M.E. ( myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a debilitating illness characterised mainly by profound fatigue which is not improved by rest and is made worse by physical or mental activity. One of the M.E. support associations, Action for M.E., has estimated that there are currently about 240,000 sufferers in Britain, which is an increase of roughly 100,000 in the last ten years or so.
In 2002, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer published a report submitted by a special working party which had been set up to look into this mystifying illness over a two-year period. They arrived at two main conclusions.
That it is a ‘genuine’ illness which should be recognised as such by medical practitioners.
That although various approaches might help to some extent, there is no known cure.
The first conclusion was a breakthrough because it meant that there should be no more problems for sufferers who had previously experienced incredible difficulties in obtaining a medical diagnosis and therefore in receiving disability allowance or income support. Unfortunately, even now, these hurdles have not been entirely overcome, largely because of the wide-spread misconception that M.E. is a condition dreamed up by malingerers.
You can make a full recovery from M.E.
The second conclusion, however, was very far from being a breakthrough. In fact it fired me into action because over my previous twelve years in clinical practice as a nutritional therapist, I had seen a great many people recover fully from M.E. and return to active lives with even better health than they had known previously. I can think of two young women who were both at first in wheelchairs because of the insupportable weakness and pain in their muscles, as commonly associated with this condition. They were each eventually able to become mothers of three and four children respectively, with more than enough energy for all the physical and mental activity they needed. A young man who had lost all his teenage years to M.E. became so well that he started his own computer business and spent his holidays white-water rafting in Turkey! A former marathon runner, laid low with M.E. for three years before she contacted me for help, ran the London marathon again after eighteen months and beat her own previous best record by 25 minutes. These and many other case histories are an indication that it is possible, in some cases at least, to find an answer to the collection of awful health problems which together create the overall picture of M.E.
I had seen a great many people recover fully from M.E. and return to active lives with even better health than they had known previously
My own research project
I determined to find some way of challenging the conclusion of the Chief Medical Officer’s report that there is no known answer to M.E. I decided to launch a research project using my normal nutritional methods. The application process was gruelling, but approval was eventually granted. I set about finding 40 volunteers to take part – all with a medical diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although some people dropped out before the end of the one-year programme, of those who completed more than 80% showed at least some level of improvement – with one 60-year old lady becoming fully well in just eight months! For most people, I would not expect them to make a full recovery within one year, but this was the time limit on the research, so it was encouraging to see that even those who made less exciting progress were still mainly much improved by the end of the year – and chose to continue to follow through with nutritional advice even after the research programme had ended.
What is M.E?
So what exactly is M.E. (or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)? Well, typical M.E. symptoms include unrelenting fatigue, lethargy, aches and pains in joints and muscles, ‘woolly head’, poor memory, digestive problems (including irritable bowel syndrome and bloating), shivering or sweating, mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, premenstrual symptoms, loss of weight control – to name a few! Yet I believe there is not just one condition which can be called M.E.! By this I mean that it is an umbrella term, with symptoms varying from person to person (apart from fatigue, the common denominator) and with many different causes – so it is not just one condition with just one label. Specific situations within the umbrella need to be identified – and tackled. Thirty-seven years ago when I was even more ill than usual, we discovered that I was allergic to the new North Sea gas which had just been piped into the houses in Leigh! I had already been struggling enormously with my health because my immune system was having to cope with an unsuspected overgrowth of Candida albicans in my body (see previous issue of ‘Healthy Life’) and horrendously low blood sugar (also covered in a previous edition). In other words, my immune system was already so severely over-loaded that it broke down completely when faced with the new gas in our house. (The problem was not the gas itself, but the readily-recognisable odour which is added as a safety factor.)
If my health could be turned around to such a remarkable extent, there is hope for you as well
So allergy, yeast infection and low blood sugar are three of the possible factors which can lead to a weakened immune system and open the door to M.E. I believe there are ten possible factors, any of which might have played its part as a predisposing factor; the other seven are: stress, pollution, poor nutritional status, inefficient thyroid activity, a virus, negative lifestyle factors (not just poor diet but other forms of bodily abuse such as lack of exercise or lack of rest, smoking, heavy consumption of alcohol or drugs) and even incorrect breathing. Whatever the combination of predisposing factors, in my experience of many hundreds of sufferers, there has without fail been one factor which they all had in common – yeast infection, an overgrowth of Candida albicans.
What fuel is your body using?
For people who find that there are ways of discovering and then removing specific loads from their immune system – as I did, eventually – there is a great deal of hope that they will be able to make a full recovery from M.E.. The starting point is to consider the types of food being used as fuel for the body’s machinery. As several TV programmes are now helping the world to realise, eating junk foods and sugar can lead to devastating consequences, one of which can be a slow – though perhaps finally sudden – decline into chronic fatigue syndrome. As a result of this increasing awareness of the importance of good nutrition, many people are now learning that it is possible to turn the tables in their health, and by seeking responsible nutritional advice to suit their own particular needs, it is entirely possible for many people to improve the working of their bodies to the extent that chronic fatigue is nothing more than an unpleasant memory. They can look forward to enjoying a full and active life – as I do even now, in my seventies! For most of my life I ate lots of sugar and junk foods – with devastating consequences. It really was not surprising that I was ill for most of my life. But I discovered that it really is never too late, and in taking control of the situation by learning how to improve my nutritional status, bring candida under control, regulate blood sugar levels and overcome allergies – I was able at the age of 53 to start three years of training and then set up an extremely busy practice.
If my health could be turned around to such a remarkable extent, there is hope for you as well. And it starts with taking seriously the food – the fuel – which you put into your body’s machinery.
If you think you have chronic fatigue, let your doctor do tests for iron deficiency, thyroid function, sugar levels, etc. The more information you have, the better.
Consider the possible factors which might have caused a breakdown of your immune system, and discover what practical steps you can take to improve each situation, including the anti-candida four-point plan (see ‘Beat Fatigue Handbook’).
See if you feel worse after certain foods, or in certain environments. Try to avoid those you suspect..
If stress has played a major part in your life, even in the past, your adrenal glands will have taken the strain. Try taking Siberian ginseng (2 months on followed by 2 weeks off is a good pattern to follow), or a nutritional therapist can organise a laboratory test to investigate the pattern of behaviour of your stress hormones, so that appropriate steps can then be taken to improve the situation.
If digestion is a problem, take digestive enzyme supplements, not antacids.
If you are on HRT or the Pill, ask your doctor’s agreement to stop. They both work like steroids and weaken the immune system. Nutrition is better than HRT for sorting out hormones!
Don’t push against fatigue; rest as much as you need.
Don’t be proud – ask for help from family and friends. Explain your ‘funny diet’ to them and help them understand why you need to eat this way.
Ask for help from a qualified health care practitioner if you can’t sort it out by yourself.