This month marks three important awareness events; International ME Awareness Month, National ME Awareness Week (UK), as well as International CFS Awareness day. ME is, unfortunately, a misunderstood physical condition, which affects about 0.4% of the population. Many doctors are still prescribing antidepressants; not only do these not help many cases of ME/CFS, they do not deal with the underlying causes of ME. Antidepressants also have numerous adverse side-effects which, on top of the symptoms of ME, can make life very difficult.
There are numerous dietary changes one can make to help manage and, in some cases even dramatically eradicate, symptoms of ME. It is very important, therefore, for a sufferer to include foods that are nutrient-rich, as well as reducing those foods which exacerbate symptoms, perhaps making painful conditions worse, and increasing mood swings.
There is increasing evidence that M.E. may be associated with persistent viral infection and that such infections likely make us deficient in important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can in turn affect ME symptoms such brain fog, fatigue and pain. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) , for instance, which can be obtained either by eating several portions of oily fish per week, or by taking a highly purified fish oil supplement, has been linked with a reduction in symptoms, to the extent that some people have reported a return to normal health. Indeed letters of thanks relating to our Vegepa omega-3 fish oil supplement are a daily occurrence at our head office, so we are extremely pleased to say with confidence that omega-3 EPA is supported both anecdotally, as well as being validated by peer-reviewed biomedical studies.
According to Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, it is also important to “[i]ncorporate as many fresh foods as possible, such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole-grains. These contain important co-factors which increase the effectiveness of omega fats. Oats in addition offer sustained energy release, meaning energy levels remain constant and do not ‘peak’ and then ‘dip’ – they therefore make the perfect breakfast.”
It’s not always possible to get enough vitamins and minerals from our diet, especially when we’re feeling too tired to cook a nutritious meal. Dr Bailey suggests that “[i]t’s a good idea to take a quality multivitamin and mineral supplement to make sure you’re getting the minimum amounts required (B vitamins in particular are essential for energy release). Since many of these vitamins and minerals are water-soluble – meaning they are not stored in the body, any excesses are flushed out – they need to be consumed daily. Be careful, however, not to overdose on these; although essential, some, like Vitamin A, can be highly toxic in excessive quantities.” It is a good idea to visit a nutritionist who will be able to prescribe a mixture of supplements, rather than self-prescribing, which can be harmful.
Dr Bailey also stresses the importance of avoiding ‘junk food’; refined (white) bread, pasta, and rice, cakes, biscuits, sweets – “all these foods are highly processed and offer little, if any, nutritional value. Whilst they may offer a quick surge in energy levels, these are short lived and often result in increased tiredness. Similarly, caffeinated drinks may appeal to those feeling tired and lethargic, but do not address the causes of the tiredness, and often exacerbate the situation.”
Relaxation techniques have also been shown to improve some of the symptoms associated with ME/CFS. Simple meditation techniques can help clear the mind and ease stress, as well as increase energy levels. Yoga and Tai Chi are also useful, as they incorporate gentle stretching techniques which also help manage symptoms. Although many people suffering from ME probably cannot contemplate the thought of exercise, pacing has been shown to help with many symptoms, including tiredness, pain, stress, sleep problems and depression. Exercise produces the ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins, making us feel brighter and happier.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask our Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, click through to our ‘Ask our Expert’ form.