You can defeat chronic fatigue syndrome. With no single known cause, this syndrome largely remains a mystery. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Gradually increase exercise
Even if you must begin with only a few minutes at a time, exercise can help you feel better
Check out L-carnitine
Take 1 gram three times a day to provide a nutrient important for energy production
10 mg per day of the active coenzyme form of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) may help your body produce more energy
Consider vitamin B12 injections
Consult a doctor for a trial of 2,500 to 5,000 mcg every two or three days for several weeks to make up possible deficiency
Consult an expert
Find an experienced professional to help manage the symptoms of this challenging disease
Get stress-reduction counseling
For coping strategies, find a qualified counselor experienced in helping people with chronic fatigue syndrome
About This Condition
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is disabling fatigue lasting more than six months that reduces activity by
more than half. CFS is a poorly understood disease involving many body systems. No single cause of CFS has
been identified, therefore, it is diagnosed by symptoms and by ruling out other known causes of fatigue by a
Suggested causes include chronic viral infections, food allergy,
adrenal gland dysfunction, and many others. None of these have been convincingly documented in more than a
minority of sufferers. In some people there is also difficulty sleeping, swollen lymph nodes, and/or mild
fever. When there is muscle soreness, fibromyalgia may be the
actual problem. Although CFS is considered a modern diagnosis, it may have existed for centuries under other
names, such as “the vapors,” neurasthenia, “effort syndrome” (diagnosed in World War I
veterans), hypoglycemia, and chronic mononucleosis.
In addition to fatigue, there may also be muscle pain, joint pain not associated with redness or swelling, short-term memory loss, and an inability to concentrate. Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome also experience difficulty sleeping, swollen lymph nodes, and/or mild fever.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Exercise is important to prevent the worsening of fatigue. Many people report feeling better after undertaking a moderate exercise plan.1, 2 However, most people with CFS are sensitive to overexertion, and excessive exercise may lead to consistently worsening fatigue and mental functioning.3, 4, 5 Exercise should be attempted gradually, starting with very small efforts. One small study found that intermittent exercise, in which patients walked for three minutes followed by three minutes of rest for a total of 30 minutes, did not exacerbate their CFS symptoms.6
Highly stressful situations should be avoided by people with CFS. Coping mechanisms for dealing with stress can sometimes be maximized by behavioral therapy, which has been shown helpful for people with CFS in several controlled studies.7
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
Don’t avoid salt
Some doctors believe that people with chronic fatigue syndrome who have low blood pressure should not limit their salt, however, people considering eating more salt should consult a doctor.
Some doctors believe that people with CFS who have low blood pressure should not restrict their salt intake. Among CFS sufferers who have a form of low blood pressure triggered by changes in position (orthostatic hypotension), some have been reported in a preliminary study to be helped by additional salt intake.8 People with CFS considering increasing salt intake should consult a doctor before making such a change.
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
1 gram three times daily
L-carnitine is required for energy production in the powerhouses of cells (the mitochondria). There may be a problem in the mitochondria in people with CFS. Deficiency of carnitine has been seen in some CFS sufferers.9 One gram of carnitine taken three times daily for eight weeks led to improvement in CFS symptoms in one preliminary trial.10 Supplementation with 6 grams of L-carnitine per day for four weeks also improved fatigue in a preliminary study of patients with advanced cancer.11 Similar improvements were seen in another study of patients with advanced cancer given up to 3 grams of L-carnitine per day for one week.12
Refer to label instructions
NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) helps make ATP, the energy source the body runs on. In a double-blind trial, people with CFS received 10 mg of NADH or a placebo each day for four weeks.13 Of those receiving NADH, 31% reported improvements in fatigue, decreases in other symptoms, and improved overall quality of life, compared with only 8% of those in the placebo group. Further double-blind research is needed to confirm these findings.
Magnesium levels have been reported to be low in CFS sufferers. In a double-blind trial, injections with magnesium improved symptoms for most people.14 Oral magnesium supplementation has improved symptoms in those people with CFS who previously had low magnesium levels, according to a preliminary report, although magnesium injections were sometimes necessary.15 These researchers report that magnesium deficiency appears to be very common in people with CFS. Nonetheless, several other researchers report no evidence of magnesium deficiency in people with CFS.16, 17, 18 The reason for this discrepancy remains unclear. If people with CFS do consider magnesium supplementation, they should have their magnesium status checked by a doctor before undertaking supplementation. It appears that only people with magnesium deficiency benefit from this therapy.
10 mg daily
NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) helps make ATP, the energy source the body runs on. In a double-blind trial, people with CFS received 10 mg of NADH or a placebo each day for four weeks.19 Of those receiving NADH, 31% reported improvements in fatigue, decreases in other symptoms, and improved overall quality of life, compared with only 8% of those in the placebo group. Further double-blind research is needed to confirm these findings.
1 gram of aspartates is taken twice per day
The combination of potassium aspartate and magnesium aspartate has shown benefits for chronically fatigued people in double-blind trials.20, 21, 22, 23 However, these trials were performed before the criteria for diagnosing CFS was established, so whether these people were suffering from CFS is unclear. Usually 1 gram of aspartates is taken twice per day, and results have been reported within one to two weeks.
Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner
Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause fatigue. However, some reports,24 even double-blind ones,25 have shown that people who are not deficient in B12 have increased energy following a series of vitamin B12 injections. Some sources in conventional medicine have discouraged such people from taking B12 shots despite this evidence.26 Nonetheless, some doctors have continued to take the limited scientific support for B12 seriously.27 In one preliminary trial, 2,500 to 5,000 mcg of vitamin B12 given by injection every two to three days led to improvement in 50 to 80% of a group of people with CFS; most improvement appeared after several weeks of B12 shots.28 While the research in this area remains preliminary, people with CFS considering a trial of vitamin B12 injections should consult a doctor. Oral or sublingual B12 supplements are unlikely to obtain the same results as injectable B12, because the body’s ability to absorb large amounts is relatively poor.
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogenic herbs such as Asian ginseng and eleuthero may also be useful for CFS patients—the herbs not only have an immunomodulating effect but also help support the normal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the hormonal stress system of the body.29 These herbs are useful follow-ups to the six to eight weeks of taking licorice root and may be used for long-term support of adrenal function in people with CFS. However, no controlled research has investigated the effect of adaptogenic herbs on CFS.
Refer to label instructions
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone now available as a supplement. In one report, DHEA levels were found to be low in people with CFS.30 Another research group reported that, while DHEA levels were normal in a group of CFS patients, the ability of these people to increase their DHEA level in response to hormonal stimulation was impaired.31 Whether supplementation with DHEA might help CFS patients remains unknown due to the lack of controlled research. DHEA should not be used without the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Refer to label instructions
Adaptogenic herbs such as Asian ginseng and eleuthero may also be useful for CFS patients—the herbs not only have an immunomodulating effect but also help support the normal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the hormonal stress system of the body.32 These herbs are useful follow-ups to the six to eight weeks of taking licorice root and may be used for long-term support of adrenal function in people with CFS. However, no controlled research has investigated the effect of adaptogenic herbs on CFS.
One study found that an eleuthero extract improved symptoms in patients suffering from mild-to-moderate chronic fatigue. However, after one month of treatment, the benefit began to wane, and eleuthero was not more effective than a placebo after two months of treatment.These findings support the observation of herbalists that eleuthero is more effective when used in a pulsed manner (a few weeks at a time) than when used continuously.
Refer to label instructions
In a preliminary study, four patients with chronic fatigue syndrome reported an improvement in their symptoms after taking an essential fatty acid supplement daily for at least 12 weeks.33 The amount used was 10 to 18 capsules per day, and each capsule contained 93 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 29 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and 10 mg of gamma-linolenic acid. Because there was no placebo group in this study and, because fatigue often improves after treatment with a placebo, additional research is needed to confirm this report.
Refer to label instructions
One case report described a man with CFS whose symptoms improved after taking 2.5 grams of licorice root daily.34 While there have been no controlled trials to test licorice in patients with CFS, it may be worth a trial of six to eight weeks using 2 to 3 grams of licorice root daily.
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2. McCully KK, Sisto SA, Natelson BH. Use of exercise for treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Sports Med 1996;21:35–48 [review].
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12. Cruciani RA, Dvorkin E, Homel P, et al. Safety, tolerability and symptom outcomes associated with L-carnitine supplementation in patients with cancer, fatigue, and carnitine deficiency: a phase I/II study. J Pain Symptom Manage 2006;32:551–9.
13. Forsyth LM, Preuss HG, MacDowell AL, et al. Therapeutic effects of oral NADH on the symptoms of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 1999;82:185–91.
14. Cox IM, Campbell MJ, Dowson D. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet 1991;337:757–60.
15. Howard JM, Davies S, Hunnisett A. Magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet 1992;340:426.
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17. Gantz NM. Magnesium and chronic fatigue. Lancet 1991;338:66 [letter].
18. Hinds G, Bell NP, McMaster D, McCluskey DR. Normal red cell magnesium concentrations and magnesium loading tests in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Ann Clin Biochem 1994;31(Pt. 5):459–61.
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25. Ellis FR, Nasser S. A pilot study of vitamin B12 in the treatment of tiredness. Br J Nutr 1973;30:277–83.
26. Lawhorne L, Rindgahl D. Cyanocobalamin injections for patients without documented deficiency. JAMA 1989;261:1920–3.
27. Gaby AR. Literature Review & Commentary. Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients 1997;Feb/Mar:27 [review].
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29. Brown D. Licorice root—potential early intervention for chronic fatigue syndrome. Quart Rev Natural Med 1996;Summer:95–7.
30. Kuratsune H, Yamaguti K, Sawada M, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate deficiency in chronic fatigue syndrome. Int J Mol Med 1998;1:143–6.
31. De Becker P, De Meirleir K, Joos E, et al. Dehydroepiandorsterone (DHEA) response to i.v. ACTH in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Horm Metab Res 1999;31:18–21.
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33. Puri BK. The use of eicosapentaenoic acid in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2004;70:399–401.
34. Baschetti R. Chronic fatigue syndrome and liquorice. New Z Med J 1995;108:156–7 [letter].
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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