Naturopathic Medicine for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Not officially recognized until 1988, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterized by tiredness that is not relieved by bed rest. Naturopathic medicine shows promise in treating CFS because it is a holistic, multi-pronged approach to treating the whole patient.

Can Naturopathic Medicine Help Relieve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

Evidence suggests that the naturopathic method, or that of using integrative methods to treat illness, is useful in helping relieve chronic fatigue syndrome. After consulting with the patient, a naturopath develops an individualized program of treatment that combines various treatment methods: body-based therapies, such as manipulation; dietary changes; exercise therapy; botanical medicine; homeopathy; hydrotherapy (water therapy); mind-body therapies such as meditation and yoga; and vitamins and supplements.

Allopathic medicine prescribes medications to treat chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Among the medications used are antidepressants (such as Limbitrol), selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin), antihistamines (such as Zyrtec and Allegra), pain medication (including Tylenol and Advil), anti-anxiety drugs (Xanax), and experimental treatments including interferon, antiviral drugs, and steroids. Some patients experience better results when they combine alternative methods of treatment, like dietary supplements or exercise, with prescription medication treatment.

What Kinds of Naturopathic Medicie Treatment Can Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

Naturopathic Doctors often suggest the use of supplements to help chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients. Some of the supplements that may be suggested include:

  • Coenzyme Q10 can be used to boost energy. Co Q10 is found in the energy-producing organelles of the body’s cells, which are called the mitrochondria.
  • Nicotinamide asdenine dinucleotide (NADH) is another molecule used by the cells to produce energy. In a study of CFS patients, 31 percent reported a positive response to NADH. However, the study involved only 26 patients, so more research is needed to confirm these results.
  • B complex vitamins can help increase a CFS patient’s energy level. Ginseng has also shown promise. In a study conducted by the University of Iowa, 56 percent of the people surveyed who had CFS said that ginseng was effective in relieving their symptoms.
  • Vitamin E helps relieve pain in CFS patients. It can also relieve night-time cramps in the legs, leading to more restful sleep.
  • Magnesium can also help relieve pain.

The naturopath may also suggest bodywork for a chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patient. Therapeutic massage can help CFS patients relax and sleep better. Although no scientific studies have yet been done on the effectiveness of the Bowen Technique on CFS, it has been shown to help fibromyalgia sufferers. Rolfing, which involves applying deep pressure on the body, may be too painful for patients with CFS.

Some naturopaths suggest acupuncture, local electrical stimulation, and behavior modification to alleviate chronic pain.

Is Naturopathic Medicine Safe?

Naturopathic practitioners cooperate with other members of the medical community, and will refer patients to other practitioners if the patients’ conditions do not respond to naturopathic treatment. Further research is being done regarding naturopathic medicine to evaluate its safety and effectiveness for a variety of medical conditions.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder that is not yet fully understood. It is similar to fibromyalgia in many ways, but the trigger of CFS appears to be an infection, such as a cold or flu, while fibromyalgia seems to be triggered by trauma. There is no clear cause, although several suggestions have been made, including inflammation of the nerves due to an autoimmune response, allergies, viral infections, anemia, and low blood sugar.

The primary signs of CFS are:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Unexplained muscle soreness
  • Pain that moves among joints
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sore throat
  • Painful, slightly enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
  • Headache
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours

For a diagnosis of CFS to be made, a person must show four of these signs and persistent fatigue for more than 24 hours.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is seen more often in women than in men, but this may be because women report the symptoms more frequently, rather than there being a gender difference in the occurrence of CFS. Approximately 800,000 Americans suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a whole medical system; that is, it is complete system of medical theory and practice that has developed over time. It began in Germany and continued its development in the United States during the 1800s and 1900s through the efforts of a German man named Benedict Lust. Lust became interested in natural cures after being treated successfully for an illness he believed was tuberculosis. Naturopathy was especially popular in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, but declined after the introduction of antibiotics in allopathic medicine.

Naturopathic medicine underwent a rebirth during the 1970s, and today is practiced around the world. In a survey of 31,000 Americans in 2004, about 300 said they had used naturopathy, mostly because they believed it would help their conditions when combined with allopathic medicine.

Practitioners, called naturopaths, use natural therapies to treat patients. Among the modalities that a naturopath may use are nutrition, herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and bodywork (such as massage). The Naturopathic Physicians who have completed advanced education and passed licensing exams are also able to use diagnostic tools such as CAT scans, MRIs, and blood tests; these modern technologies are used in an integrative fashion to provide the most effective care.

Specific principles govern naturopathic medicine, including:

  • Promote nature’s healing power
  • Identify and treat the cause, not the symptoms
  • Do no harm
  • The doctor is a teacher, helping patients learn how to live healthful lives
  • Treat the whole person
  • Prevent disease

Additional Resources

Mayo Clinic article on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine on Naturopathy

Teitlebaum, Jacob A. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Symptoms and Treatments"

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