluation and plan. At Juvenate Medical Wellness & Rejuvenation, we use an integrative approach to look at the root cause of your chronic fatigue and help you get your health and your life back.
What are some things I can do right now to help my fatigue and improve my health?
There are some things you can do at home to help your fatigue.
SLEEP: Because many people with fatigue can’t get enough healing sleep, trying to optimize sleep will help many people improve their fatigue. You can start by going to bed at around the same time each night and waking up around the same time about 8-9 hours later. Get your daily dose of early afternoon sunshine to help your circadian rhythm normalize. Making sure the room is completely dark when sleeping is also important.
EXERCISE: Many people with fatigue can’t even think about exercising but even starting with a 2 minute walk daily and increasing it as you are able will help your overall health.
NUTRITION: Instead of thinking of all the foods you are eating that you know are bad for you, try to add a healthy whole food to every meal. You can slowly increase this so you effectively crowd out the bad things you usually eat.
STRESS: You may think of stress only as what you feel, but stress is a physiological response in your body and can be measured and therefore treated. I have all my patients do daily breathing exercise and this is something you can start doing for your well-being now. For example, you can use a free app on your smartphone to help you learn 4-7-8 breathing which will greatly help in reducing stress over time.