A Cure for Chronic Fatigue?

I have chronic fatigue syndrome. A friend told me that a new discovery in England could lead to a cure, but I haven’t read anything about it. Can you fill me in?

– January 5, 2006

We’re still a long way from finding a cure – or even a treatment that works for everyone with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but a recent discovery by British researchers could pave the way. The investigating team published a study in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Clinical Pathology showing differences in gene expression in the white blood cells of people with CFS. When the researchers ran similar tests on healthy controls, the tell-tale differences didn’t show up. All told, the researchers analyzed 9,522 genes and found differences in 35 of them. After double-checking their results with a more fine-tuned testing method, the team found that 15 of the genes with these differences were up to four times more active than normal in people with CFS. They also found that one of the suspect genes was less active than normal. The genes identified play a role in energy processing in the body.

The study was a small one. Only 25 CFS patients and 25 healthy controls participated. The research team is now repeating its study in 1,000 CFS patients and healthy controls and will look at 47,000 gene products. Advance word is that the new study is confirming results of the original one, but we’ll have to wait for the final results to be sure.

These findings could lead to a blood test for CFS and, perhaps, better treatment. They also could put to rest any lingering medical doubts as to whether the syndrome really exists as a diagnosis separate from other syndromes with similar symptoms. CFS is marked by disabling fatigue and exhaustion and sometimes includes headaches, short-term memory loss or severe inability to concentrate, irritable bowel symptoms, muscle pain, joint pain, anxiety, depression, lack of restful sleep, muscle weakness, and lymph node pain.

For the time being, the best treatment for CFS is exercise (aim for 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days a week). Do not over-exercise; maintain a moderate-to-low pace. Stress-reduction, including daily breathing exercises and a relaxation technique such as yoga and meditation, are also recommended.

In addition, I recommend the following:

  • Take my general antioxidant vitamin formula plus a B-100 B-complex supplement.
  • Try ginseng and CoQ10, both of which can help boost and maintain energy levels.
  • Eat two cloves of raw garlic a day.
  • Take astragalus root for its antiviral and immunity-enhancing properties. A typical dose is three capsules twice a day; you can stay on it indefinitely.
  • Stay hydrated. Not drinking enough water can cause fatigue.
  • You may also want to experiment with acupuncture, cranial osteopathy and other forms of gentle manipulation, myofascial release and trigger point therapy (done gently).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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