Norman Allan
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I'd like to start this discussion of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) with a couple of generalisations that apply to most health issues. Firstly, most of our bodily complaints are multifactorial rather than having a single cause. We are mind, body and spirit. Our problems have physical, emotional, cognitive (or psychological), "subtle" energetic, and spiritual aspects, and at each of these levels the causes are multiple.

Secondly, most opinions relating to health are controversial. There is no absolute authority out there. Everyone you speak to about Chronic Fatigue is going to tell you a different story. You are going to have to become your own expert, and you're going to have to hone and follow your own intuition. If you are suffering from Chronic Fatigue this can be difficult, but that's how it is. We might at this juncture recall Darrell's first two laws of healing. Darrell's first law is that you have to do the healing yourself. His second law is that you have to take whatever help you can find wherever you can find it. This focuses us straight back on our need to develop our own expertise which has to come from our intelligence, our knowledge and our intuition.

Taking up again the theme of controversy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was only accepted as a disease category in 1988 by the US Centre for Disease Control. However, CFS has been with us for a long time. Earlier in the century it would have been called "neurasthenia". Today we are seeing CFS more and more often, and we often see it as part of an constellation of complaints that include Environmental Hypersensitivies (Allergies and Food and Chemical Sensitivities), Fibromyalgia, Candidiasis, and Depression. There is a great overlap of cause and symptomatology in these several conditions. Most commonly reported symptoms include: mental confusion and poor concentration; memory loss; deep fatigue unrelieved by sleep, and severe exhaustion from minor activities; muscle and joint pain; headache; digestive problems; recurring infections; allergies and sensitivities; and depression.

To which of these symptoms should we direct our attention? That depends on the individual.

CFS is a dysregulation of multiple systems: that is to say, in Chronic Fatigue we see problems in many of the body's organs and functions. There are hormonal dysfunctions of the endocrine glands, particularly of the thyroid, the adrenal, and the pancreas. There are multiple immune disorders. There are problems with digestion. There are problems with the general metabolism both at a macro-level (effecting, for example, the liver) and a micro-level (effecting each cell). There are often problems with the patterns of breathing. And of course there are problems in the Central Nervous System: confusion (or "brain fag") and inability to concentrate are the most commonly reported symptoms.

The causes of CFS too are multiple. And again, there is a complex interaction. Major contributing factors include toxins, nutritional deficiencies, infections, and of course, stress.

Important agents of infection include virus (for example, Epstein Barr and the other Human Herpes Viruses), yeasts, and parasites.

Important sources of toxicity - to be avoided if at all possible - include pharmaceutical drugs, air and water pollutants, food additives and pesticides. The air we breath, the water we drink, that's where the problem starts. For some of us it is the mercury in our filings that is the straw that breaks the camels back. For others it may be the fluoride in their toothpaste.

The Chronic Fatigue patient is literally overwhelmed, and the causes, as I've described them, seem overwhelming. So. what is one to do about it?

First, you must attempt to avoid the toxins. (But how to decide which are important! We'll come to that.) You may need to work on the household environment (avoid "chemicals", for instance, avoid perfumes); you may need to work on the quality of the air you are breathing (and the manner of your breathing... Let's put aside toxins for the moment. If your breathing is shallow that in itself might account for much of your problem.) You certainly are going to need to improve your diet. Dietary needs, particularly for people suffering from this constellation of diseases, is very particular, individual, but organically grown foods can only help the situation, and indeed are often a crucial part of the package.

There are several aspects to the dietary question. One is the avoidance of toxins - e.g. pesticides and additives. A second is the question of food sensitivities. That is a question in itself to which we could direct a whole essay. Suffice it to say here that a break down and deregulation of digestion (call it dysbiosis or "leaky gut", or whatever) is invariably a part of this constellation of disorders, and need to be addressed.

