Chronic fatigue is a medical problem affecting many people. If you just never seem to feel well-rested, even with enough sleep and a balanced diet, you might actually be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
The medical community is just beginning the understand the reasons and mechanisms behind chronic fatigue. No one is quite sure of the exact causes of this enigmatic disorder. It is thought to stem from underlying inflammatory and immune issues, but there’s also strong evidence for a neurological or psychiatric component.
Estimates of the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome vary wildly, from as low as 7 per 10,000 people, to as many as 3,000 per 10,000. The CDC estimates that up to 80% of people suffering from chronic fatigue may currently be undiagnosed, and may not even be aware that their constant tiredness constitutes a documented medical condition.
Chronic fatigue syndrome has been difficult to reliably identify and qualify, leaving scientists unsure about prevalence rates, and causing many sufferers to delay seeking treatment for chronic fatigue.
Chronic fatigue can be very debilitating, interfering with academic success, work performance, and other areas of life. People who are suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome have difficulty even getting up in the morning, let alone getting things done.
Fortunately, chronic fatigue can be managed with several different therapeutic and treatment options. Treatments range from pharmaceuticals, to cognitive behavioral therapy, to lifestyle changes, to natural herbal remedies for chronic fatigue.
With the right treatments and therapies, chronic fatigue sufferers can regain energy and overcome the constant sense of tiredness and illness.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
If you’re tired literally all of the time, you may have wondered whether you might actually be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Everyone feels tired occasionally, but with chronic fatigue, it’s constant and unremitting, and it interferes severely with the activities of day to day life.
It can be hard to tell the difference between CFS and other causes of fatigue, but the CDC identifies a set of characteristic diagnostic criteria. If you meet the criteria for a diagnosis, as determined by a physician, you may need to seek treatment, therapy, or other solutions for chronic fatigue.
The two cardinal signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue disorder must be met for a diagnosis to be made:
- A recent onset of severe fatigue, persisting for six consecutive months. This fatigue must be unrelated to physical exertion, unresponsive to sleep or rest, and not caused by any other identifiable organic or psychological condition.
- The fatigue causes a significant reduction in previous activity levels. After the onset of chronic fatigue syndrome, a person is no longer able to be as active as they used to be.
Additionally, a patient must also meet four of the following criteria:
- Impaired memory or concentration. Chronic fatigue can make it hard to think straight or process information quickly. This can interfere with school or work performance.
- Post-exertional malaise. This means that after exercise or physical activity, a person feels far more fatigued and ill than would be normal. Exertion leads to a prolonged sickness.
- Unrefreshing sleep. People with chronic fatigue never feel rested, even when they get enough sleep.
- Muscle pain or joint pain. Many chronic fatigue sufferers also experience physical pain.
- Sore throat.
- Tender lymph nodes.
If you meet these criteria, and experience severe and inexplicable fatigue on a daily basis, you may want to talk to your doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue sometimes starts suddenly with a flu-like illness, though in many cases, it arises several months after the beginning of severe life stress.
Other Possible Causes of Chronic Fatigue
When considering a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, your doctor will need to rule out any other possible cases, which may require different treatments and therapies. Some of the main differential diagnoses for chronic fatigue include:
- Hypothyroidism, an endocrine condition in which the thyroid glands aren’t producing enough thyroid hormone. This leads to fatigue, weight gain, and other problems. It’s generally treated with levothyroxine.
- Anemia, a severe iron deficiency leading to weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
- Infectious diseases, including lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, or influenza.
- Fibromyalgia, a pain disorder characterized by pain in specific tender points on the body.
- Depression. Psychological depression can be a major cause of chronic fatigue, and can be treated with medication and therapy.
Treating Chronic Fatigue with Medications & Therapy
There are several different medical options for treating chronic fatigue syndrome. This includes natural treatment options like exercise programs and behavioral therapies, as well as a few pharmaceutical options. Herbal remedies for chronic fatigue also exist, and can be quite helpful for many people.
Pharmaceutical Approaches to CFD
Although no drugs have yet been approved specifically for treating chronic fatigue, experienced physicians will sometimes prescribe certain drugs off-label to help curb the symptoms. Some of the drugs prescribed to chronic fatigue patients include:
- Modafinil. Modafinil, sold under the brand name Provigil, is occasionally used as a medicinal therapy for chronic fatigue.Originally developed in the 1970s in France, modafinil promotes wakefulness. For this reason, it’s widely used to treat narcolepsy, as well as other sleep disorders like shift work sleep disorder and sleep apnea. It’s also used by the military, and is occasionally used off-label for indications like certain forms of attention deficit disorder.
- Tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants have fallen out of favor for most psychiatric use, and have been largely replaced by SSRIs. However, they’re sometimes prescribed in low doses to help treat chronic fatigue by improving sleep quality and reducing physical pain.
These medications can’t cure chronic fatigue, but for many people, they can be helpful. The therapies with the most positive effects on chronic fatigue symptoms tend to be non-pharmaceutical approaches like exercise programs and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, chronic fatigue syndrome is not something that is cured, but managed.
