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Gentle steps towards beating chronic fatigue


START SLOWLY Get moving, but not at the ridiculous intensities being espoused by social media gurus.

Physio Focus
Andrew O'Brien

‘Yuppie flu’ (noun): An informal derogatory term for chronic fatigue syndrome

For many years, chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), has been written off by parts of the medical community as a form of malingering, given that there is no definitive diagnostic test.
The name ‘yuppie flu’ stems from the fact that sufferers tend to be females aged between 20 and 45 with office jobs and stressed lifestyles, and treatment has tended to reflect that scepticism somewhat, more likely to involve counselling or psychiatric intervention than medical. Irrespective of this, CFS/ME is a debilitating condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including extreme fatigue, muscle pain, memory and concentration issues.
But now scientists in the USA have found specific blood markers that show Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME is both real and diagnosable. Of course the news reports of the story also state that having a test also make it easier to develop a drug treatment programme, given that some medications are already known to interact with the specific proteins involved.
One report that I read, in The Daily Mail, included a line that I think is significant and instructive. Personally, I think it should be pinned to every health professional’s wall as a reminder of what to look out for, and where treatment should be directed. That line reads: ‘Bizarrely, the changes echo those seen in hibernating animals’.
Why is that such a big deal? Mainly because there’s nothing bizarre about it. CFS/ME is essentially an energy crisis within the body. Animals hibernate in winter due to a lack of food; they slow their metabolism and go into a coma-like state. Energy crisis anybody?
The clinical signs of CFS/ME are similar to numerous other modern diseases, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. All of these are associated with low body temperatures, low metabolic rate, low energy and muscular pains. Considering the rate at which they’re ‘solving’ the obesity and diabetes epidemic, I wouldn’t advise CFS sufferers to hold their breath and wait for the good folks at the pharmaceutical companies to fix things any time soon.
Nor would I recommend that they follow the paradigm being espoused everywhere you look today of cutting out carbs and sugar and doing high-intensity training. Remember, the problem in this situation is an energy crisis, so completely removing the body’s best source of energy then working it really hard wouldn’t solve anything, even if someone with Chronic Fatigue could manage an intense workout.
When you look at the nature of the problem using the Born to Run approach to bioenergetics we use in the clinic, the solution becomes clearer. We need to increase energy, metabolic rate and body temperature. How can this be done? Firstly, give the body more energy. Don’t starve yourself, and remember the old adage that ‘fat burns in the flame of carbohydrates’.
I’m not saying to live on soft drinks and sweets, but I’m also saying that the body can only actually turn glucose into energy; it has to turn fat into glucose in order to burn it, a relatively stressful and inefficient process in itself, so eating carbs and sugar in the right quantities is essential.
In tandem with feeding the system, you need to burn that fuel. In other words, get moving, but not at the ridiculous intensities being espoused by social media gurus. Instead, start gently. Remember that for most of our evolutionary history we were hunter gatherers, walking large distances foraging for food every day, neither sitting on our backsides in front of computers, nor busting our backsides in interval training sessions at the gym four nights a week.
Seeing as you’re moving more, why not do it outside in the sunshine? Especially given that trigger points, which are hypersensitive muscles, are exacerbated by lack of serum calcium, which in turn is related to vitamin D levels, which comes from … sunshine. I go back to our evolutionary history: We weren’t inside at that computer all day! And by moving more in the sun and fresh air, you’ll most likely sleep better and have more energy the following day.
None of these are quick fixes. But nor is the current treatment approach (or lack thereof) achieving anything. And they’re definitely faster than waiting for this new blood test and whatever medication is developed to become available.

> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at