Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Overview

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or ME) is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue. This fatigue does not disappear after rest but continues and limits ability to perform ordinary daily activities. Symptoms of CFS include fatigue for at least 6 months, muscle pain, memory problems, headaches, pain in multiple joints, sleep problems, sore throat and tender lymph nodes. Chronic fatigue syndrome affects tens of thousands of people and occurs most commonly in women during their 40s and 50s. People with CFS are often unable to perform normally at work and home because of problems with long term fatigue and short term memory. This can lead to anxiety and depression.

Several conditions describe similar symptoms to CFS or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). These include Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, Adrenal Burn-out, Glandular Fever, Fibromyalgia and Hashimoto's Thyroid Disease.

What causes CFS?

Current research suggests that CFS may be the result of many different physiological factors including sympathetic nervous system hyperactivity, hormonal imbalance, cardiovascular and metabolic irregularities, toxins, viruses and bacteria. Emotional problems and long term stress are often involved in the development of this condition. It is widely acknowledged that mitochondria - the energy production centres of human cells - can gradually become dysfunctional leading to a general feeling of low energy. 

We know that thyroid and adrenal function play a major role in regulating metabolism, but standard blood testing may fail to detect adrenal and thyroid imbalance. For example, although thyroid testing is a standard procedure the bio-availability of thyroid hormones needs to be assessed as well as their basic levels. It has also been suggested that CFS may be accompanied by glandular dysfunction in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands that could make standard blood tests inadequate. Some typical hormone functions (not just levels) that may need to be evaluated include thyroid function, growth hormone, adrenal function (aldosterone, cortisol and DHEA), pregnenolone, estradiol (oestrogen), progesterone and testosterone. 

Various studies suggest that CFS can be caused by viruses such as Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV6) and Enteroviruses (small viruses) such as Coxsackie, Echo and Stealth. One theory is that infection of the heart muscle can reduce the heart's pumping activity causing chronic fatigue. EBV is already known to cause mononucleosis (Glandular Fever) in approx 40% of all cases.

Other unrelated infectious diseases that appear to lead to fatigue include pneumonia, diarrhoea and bronchitis. Some evidence indicates that bacteria may be another cause of CFS. Bacterial infections include intracellular organisms such as mycoplasma, Chlamydia pneumonia (which causes pneumonia and other illnesses), Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) and ehrlichia. A number of yeasts (such as Candida) and parasites must also be evaluated. Infections with many of the above organisms will also further suppress immunity, often resulting in further infections with other organisms. 

Finally, raised levels of toxins in the body such as heavy metals (ie mercury) are thought by some to initiate chronic fatigue by disrupting hypothalamus/pituitary function and cellular assimilation of thyroid hormone.


An effective, integrated plan must be designed for individual requirements. This might typically involve approaches such as acupuncture, diet, nutritional supplementation, herbal medicine, antibiotics and counselling. Orthodox medicine has limited success treating viral infections with medication (side effects are also a serious issue) and although antibiotics can sometimes be more effective in resolving bacterial infections they must still be used approriately, and ideally in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches. There are always treatment options that can help to maintain and strengthen the immune system and regulate the body as a whole.