01 Apr 2010
Blackmores Naturopath


Chronic fatigue syndrome

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Chronic fatigue syndrome(CFS) is a complex condition characterised by overwhelming tiredness over an extended period of time, lowered resistance to infection and a wide range of other symptoms.


Many of the symptoms are similar to flu symptoms but differ by being present over a longer period (six months or longer). Core symptoms include:

  • Extreme and disabling fatigue, which is not relieved with rest or sleep. The fatigue may be worse after any form of exertion, and is significant enough to interfere with school, work or family life.
  • Sore muscles and/or joints
  • Swollen, tender lymph glands
  • Forgetfulness and short-term memory problems, inability to concentrate
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances

Other symptoms that may occur include, (but are not limited to):

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Mild (low-grade) fever , chills and night sweats
  • Digestive disturbances such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation.
  • Respiratory symptoms such as chronic cough and shortness of breath
  • Psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety
  • Low blood pressure, dizziness and fainting
  • Sensitivity to light, blurred vision, sore and/or dry eyes
  • Allergies and sensitivity to alcohol, noise, odours, chemicals, medicine and foods
  • Weight changes
  • Some sufferers experience relapses of the symptoms after periods of being relatively well  


Research has not yet been able to pin down the cause of CFS.

Amongst potential causes and contributing factors that have been proposed are:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Viral infection (e.g. Epstein-Barr virus)
  • A history of allergies
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Low blood sugar
  • Iron-deficiency anaemia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nervous system inflammation

CFS may initially develop at times of increased physical or mental stress, during or after an infection, or with no discernible triggers.

Sensitivities to foods, medicines, chemicals (e.g. pesticides, heavy metals, household cleaning products, or other environmental toxins) and alcohol are a common feature of CFS. From a naturopathic perspective, exposure to or poor detoxification of these substances may contribute to the cause, worsen the symptoms and/or delay recovery.

Other aggravating factors may include nutritional deficiencies, imbalance of the bacteria inhabiting the bowel, poor oxygenation of body tissues, and dysfunction of the immune, endocrine (hormone) or nervous systems.

CFS is most common in people aged 40-59 years old. It is diagnosed in up to four times more women than men, but this may be partially due to the fact that women are more likely than men to consult health professionals when they’re unwell. It sometimes occurs in members of the same family, suggesting that genetic factors may be involved.

Natural therapies

  • The natural approach to the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome involves a long and gentle process to help re-build the immune system and support the body’s processes of detoxification. Consult your healthcare professional for more information.
  • In times of ill health, your nutrient requirements may increase. A multi-vitamin and mineral formula is recommended, as deficiencies of many nutrients have been noted in CFS patients. Those who avoid certain foods or groups of foods due to allergies or intolerances should also consider supplementation. For example, if you are allergic to dairy products, you should consider taking a calcium supplement.
  • Echinacea supports immune function, as do the nutrients betacarotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc.
  • Magnesium is often deficient in patients with CFS . It is important for exercise performance, supports proper muscle function and may help relieve muscle cramps and spasms. It may also be helpful during times of stress . For CFS, magnesium can be taken in an easily absorbed powdered form that also provides other important nutrients involved in the maintenance and repair of muscle tissue, such as folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. Natural health experts recommend 600-900 mg of magnesium per day, taken in divided doses.
  • The amino acids carnitine and taurine may also be beneficial in CFS and are often taken with magnesium. Carnitine supports cellular energy production and some patients with CFS report improvements in symptoms when taking carnitine supplements. Taurine may help to improve fatigue, concentration and mood.
  • Co-enzyme Q10 is involved with the production of energy in cells and may help to improve symptoms of CFS, especially post-exercise fatigue.
  • Milk thistle is traditionally used to support detoxification, may help protect the liver against potentially harmful substances such as alcohol, and supports the regeneration of liver cells.
  • Some natural health experts recommend taking high doses of fish oil for several months. Low levels of essential fatty acids are a common finding in CFS and abnormalities of essential fatty acid metabolism may be a feature of the condition.
  • Taking an iron supplement may aid the management of fatigue symptoms in those who are low in iron. Choose a formula that contains a gentle-to-the-stomach form of iron, such as iron fumarate, which, when used as directed, does not cause nausea or constipation. Other nutrients that should be present include folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C, which supports the absorption and utilisation of iron, patients. 

Diet and lifestyle

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex and debilitating condition that requires expert professional treatment. Every patient experiences different symptoms and will require individual treatment. Always consult your healthcare professional before starting a new course of treatment.
  • Keeping a symptom diary that records foods eaten, chemicals exposed to (everything from liquid paper to house paint can cause an aggravation), and how you feel can help you to understand your condition better. Elimination of suspected items may be necessary, followed by reintroducing them one by one, in order to pinpoint which substances may be aggravating the symptoms. Avoid any foods or other substances that you are allergic to or intolerant of.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds. If you are sensitive to pesticides or other agricultural chemicals, you may wish to consume only organic produce.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking and refined sugar.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially filtered water.
  • Try to avoid situations that are physically or emotionally stressful.
  • A regular, graded exercise programme is recommended; ideally working with a physical therapist, to ensure your condition is not aggravated. Tai chi may be an appropriate form of exercise, as it is gentle and helps to improve immunity.
  • Be sure to rest when you need to - pushing yourself to do more than you are capable of is likely to make you feel worse. Think of your exercise programme as a long-term, gradual rehabilitation process, and take it slow and steady. Even at times when you are feeling well, over-doing things may exacerbate your symptoms and cause a relapse.
  • Acupuncture may aid pain management in some people.
Always listen to your body and take rest when you need it. Pushing yourself too hard over an extended period will weaken your immune system.

Important notes

  • If you suspect you have CFS, consult your healthcare professional, who will take a full history, perform a physical exam, and organise for the necessary investigations to be performed before diagnosing you with the condition. Symptoms need to have been present for at least six months before a diagnosis of CFS is made.
Hi Lorene, I hope you found the above information helpful.
Sorry to hear about your health struggles at the moment. My suggestion would be to consult with a naturopathic practitioner in private clinic and you will find a therapist in your area from these websites:

I can also direct you to the ACNEM. They are an organisation that can give you a contact for a GP trained in Nutritional and environmental medicine.

There are many nutrients that may be beneficial like magnesium, vitamin C, fish oils, CoQ10 and Korean ginseng. We would encourage you to call or email the Naturopathic Advisory Service at or phone 1800 803 760 to speak to one of our naturopaths. Kind regards, Gina (Blackmores Naturopath)

Gina 29 May 2013
I think I have CFS. all my blood tests come up quite good. I am 78 and my doctor thinks I should be exercising more and am just unfit but no matter how I try exercise doesn't improve my condition and 5mins on an exercise bike leaves my musless more tired for days. I really findit hard to get on the bike. If I lle down again after I get up in the morning to put in eyedrops, I find it hard to get up again and I want to stay lying down. Once years ago I had this tiredness and had a few viruses including the glandular fever one and the doctor gave me injections for a few weeks to help my immune system, but that was 20 yrs ago and I have moved away from that doctor.
Anonymous 28 May 2013