What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
When I became ill in 1977 most doctors had not heard of chronic fatigue syndrome. Blood tests at the time did not pick it up and the usual diagnosis was either a vague one of a 'virus' or it was dismissed as 'psychosomatic'. Today, the condition is widely recognised but it is still controversial. Whether you call it chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomylitis (ME), Tapanui flu, yuppie flu, post-viral fatigue syndrome or one of the many other names which it is given, there's no doubt the condition is real.
It has affected thousands of previously healthy, active people – usually hard-driving types who push themselves to the limit physically. The main symptom is profound exhaustion accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headaches, aching muscles and joints, a sore throat, difficulty in swallowing, and often depression. It is always made worse by exercise or hard physical effort.
Chronic fatigue syndrome usually begins with an infection of some kind, or a bout of flu, which the sufferer can't seem to throw off. After a period of rest, the person might get better for a few weeks - although not quite 100 percent - and go back to work. Then a relapse follows. Usually, the person tries to battle on, as in the early stages it is unusual for a doctor to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome.
By its very definition the condition is not diagnosed until it is chronic, so there is usually a- long period of feeling below par. In extreme cases, sufferers are so ill they can barely get out of bed. Others have a milder form of the condition which makes them feel lousy but they often look perfectly well, which makes it difficult to convince doctors that they are ill.
With proper rest and a good diet, a person usually makes a slow recovery. However, most sufferers tend to relapse because they are active by nature and, when they start to feel better, they do too much. That pattern of recovery followed by a relapse can go on and on for several years - it did in my case because of a personality which seems intent on pushing to the edge of one's physical limits.
A British study found the main cause of relapse among chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers was physical exercise. This flies in the face of everything we are told these days about the need to do more exercise but I can't stress enough the need for REST if you have chronic fatigue syndrome.
I don't intend to go into the medical causes of chronic fatigue syndrome in this book, as I am writing as a layman, not as a doctor. There are blood tests now, which can pick up the condition although not all doctors will do such tests. There is no drug available as a 'cure' which I believe is a blessing in disguise because the long-term cure can only come through a change in lifestyle and diet. Above all, rest and a slower pace of life is essential.
A rough estimate is that 1 in 1000 people in western countries suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome but it could be higher.
A British survey found the following list of symptoms among those with chronic fatigue syndrome:
· Feel worse after exercise 100%
· Exhaustion 85%
· Muscle weakness
· Pain in shoulders, neck, arms or thighs
· Pains in joints
· Blurred vision
· Poor concentration
· Poor circulation (cold hands and feet)
· Dizziness or feeling faint
· Difficulty in standing
· Ringing in ears (called tinnitus)
· Lack of sexual interest
· Difficulty in swallowing
· Chronic sore throat
Several other symptoms were also reported, including 'feeling awful'. Not all sufferers have all symptoms and some symptoms may come and go. But almost all said they felt worse after physical exercise or mental effort.
Medical experts have different opinions on what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. Some believe it is caused by a virus, others say a disordered immune system, others suspect food allergies and others an overgrowth of yeast (candida albicans). Many experts believe the heavy use of antibiotics during the past few decades has contributed to the rise of diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, due to the antibiotics weakening the body's natural immune system.
I certainly suspect the prolonged use of antibiotics for acne to be the main cause of the illness in my case.
The increased consumption of refined sugar may also play a part Those who believe in the candida theory say sugar feeds the candida organism which they suspect is behind the condition. Use of other drugs such as the birth-control pill and asthma medications may also contribute to a weakening of the immune system.
Another theory is that mercury poisoning due to the amalgam used in dental fillings is either. a factor or the major cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. (Some believe mercury toxicity is also the main cause of other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and there are well-documented cases of remarkable recoveries after people have had their amalgam fillings replaced).
Many chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers report feeling worse after dental treatment although that could be caused by the pain-relief injections, not necessarily mercury released from the filling material. Mercury toxicity is a controversial subject on which I still have an open mind. It is expensive to have a mouthful of fillings replaced and the expense mayor may not be worth it.
We know that mercury is extremely poisonous. Amalgam fillings contain about 50 percent mercury mixed with silver, tin, copper and zinc, and there is no proof that mercury does not escape from the fillings into the body. When the fillings are ground, as in chewing, it is almost certain some mercury does escape although most dentists argue the amount is too small to cause symptoms. However, in very sensitive individuals that small amount might be enough to cause major symptoms.
Dental fillings also create a small electric current in the mouth. That could be enough to cause symptoms in some people. If you can afford to have your amalgam fillings replaced (with one of the excellent composite materials which are now available) make sure to find a dentist who understands the procedure.
The fillings need to be removed in a particular sequence. The dentist also needs to take steps to prevent a large release of mercury into the system. I have not had my amalgam fillings replaced (yet) but it is an area I am still studying.
Another controversial subject is immunisations. I believe my own illness could have been made worse by injections I had in 1977 before travelling to Asia I certainly felt unwell for several weeks after the injections. The best advice is to avoid any immunisations if you have chronic fatigue syndrome. Immunisations stress the immune system, and your immune system is already weak without being stirred up further. (This advice does not include tetanus injections, which have no record of causing ill effects).