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Nutritional Powerhouses for Fighting Chronic Fatigue

Nutritional Powerhouses for Fighting Chronic Fatigue
Our next #30in30 #nutritionmonth blog post is from Sarah Syer. Thank you for submitting!
Do you experience prolonged and persistent exhaustion, not caused by physical exertion or another medical condition? Do you wake up feeling weak and un-refreshed even after a good night’s rest? If so, you may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) if you want to get technical. To keep it simple, I’ll refer to this condition as ME/CFS from now on.
ME/CFS affects an estimated 1.4 million Canadians and is characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts at least six months in adults. Although ME/CFS affects people of both genders, all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all classes and all ages, ME/CFS is 2-4 times more common in females between the ages of 40 and 59. To date, ME/CFS is poorly understood but remains debilitating, complex and mysterious in origin. There is no clear consensus about its diagnosis and treatment, especially since ME/CFS is generally included in a range of illnesses that have fatigue as a major symptom.
You are probably thinking, “Enough of all that background stuff, tell us more about chronic fatigue and nutrition!” The literature suggests various nutritional deficiencies that potentially cause ME/CFS. These include vitamin C, magnesium, the B vitamins, zinc, sodium and essential fatty acids (EFA), among others. These nutrients are marginally deficient in ME/CFS patients, not due to inadequate diets. These deficiencies are thought to not only contribute to the clinical manifestations of the condition, but are detrimental to the healing process too. Here are a few dietary suggestions that may help you overcome chronic fatigue (or reduce tiredness even if you aren’t ME/CFS diagnosed):
1) Load up on flax seeds and flaxseed oil. Flax seeds and their supplement form contain high levels of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are often deficient in ME/CFS patients due to abnormalities in EFA metabolism. Studies demonstrate that increased EFA consumption through supplementation significantly improves ME/CFS symptoms within the first few months of treatment. Not a fan of flax seed oil? Omega-3s and omega-6s can also be found in foods including walnuts, salmon, shrimp, fortified eggs, olive oil and grass-fed beef.
2) Enjoy a serving of cocoa or chocolate every day. We are all aware that chocolate can decrease cardiovascular disease and cancer risk due to its antioxidant properties. Studies now suggest that chocolate or cocoa powder with >70% cocoa concentration may improve symptoms in ME/CFS patients as well. Not only does high cocoa chocolate contain lots of antioxidants, it also contains 48% and 18% of your daily requirement of magnesium and zinc, respectively, for a 3oz serving. Deficiencies in zinc and magnesium lead to muscle pain, fatigue, drowsiness and other ME/CFS-associated symptoms. Not a dark chocolate fan? Magnesium and zinc are found in high concentrations in shellfish, pumpkin and sesame seeds, toasted wheat germ, soybeans and fortified cereals.
3) Look to the meat and meat alternatives food group. Many people consider the meat and alternative food group mainly as a source of protein, but these foods are adding a lot more than that to our diet. A deficiency in vitamin B-12, an essential vitamin only found in animal products, presents similar symptoms to that seen in ME/CFS (fatigue and depression). Therefore, it is vital to include cheese, eggs, yogurt, meat, fish and seafood in our diet whenever possible. Cook up some liver to receive more than 22 times your daily requirement of this vitamin!
If you are one of the many ME/CFS patients, determining your individual nutritional deficiencies is vital for determining successful therapies. Alleviating nutritional deficiencies has been shown to accelerate the healing process, minimize feelings of fatigue and decrease the burden of this debilitating condition. Investing in good nutrition is one of the best things you can do for yourself, so be patient and find out what foods work best for you.


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