Do you suffer from overwhelming post-exertion fatigue, dysfunctional
sleep, problems with memory and recurrent flu-like symptoms? If so, you could be
one of the estimated 180,000 Australians suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
CFS (sometimes called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), has only recently risen to
mainstream awareness although it has been classified as a neurological disorder
in the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases
Recently, CFS is reaping more publicity as research discovers more about its
debilitating effects. And while some in the medical fraternity are still
debating its very existence, sufferers are left to wonder which avenue will
provide the best treatment
Frustratingly for those who suspect they have CFS, there is no easy test for
a quick diagnosis — especially since the medical fraternity itself remains at
odds about the illness, its causes and symptoms — even about its very existence.
We spoke to three health care practitioners about how best to deal with the
The naturopath — Vicki Vandenhurk
Causes and risk factors for CFS include a stressed immune system due to
recent acute illness, chronic health problems, poor nutrition and/or emotional
factors such as anxiety and depression. Environmental pollutants and
contaminants may provide some risk.
Treatment should involve psychological, herbal, nutritional and lifestyle
therapies. Patients should have small but frequent meals that are low in sugar
and carbohydrates and easy to digest such as warm vegetables. Eating protein at
each meal will provide amino acids for healthy neurotransmitter and energy
production. Patients should avoid alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks.
Movement is essential but exercise should only be conducted at a level that
is tolerated. Herbal treatments include Rhodiola, Withania, Passion Flower,
Astragalus and Gingko.
Naturopath, iridologist and medical herbalist Vicki Vandenhurk is a former
The physician — Dr Michael Oldmeadow
The symptoms of CFS are often precipitated by infection or acute events such
as general anaesthetics, drug reactions and other acute stressors.
Invariably, preceding development of symptoms, the patient will disclose high
levels of energy expenditure (physical, mental or emotional) usually over some
years. It is therefore important to separate this illness from “burnout” or an
“emotional breakdown”, which, when correctly diagnosed, it is not. Nor is it a
primary depressive illness.
Appropriate management begins with a detailed examination to rule out
alternative medical or psychiatric illness and to understand such factors as
sleep, mood and emotional patterns. A structured 3 to 6 month Graded Exercise
Therapy program is of particular benefit to teenagers and young adults. However
this must be carefully supervised. Dietary manipulation frequently alleviates
symptoms due to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It may also improve energy. Vitamin
B12 injections frequently seem to provide some benefit. Unresolved emotional
issues preclude progress and unresolved anger in particular is a potent driver
of the illness. It is essential these issues be addressed.
Dr Michael Oldmeadow is a medical doctor and specialist physician with a
particular interest in the research and treatment of CFS.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner — Qi Chen
CFS is caused by different types of viruses (pathogens).The virus may affect
the person's energy level causing constant fatigue and tiredness.
From the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine, Qi and blood are the
driving forces of life. Qi is the life-giving energy and blood is the nutrient
that feeds the life energy. Most patients with CFS are typically diagnosed with
a pattern that involves kidney exhaustion, blood stagnation and Qi disturbance
or blockages in the spleen, stomach and liver.
To treat CFS I attempt to boost the patient's immune system by expelling any
pathogens from the body before tonifying (nourishing and replenishing) Qi and
blood. This is frequently achieved through acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Acupuncture is used to adjust the flow of Qi between the channel systems in the
body (to harmonise) and herbal medicine is used to nourish and tonify.
Qi Chen is a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner in Sydney and
was formerly an oncologist in China.
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