What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating illness that effects millions of people worldwide.[1] It is characterized by marked fatigue, malaise after exertion, chronic transient muscle and joint pain and psychological symptoms such as anxiety/depression, difficulty concentrating and memory impairment.[9]

The exact cause of CFS is unknown, but a number of studies have suggested immunological, viral, genetic and psychological causes.[1]

What is known is that few treatments are available that successfully help those suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Antidepressants, Anticholinergics and immuno-modulating drugs such as Immunoglobin and Corticosteroids have found little or no efficacy.[1] Psychological interventions, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, are effective at improving quality of life but do not decrease symptoms.[10]

Herbal medicine is an age old practice found around the globe by a wide range of cultures. Herbal medicines offer a cheap, safe way to treat the symptoms of a wide range of medical conditions. The following herbal treatments however, show some demonstrated efficacy or theoretical evidence that suggests they could be helpful in the treatment of CFS. Trying appropriate doses of these herbs could reduce the symptoms associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

1. Ashwagandha And St. John's Wort

A study done in 2004 demonstrated the effectiveness of the potent herbal antioxidants Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Hipericum Perforatum (St. John's Wort) in treating a mouse model of CFS. Essentially laboratory mice were forced to swim for a 6 minute period each day for 15 days. Immobility was used to measure the fatigue in mice. Biochemical analysis revealed that these periods of swimming induced a significant stress response in the mice, including oxidative stress and a reduction of levels of common antioxidants such as glutathione. An administration of a mixture of synthetic and natural antioxidants, including Ashwaganda and St. John's Wort, significantly reduced the amount of immobility in mice over the course of the experiment.

2. Echinacea

A study done in Immunopharmacology assessed the ability of Echinacea Purpurea along with Panax Ginseng on their ability to improve immune functioning against herpesvirus 6 infected H9 cells in both health individuals and individuals diagnosed with CFS. Both herbs increased the ability of the body to target and effectively destroy these cells, suggesting their role in treating viral induced forms of CFS. [3]

3. Ginseng

In the previous study, Korean Ginseng (panax ginseng) had similar immunity boosting effects to Echinacea[3], but Korean Ginseng's cousin Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) also may be effective in relieving fatigue. In a study assessing the effects of Siberian ginseng on combating fatigue in individuals with CFS, it improved fatigue scores for people who experienced a moderate level of fatigue.[5] While it didn't make a significant different for those with either mild or severe fatigue, it shows promise for being able to help some people who suffer from CFS.

4. Nutritional Supplementation

While not actually herbal in nature, Vitamin supplementation is a similarly cost effective and safe treatment method for CFS, and evidence suggests that nutritional deficiencies could play a role in its pathophysiology. Studies have indicated that Vitamin B12, Folate, Zinc, Magnesium, L-Tryptophan, L-Carnitine, Coenzyme Q10 and essential fatty acids are deficient to varying degrees in individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.[4] If you suffer from CFS, it is recommended you request bloodwork from your doctor to determine if there is a vitamin, mineral or other essential nutrient deficiency that could be causing or exacerbating symptoms. [4]

5. Astragalus Membranaceus

Astragalus Membranaceus is a herb commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with stress.[14] It has been studied on a mouse model for its effects in treating fatigue. In the study, mice were exposed to repeated trials of swimming, as well as being given a restricted diet, and then supplemented with flavonoids, a kind of antioxidant, derived from Astragalus.[8] After being administered Astragalus flavonoids, the mice showed significant reductions in levels of fatigue indicating that Astragalus, like St. John's Wort and Ashwaganda, might have similar anti-fatigue and anti-stress properties. [8]

Conclusion

The herbs mentioned above do not replace care from qualified medical practitioners, and before taking any of them you should consult with your doctor. They do represent possibly safe, cheap and effective treatments for those suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and avoid the risks and expenses conventional medicine often carries.