Herbal Answers for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been a problem for women since the 1800’s while more and more of the population has developed Fibromyalgia. Since these issues tend to be more common in women, they have both been pushed into the realm of "psychological" issues by many physicians. The truth is much more physiological and much more debilitating. But in the world of herbs, there are always solutions... Fibromyalgia is thought to affect 3 to 6 million people, predominantly women from 25-50 years of age. Some of the main differences between fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is that in fibromyalgia there are localized tender points in certain muscles and their insertion points, making the musculoskeletal aspect of this condition the predominant characteristic. Also Fibromyalgia patients tend to have abnormal thyroid function and disordered sleep patterns, which is not true of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The main deficiency for Fibromyalgia is found in the adrenal glands, while in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome it is more often the Hypothalamus. Because of this Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can also be very emotional and interrelated with life stress and sense of self. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be resolved fairly quickly, while Fibromyalgia can take more time to correct, usually 3-4 months. During that time, it is important for both of these conditions to allow the body to heal and restore, so the rule of thumb is when you start feeling good with the treatment, go to bed. Invest any excess energy into the body to balance the low-energy periods.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not a new disorder. Bed Cases or Sofa Cases reported among middle-class women in the period from 1860 to 1910 probably were precursors of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is probably a result of severe stress, similar to neurasthenia, creating severe emotional symptoms due to the hypothalmic nature of this disorder. Fibromyalgia patients have a lowered metabolic rate and a tendency toward reduced thyroid and adrenal activity. There are definite deficiencies in mineral levels of Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Manganese and Chromium. Particularly the Zinc deficiency is characteristic of a viral history and may point towards a virus as a triggering factor of Fibromyalgia such as mononucleosis during teenage years.
Natural Killer Cell activity seems to also consistently be reduced and in 20% of cases autoantibodies and immune complexes are elevated. In fact, long-standing Lyme Disease is often treated as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There is even evidence in British scientific studies that enteroviruses are involved in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They have also observed mitochondrial abnormalities in the skeletal muscle tissue of CFS patients which could be due to greater conversion of glucose into lactic acid instead of moving through the Kreb’s Cycle. It is definitely true that lactic acid produced in muscles is significantly increased in CFS patients and the presence of excess amounts of lactic acid can create a burning and fatigue in muscles as well as a dramatic increase in anxiety and panic disorders. Viruses can maintain a presence in the system or they can leave the immune system in an autoimmune cycle.
So let’s begin with Chronic Fatigue treatment. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a devitalization of the body’s energy resources so treatment has to focus on the hypothalmus while helping to balance the autonomic nervous system and support the strength of the heart. There may also be a significant disturbed sleep pattern, so I use both St. John’s Wort and a complex of Valerian to help get some much-needed restorative rest. I will also encourage patients to take naps and to avoid exercise for the time being. This is really essential, as many Chronic Fatigue individuals feel guilty not functioning at an optimal level, and often have spent months already not being able to do the things they feel they should each day.
Hawthorn will help to balance excess sympathetic dominance and support any issue with heart function, heart rate, or breathing. The core treatment for the Hypothalamus will be Standard Process Hypothalmex for the first month and Hypothalamus PMG for the first month and then throughout the treatment period. For women, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can often be powered by a hormonal imbalance, and so there may be significant menstrual issues in the patient’s history. A great tonic blend of herbs that focuses on the hypothalamus and balancing hormonal levels for women is Chaste Tree, Blue cohosh, Tribulus, Wild Yam and False Unicorn Root. Eleuthero will improve the Natural Killer Cell numbers, while Astragalus will help to build the immune system. Echinacea is important if the patient is also chronically sick with one thing after another. I will add Korean Ginseng, Licorice, Rehmannia and Ashwaganda to the Eleuthero to really support the adrenal glands if there is an inflammatory response that is adrenal-controlled. The Rehmannia is amazing to down-modulate the cytokine release and to control inflammation that is immune-stimulated. If there is chronic debilitating inflammation, I will also blend in Hemidesmus which will modify the T-cell immune response and help to reduce the inflammatory level.
Now for Fibromyalgia. As mentioned above, minerals are important, so increasing levels of Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Iron and Chromium are all essential. Often a patient has chronic nausea that is created because of the elevated serotonin levels, so Ginger is perfect for this. Garlic can help to thin the blood thus taking the place of larger doses of aspirin. St. John’s Wort will act as an antiviral, antidepressant and will increase neurotransmitters and growth hormone, all of which can be beneficial for the Fibromyalgia patient.
The core of this treatment however is to focus on the adrenal glands and the thyroid if necessary. Ashwaganda, Eleuthero, Rehmannia and Licorice are a great combination both for Chronic Fatigue and for Fibromyalgia. Feverfew, Hemidesmus and Bupleurum will have strong anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating action. Hawthorn is important again if there is any autonomic imbalance or stress on the heart. Celery or Tumeric are a good basis just for musculoskeletal symptoms, while Boswellia and White Willow Bark can be essential for painful muscles and joints.
Cleansing can be an essential element of the healing process for both of these conditions in order to maintain optimal health for the long term. The debilitation that is the daily routine for these conditions can produce a sluggish lymphatic system, an overloaded liver and kidneys, high cholesterol, imbalanced digestion and elimination and large amounts of metabolic acids in the body tissues. Going through a period of alkalinization with diet, alkaline water and herbal and therapeutic detoxification can make a difference going forward.