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Suffering from Chronic Fatigue? Try this Dietary Approach

Trying to balance your work, home and social life throughout the week can be exhausting and might even cause varying levels of stress.

It is very normal to feel tired if you're constantly on the go.

However, if you can't seem to catch a break and feel like you're experiencing symptoms other than just feeling tired, you may have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and can be worsened by physical or mental activity.

There are several other symptoms associated with CFS, including insomnia, muscle pain, memory loss, weakness, having a hard time concentrating, and enlarged lymph nodes.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CFS; but, you may be able to try a dietary approach to help ease your symptoms. According to an article on Life Extension, you may want to try these dietary approaches to ease CFS:
  • Avoid smoking and chemical exposures
  • Alternative therapies like massage and Qigong
  • Detox
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • B-Vitamins
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin C
  • Amino Acids
  • Melatonin
  • Probiotics
  • Ribose

Dr. Mike shares a dietary approach you may want to consider to help ease your CFS symptoms.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 3, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Anti-aging and disease prevention radio is right here on RadioMD. Here's author, blogger, lecturer and national medical media personality, Dr. Michael Smith, MD, with Healthy Talk.

DR MIKE: I had a debate recently with a colleague friend of mine—a conventional doctor, a medical doctor. The debate centered around chronic fatigue syndrome and his position was it's a mood disorder. My position was that that might be true. There may be a mood component to it, but it's also physiological as well. I really should say pathological as well meaning that there are derangements in certain metabolic processes that are driving the chronic fatigue that may lead to the mood disorder. I got nowhere in the debate. He got nowhere in the debate, either, by the way. But, I think although more medical doctors are accepting the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, it's still really just seen as a mood issue. That's why the most commonly prescribed for chronic fatigue is Prozac, an anti-depressant.

The reason I'm bringing this up is as I was going through the latest research in chronic fatigue, when it comes to nutrients, for instance, I'm going to share some of that with you in this segment. What I found was the research is actually quite old, but it's solid research. We're talking about research from the 90's, basically. I don't know if we need to repeat these. The studies are awesome studies. They're showing great benefit for chronic fatigue patients. They're old studies, we're just not translating them into everyday clinical practice and that's the problem. Now, I want to mention dietary and lifestyle considerations for chronic fatigue syndrome. This is going to be an update. Again, I got this from a really good protocol from Life Extension Foundation at

I want to mention three things in terms of lifestyle first. I'm not going to go into the details, but, again, from old research and some newer research, smoking, chemical exposure, detoxification regimens and massage therapy. Those four. Solid research—you've got to stop smoking. You've got to avoid exposure to things like phthalates, specifically, those are in air fresheners. So, if you suffer from chronic fatigue and you still have those very common air fresheners in your house. You've got to get rid of them. You're better off doing maybe scented candles. Just make sure you get candles that have no phthalates in them. Phthalates are a compound that preserve the chemicals that give the good smell.

So, if you take away the phthalates, the Lysol just doesn't last as long, but you can find phthalate-free candles and stuff like that. So, make sure you do. Phthalates were kind of the big one and also PBA, which is a plastic. So, you probably want to transfer all plastic stuff to glassware. So, get rid of the air fresheners. Switch everything to glassware. Right there, that's going to reduce your chemical exposure. Of course, stop smoking. Massage therapy also seems to help, too. So, anyway, that's kind of the lifestyle considerations.

I want to focus more on the magnesium, B vitamins and zinc. Real simples stuff, right? We're not talking about anything crazy here. Magnesium, B vitamins and zinc. Solid research that helps with chronic fatigue. Let's start with the magnesium. One study reported that 20 adults with chronic fatigue syndrome had significantly lower red blood cell magnesium levels compared to 20 healthy controls. Now, that's not a cause/effect relationship. That's just an association. You have to do more studies to really figure out if low magnesium is a cause, but it's definitely an association. I mean, chronic fatigue patients, across the board, are magnesium deficient.

Okay? And they were looking at the right form of magnesium here, the red blood cell magnesium. That's the test you want to do. You don't want to just do a serum magnesium. That's not very reflective of your true magnesium status. You want to look at what's going on in the red blood cell there. You get a better idea of your overall body magnesium level. In a follow up placebo controlled trial, 15 chronic fatigue syndrome patients were randomly chosen to receive a weekly 1 gram injection of magnesium sulfate for 6 weeks. Members of the treatment group had significantly improved energy levels and less pain.

They were less emotionally reactive and perceived significant overall improvement compared to the subjects receiving placebo. Eighty percent of magnesium treated subjects reported benefit from the treatment versus 18% over the controls. That was published in Lancet. Take a guess at the year. 1991. It's not a huge study, right? But, okay, maybe this should have been...maybe this is one that should have been repeated. Maybe now we should take this and look at 200 chronic fatigue patients. Maybe 300, 400. I don't know, but this is a solid study, placebo-controlled, published in Lancet, one of the most respected journals out there and yet, we don't see magnesium injections used that often with chronic fatigue patients.

We just don't. That's not good. Let's talk about B vitamins.--basic B vitamins. In particular, B1, B2 and B6 have been the most studied. B1 is thiamine. B2 is riboflavin and B6 is pyridoxine. The reason B1, B2 and B6 are the most studied in the context of fatigue is because they probably play the biggest role in energy producing reactions in the body. I mean, all B vitamins play a role in that. I mean, if you're tired, take some B12. You'll get instant energy, but when it comes to ATP production, when it comes to cellular energy, which is sometimes what B12 does, when it comes to that lasting energy, it's B1, B2 and B6 that probably play the most important role. So, there was a study that was published in 1999 in the Journal of Royal Society in Medicine. They found that 12 chronic fatigue syndrome patients were significantly lower in B1, B2 and B6 when compared to 18 age and gender match controls. So, again, this is not necessarily cause/effect, but it's showing a nice association of low levels of B1, B2 and B6 in chronic fatigue patients.

Another study specifically looked at folate and they also saw that folate was significantly low compared to age and gender match controls in chronic fatigue patients. So, you have, again, magnesium is shown to be low; B1 is shown to be low; B2, B6, folate, all shown to be low. Not necessarily cause and effect, but definitely something that needs to be corrected if you are suffering from chronic fatigue. And, according to the magnesium study in Lancet, at least magnesium might actually reverse some of the symptoms. It could be even considered a treatment. You need a bigger study, but there it is. What about zinc? I don't think too many people think about zinc when it comes to chronic fatigue but a study that compared 21 chronic fatigue patients to healthy controls found significantly lower blood zinc levels in patients. Moreover, lower zinc was positively correlated with markers of inflammation and immune activation.

That was published in 2006, a more recent study, in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Again, notice it was a mood disorder journal writing more about chronic fatigue. That's kind of the conventional approach—that it's a mood disorder leading to the fatigue versus a physiological problem causing the fatigue that then causes the mood disorder. I think that's the appropriate connection. Not vice versa.

So, magnesium has some good research. Again, low magnesium is prevalent in people with chronic fatigue. Low B1, B2, B6 and folic acid prevalent in people with chronic fatigue. If you're suffering from that, you've got to replace that either through medicine, injections or, at least through a basic supplement. Somehow replace magnesium. Replace folate. Replace the B vitamins. Get your zinc up. It's going to help tremendously.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.