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C.F.S. (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)/ M.E.

I specialise in helping people with C.F.S/M.E., and have lectured for a number of years on Action for M.E.’s residential courses.

There are many theories about the causes, and it is likely that the triggers are multiple and differ from person to person, just as symptoms differ (with the exception of severe energy depletion).

What is clear is that many body systems are involved, including the nervous, endocrine (energy and hormones), immune, musculo-skeletal and digestive systems.  There are a number of important nutrients which are vital to all these systems, such as specific minerals and functional B vitamins.

In my view, the two most important contributions to recovery are (a) learning to pace yourself and (b) getting your nutrition right.  In my experience, most people with C.F.S./M.E. show symptoms of disturbed digestion.  Since the body can only regain its natural function with the right raw materials, I always start my making sure the diet excludes anything that might interfere with nutrient absorption, and includes largely nutrient-dense foods.  Some people will feel better from that step alone.  With others, vital steps to restore normal digestive functioning may be needed, especially where gut infection, leaky gut, toxicity or food intolerance are involved.

There is research to suggest that a common factor in C.F.S./M.E. is disturbed cellular energy production, otherwise know by the name mitochondrial dysfunction.  This has led to the development and use of various supplements which support specific steps in the very complex process of energy production in cells.

There are now a number of valuable clinical tests which can help to identify the underlying factors involved in an individual’s illness pattern.  The most useful is probably a simple urine test of Organic Acids, which comprehensively assesses a wide range of metabolic functions, including cellular energy production, toxicity, digestion, and neurotransmission, and may also pinpoint specific nutrient deficiencies which may be holding back the process of recovery.

I find in particular that good quality protein is always a very high priority (amino acids from protein provide the essential building blocks for most body processes, including energy molecules, neurotransmitters, endorphins, anti-oxidants, immune factors and nerve and muscle regulators).  I regularly test clients’ amino acid levels, and have found that even people with a good protein diet can show very low levels indeed of many amino acids.  We are beginning to understand why this may be the case – as well as how important it is – and find that such people will benefit greatly from improved protein intake and absorption as a way to kick-start body systems.

Even if tests are not an option, targeted dietary improvement can be very useful.  However, individual routes to symptom improvement differ, and it can greatly help to have a nutritional assessment to identify from your symptoms which nutrients may be deficient or poorly absorbed, and which obstacles to recovery could perhaps be removed.  It is inevitably a slow process, but as people begin to see symptom improvements they are usually feel encouraged to continue to address what may be missing.

See also separate briefing on chronic conditions


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Sally Whitman of Blackberry Nutrition experienced nutrition consultant and nutritional therapist with a very busy clinic in Cheltenham, near Gloucester, Gloucestershire