Using diet to support chronic fatigue
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Client name and identifying information changed
Jason came to me with a 10yr history of chronic fatigue. It appeared to have started after he contracted an infection in Bali. The infection seemed to have cleared up but he had terrible fatigue that continued to get worse as the years went by.
His girlfriend suggested that he visit me, but he was initially reluctant because he said he had done all the tests and resolved himself to this way of life.
I find this happens a lot when clients say they have had all the tests, when in fact often all they have had is a full blood count from their GP and some standard screening tests.
The word ‘full’ conjures up the notion that every test has been done, especially when the doc says “well I can’t find anything wrong with you so maybe you are just stressed”, or “try this anti-depressant and see if that helps”.
Jason had tried anti-depressants which made things worse because he didn’t have depression, just a constant state of fatigue. While ongoing fatigue is depressing, to say the least, it was not true depression.
After a discussion and some in-clinic testing, I organised bowel screenings for Jason (to check for good and bad bacteria levels, bowel function, leaky gut and food intolerances) and also a hair mineral and heavy metal screening.
Jason’s results showed marked inflammation in the gut, an array of pathogenic bacteria with very little good bacteria, plus some candida species (fungal). His hair mineral analysis showed very low levels of magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. He was also intolerant to over 20 foods which I felt was due to his overactive immune system, because of the bug (bacteria) situation.
All his energy was going into keeping the pathogens at bay, but because of his intestinal permeability he couldn’t absorb nutrients properly and thus his energy declined. The low minerals also reflected adrenal exhaustion, which is common with chronic fatigue.
Because Jason had to give up work because of his low energy, he couldn’t afford much in the way of supplements, so we focused on some bug killing herbs and used diet to do the rest of the job.
Initially he had to stop eating foods he was sensitive to and he was placed on a SIBO diet (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) where sugars and certain fibres in his foods were restricted. As the bug killers started to do their job, he then transitioned to the second phase of the SIBO diet where he re-introduced some foods, apart from those he was sensitive to.
After six weeks of the phase one SIBO diet and six weeks of phase two SIBO, Jason’s energy was 6/10 compared to 2/10 when he first came to see me. He was so excited about the shift in his energy and was committed to the plan. He was prepared to spend a little more on his health and borrowed some money to buy some multi-strain probiotics to support the species that he tested low in.
He only needed to do this for about a month because he was then into phase three of the diet, from which he benefitted from more diversity in fibres and nutrients. This meant he didn’t need any further supplementation and his mineral levels reflected improvement on his next test.
With his energy levels now 8/10 he went to a mate’s party one weekend and ate pizza (gluten), with cheese (was sensitive to casein) and drank beer (gluten and sugar). His energy crashed big time, but it taught him to not take things for granted and to respect his body.
From then on, he committed to the phase three diet, but occasionally would test himself with small amounts of the foods he was sensitive to. He found that he could tolerate everything on his list of 20, except gluten and dairy products. He avoided sugar, particularly in alcoholic drinks and chocolate, apart from a raw cacao treat occasionally which seemed to be fine.
Not everyone’s chronic fatigue is due to an imbalance in gut bacteria and subsequent mineral deficiencies. It is best to visit a good health practitioner who can run as many tests as needed to find out why you have chronic fatigue. Then follow their advice, along with the foods recommended for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, plus any additional diet parameters relating to your condition.