According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating and complex condition. It’s most notable symptom is extreme fatigue that doesn’t subside with bed rest and is often made worse by physical activity. Weakness, muscle pain, memory/concentration difficulties and insomnia are also common symptoms, and often restrict daily activities.
Unfortunately, these symptoms can also be associated with many other conditions, making a concrete diagnosis difficult. What makes this worse is that medical professionals are not sure of the cause, which makes it impossible to prevent. Plus, there’s no known cure, which means patients are left to manage symptoms, largely through trial and error.
Managing the day to day
Most of us run around doing all sorts of errands and daily chores before and after a full day’s work and throughout the weekend. People who have CFS must learn to take a completely different approach, accomplishing one thing at a time and breaking larger tasks down into smaller segments. While it’s important not to overdo it on days when you’re feeling better, it’s also important to maintain some sort of activity level or symptoms could get worse.
Aerobic exercise has proven benefits for so many types of chronic illnesses, but that’s not the case for those with CFS. In fact, vigorous exercise can worsen CFS symptoms for an extended period of time. However, it’s very important to avoid deconditioning by maintaining some sort of fitness program.
While finding a balance between rest, exercise and other activities is largely done through trial and error, patients should work with a health care specialist to establish an individualized exercise program. This could help improve sleep, manage pain and boost overall mood, raising the ability to perform small daily tasks.
Most programs will start out slow, beginning with simple stretches and moderate strength training, and increasing very gradually as tolerance develops. It’s not uncommon for some CFS patients to only tolerate a few minutes of exercise followed by a period of rest.
Avoiding refined carbohydrates, such as the sugar and white flour found in many processed foods, is good advice for everyone, but could be especially helpful to CFS sufferers. Consuming refined sugar causes a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar, which often leads to fatigue.
Unprocessed, organic foods, including dark leafy vegetables, dark fruits, full-fat cheese, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meats and organic eggs, are healthy options in general, but may help CFS patients avoid the additional crash felt after consuming highly refined ingredients found in most processed foods.
However, as there are no specific guidelines for nutrition and CFS, it may be helpful for patients to keep a food diary to track any changes in symptoms that could be associated with dietary modifications. Sharing this information with a nutritionist or health care provider may help in fine-tuning a plan that works to reduce symptoms.