Other Chronic Fatigue Therapies
To help patients manage chronic fatigue syndrome, non-pharmaceutical therapies have shown many positive benefits. This includes exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other natural approaches to chronic fatigue. These measures aim to gradually increase the level of physical activity of which a patient is capable, as well as mitigating the psychological effects that are associated with the disorder.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. Chronic fatigue may be partly psychiatric in origin. Researchers and physicians have found that a patient’s own interpretation of their symptoms, and their attitude towards them, may lead to behaviors that perpetuate their illness. CBT can help chronic fatigue patients manage their symptoms by changing their behavior toward activity and rest within the bounds of their disorder. Some people benefit from group CBT as well as individual therapy sessions. As an alternative approach, psychodynamic therapy for chronic fatigue has also proven effective.
- Graded exercise therapy. Graded exercise therapy provides a drug-free, natural treatment for chronic fatigue by gently introducing physical activity for the patient. It’s been shown to have positive effects on sleep quality, ability to physically function, and self-perceived health. Patients may be able to gradually increase their level of activity over time, in an approach known as “pacing.” This helps patients gradually become more active, without triggering post-exertional malaise.
- Dietary supplements. Some dietary supplements have shown promise as natural therapies for chronic fatigue. This includes L-carnitine, an amino acid that plays a vital role in cellular function in the muscles and brain; essential fatty acids like DHA, which are integral to brain health; magnesium; and vitamin B12, a common vitamin supplement for generalized fatigue.
Natural Herbal Teas & Remedies for Chronic Fatigue
Many people use natural herbal remedies for chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as for other causes of fatigue like depression. There are many completely natural herbs available that contain substances that can help fight fatigue by modulating brain activity, increasing metabolism, and other effects.
When combined with exercise, CBT, and other therapies, herbal tea blends can help reduce symptoms. No one has found a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, but herbal remedies can be helpful for managing symptoms and increasing energy.
Here are seven of the best ingredients for natural herbal teas for chronic fatigue:
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a common component of herbal tea remedies for fatigue. Ginseng has been valued in China for millennia, prized as an herbal medicine for its stimulating properties.
In China and Korea, ginseng has been cultivated since at least the 16th century, and the global market for Ginseng exceeds $2.1 billion dollars. Although China is historically the biggest consumer of ginseng, followed by South Korea, this helpful herbal supplement has found its way into Western alternative herbal medicine as well.
Interestingly, research has provided increasing support for ginseng as one of the effective natural herbal supplements for fatigue. Specifically, its effectiveness has been evaluated in cancer patients struggling with fatigue and exhaustion as side effects of chemotherapy. In a randomized, controlled study, patients taking 1000-2000 mg of ginseng reported feeling more energetic and less fatigued. Compared to the placebo group, the experimental group experienced positive results.
Ginseng tea can help boost cognition, improve energy levels, and fight off fatigue in healthy people, too. It may also have anti-carginogenic properties.
Green tea is one of the world’s most widely used natural products for fatigue. Tea cultivation was originally developed in China over 4,000 years ago, and today, it’s as popular as coffee for an extra energy boost.
Green tea fights fatigue through the presence of naturally occurring compounds called xanthines. This includes the familiar caffeine, along with theanine and theobromine. Caffeine and similar compounds provide a natural stimulating effect.
Green tea has been the subject of many studies touting its impressive health benefits. Regular green tea consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower fasting blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and other positive health effects.
Guarana (Paullinia cupana) has been used for centuries by native Amazonian cultures for a natural energy boost from caffeine. Herbal tea from Guarana is traditionally made by steeping the ground seeds, which contain the xanthines that give the plant its fatigue-fighting effects.
Guarana is often incorporated into natural herbal tea blends designed to restore energy. It also helps to improve memory, alertness, and concentration, making it a good natural solution for the “brain fog” that can accompany chronic fatigue. A typical dosage, supported by several studies, is about 75 mg. Guarana consumption has also been linked to increased weight loss among people on diet and exercise plans.
Evening Primrose Oil
Essential oil extracted from the evening primrose (Oenothera sp.) has shown some promise as a natural medicine for chronic fatigue syndrome. In one 1994 medical study from Glasgow University in Scotland, researchers recorded an 85% improvement in symptoms among chronic fatigue patients who were given controlled doses of evening primrose oil.
The positive effects of evening primrose oil on chronic fatigue syndrome may stem from its ability to reduce inflammation. The oil contains essential fatty acids which may aid the body in synthesizing prostaglandins, an important set of biochemicals involved in the body’s immune responses.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) may also be helpful as an herbal remedy for chronic fatigue. In one study, researchers found that glabridin, an extract from Chinese licorice roots, produced a significant improvement in fatigued mice.
Licorice root itself is very sweet, making it a pleasant addition to natural herbal tea blends. The glabridin in the roots has anti-inflammatory effects, and may also have helpful effects on human metabolism. These properties make it useful as an herbal solution for fatigue.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a traditional medicinal herb from northern Eurasia, including Siberia and Scandinavia. Rhodiola root has historically been used for its stimulating properties, which were helpful for fighting off fatigue and restoring energy in the cold, difficult northern climate.
Rhodiola contains several natural compounds that help reduce fatigue, including rosavin and salidroside. Its mild stimulant effects make it a useful component in herbal energy teas.
Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a highly popular drink throughout South America. Native to Argentina and Paraguay, yerba mate leaves and twigs are traditionally steeped in water inside of hollow gourds, creating an energizing herbal tea. Mate is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and B vitamins.
Mate herbal tea has a leafy, earthy flavor that’s often complemented by mint or citrus rinds. In South American culture, drinking mate has important social and cultural significance. The drink is often shared between a group of people, and is strongly associated for many people with a sense of national and cultural identity.
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