Functional medicine approach to chronic fatigue syndrome

The Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome, according to the CDC, affects between 836,000 and 2.5 million Americans and it can be a debilitating and life-changing condition. 

Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), it is a complicated disorder that is often misdiagnosed by healthcare professionals. 

Here we look at what chronic fatigue syndrome is, what causes it and how a functional medicine approach can provide an effective solution for those suffering from it.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterized by periods of immense tiredness that can become worse when someone tries to undertake any physical or mental activity. 

This is a complicated condition that generally affects young to middle-aged adults. Women tend to be diagnosed with CFS much more than men (at a ratio of 4 to 1). 

There are various suggestions related to what causes the CFS, including viral infections and stress. It’s most likely that a combination of factors may be involved.

Woman experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The symptoms of CFS are more than just simple tiredness. Individuals will feel chronic fatigue that does not improve even when they have rested. They may have trouble sleeping and generally wake up feeling unrefreshed. 

The symptoms can get worse after exercise and the feeling of tiredness can persist for many hours, even days afterwards. Affected individuals can experience pain in their joints and muscles and have difficulty concentrating for long periods. 

All these symptoms may come and go and the condition can last many months or longer though things will improve over time for most patients.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  • There is research to suggest that some individuals may be born with a predisposition to CFS and that environmental and other factors may trigger this at a later date. 
  • CFS often appears after an illness or viral infection (there has been an increase in reported cases following the COVID pandemic) and this certainly could be a trigger for the disorder. 
  • Other suggested causes are that it is caused by an immune system problem, hormone imbalance or physical or emotional trauma.

Conventional Medical Approaches to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There are no medications that have been specifically developed to help combat CFS. Doctors often look at the symptoms, such as fatigue, and use treatments to deal with these. For example, they may prescribe medications if someone reports poor sleep or pain killers if they have pain in their joints.

The Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The problem with this conventional approach when it comes to conditions such as CFS is that it doesn’t tackle the underlying cause. It takes a symptom-focused approach that often does little more than hide the condition for a short while without resolving it. 

A functional medicine approach is designed to look for the underlying cause of CFS. We already understand that this condition could well have a wide range of different triggers. For example, many people who suffer from CFS also have gut problems such as irritable bowel syndrome or a leaky gut. 

Several factors can contribute to a leaky gut. Someone may have a poor diet or have food intolerances. They might be lacking in vital nutrients. The role of the functional medicine practitioner is to investigate this fully and come up with solutions to resolve the underlying cause. This could include switching to a better diet, taking supplements or probiotics or even undertaking a microbiota transplant to improve something like IBS. 

  • Other patients may have a different cause such as a virus. One of the most common associated with CFS is the Epstein Barr Virus. Treating this with anti-inflammatory supplements can help resolve the issue. 
  • The thyroid gland and the hormones it produces can also have an impact on bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate. Boosting levels may improve CFS in some cases, particularly for women. 
  • The functional medicine practitioner also looks at environmental factors such as stress and toxins and how these might be affecting the individual.  

The role of functional medicine is not to simply look at the symptoms and advise a course of medication but to look at the overall health of the individual as well as their medical history and discover what the underlying cause could be. The key here is that the patient gets a personalized approach where a recovery plan is created to meet their individual needs.