A third aspect of the dietary question is the problem of nutritional deficiencies. This too needs to be addressed. I recall an acquaintance, a well-known teacher of energy medicine, who suffered from CFS for a number of years during which time she consulted innumerable practitioners. Finally one diagnosed a deficiency of a single mineral micronutrient, and with the supplementation of this to her diet she quickly recovered.

Clinical Ecology (an unorthodox branch of medicine which deals with environmental disorders) uses the analogy of a bucket to describe the body and its illnesses and stresses. We start to fill this bucket with those myriad stresses we are surrounded by. Any added stress might be the one to cause the bucket to overflow and produce symptoms.

But how do we decide where the major problems lie. In large part this depends upon an intelligent interpretation of the patients medical history. In part too it depends on intuition and, I'm afraid to say, on luck. But there are some tools we can use as well. First there is hair-analysis with which (though its reliability is controversial) we can look for mineral toxicity and deficiencies. Then there are the various divining devices that can be used to guide us through this tangle of possibilities. Electodermal testing can be used to divine where the problems lie, or you can employ muscle testing, or pendulum. Divining is a way in which we bypass the conscious mind to tap into the various sources of preconscious knowledge. If you are looking where to dig a well, divining is often the best way to find the water. Divining, then, (for those who feel comfortable with it) can be used to find a path through this jungle.

The treatment of CFS can be as varied as the causes.

Nutritional Supplementation: for sure a multivitamin and mineral will be useful, as will antioxidants (such as Q10). The use of "probiotics", the symbiotic "good" bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus), will almost always be a useful way to help address digestive dysbiosis. Further specifics will depend on diagnosis. (There are some treatment regimes which centre on massive introduction of nutrients by intravenous supplementation. Such regimes can only be administered by holistic M.D.s).

Herbs can be useful in all aspects of the treatment CFS. They can aid detoxification, they can supply missing nutrients, they can support each and any of our body systems. However, we can't really effectively treat all these various systems at once. You will need help deciding when to support the liver and detoxify, when to support the immune system, when to address your hormonal balance.

Classical Homeopathy, Chinese Traditional Medicine, East Indian Ayuvedic Medicine, are complete medical systems that can be used (usually along with other approaches) to address CFS.

Meditation is often an important part the life-style changes you may need to make to deal with fatigue. Meditation not only allows very directly for the body to heal, to relax, to reset and reprogram itself, but it also allows us cognitively to get a good take on where we are, who we are, and what we need to do.

Exercise is an extremely important part of the picture, but it must be intelligent. We must not further exhaust an exhausted system, but it is no good letting it rust either. Walking is a good option!

Dr. Majid Ali has a book called "The Canary and Chronic Fatigue" (Life Span Press (201) 586 9191) which has an interesting explanation of CFS. He sees it quite literally as a "burn out". (Chemists see the world in terms of "oxidation" and its opposite "reduction". Processes that break down living materials are "oxidations": and to a chemist, paradoxically, things that build up living material are "reductions". "Reductions" require energy: "oxidations" produce energy, so a forest, in the summer, is a lot of stored energy just waiting for a spark to burn down. That's why we need antioxidants!) Majid Ali sees CFS as "accelerated oxidative molecular injury", and CFS sufferers as "human canaries" who "poorly tolerate biologic stressors": the victim of CFS quite literally burn up and burn out. Ali's book, though wordy, may offer you a useful intellectual understanding of process.

While you are going to have to accomplish a large part of this healing yourself, you are going to need competent help and advise. There are many, too many practitioners and avenues out there offering to try and help you. It's a jungle best way to play slot machines. Try to find advise you respect, and use your intuition to get you to the right place. And remember, you didn't get ill in a day: you are unlikely to heal in a day. Be patient, and be persistent.

(If you wish to consult with me privately I can be reached at (416) 928 9272.)

Dr. Norman Allan, Ph.D., D.C.
is a practitioner of Alternative Medicine
working in Toronto at
2 College St. suite 305.
Telephone (416) 928 9272.

Norman Allan