For part one of this chronic fatigue syndrome series click here.
I’m writing this post from my new home office in Raleigh, North Carolina. My family and I are almost finished moving in, and so far we’re absolutely loving Raleigh. The new home we’re renting is magnificent, the area is beautiful, and Raleigh has so many activities to enjoy.
Over the weekend I finished setting up my home gym. That meant I was finally able to get back to pulling some decent weight. I deadlifted 250 lbs x 4 at 158 lbs body weight. Since I hadn’t deadlifted since August 4, that wasn’t too bad. And more importantly, following my workout I experienced no signs of severe fatigue associated with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Hopefully, I’ll be back to my personal record (PR) within a few months. Below is my 300 lbs PR I set in June. Not too shabby for an almost 62-year-old.
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Okay, let’s get right to it. Last week I presented the first three strategies I used to heal from ME/CFS. Here are the next seven:
Strategy 4: Juicing
About 7 years ago in my search for healing for my ME/CFS symptoms, I came across the Gerson juicing protocol. The Gerson Therapy, as it’s called, was developed in the 1930s by Dr. Max Gerson to treat his own migraines. Eventually, it became a treatment for degenerative diseases such as skin tuberculosis, diabetes, and cancer. Individuals who rigidly adhered to the protocol supposedly obtained excellent results.
The protocol requires the consumption of 15- 20 pounds of organically-grown fruits and vegetables daily. Most of this is consumed as a juice. The idea behind the therapy is that the abundance of nutrients from the organic juices provides your body with high doses of enzymes, minerals, and nutrients that will restore the body’s ability to heal itself.
The protocol theoretically made sense, but I just couldn’t consume 15 pounds of veggies a day.
But I needed help, so I decided to give it a try in a modified form. I juiced (technically I blended in a Vitamix) enough produce to make about 40 ounces of juice daily. This drink consisted of kale, carrots, spinach, avocado, and a green apple. After consuming this amount of juice for about 3 months, I noticed a slight improvement in my energy but nothing substantial.
While I didn’t have the enormous boost in energy that some people get from juicing, I was helping my body. By juicing, I was increasing my nutrient levels significantly, detoxifying my body, and helping to restore the good bacteria in my gut.
Strategy 5: A Paleo Diet
As I said, after about 3 months of juicing, I experienced some improvement in my fatigue levels but not a lot. But that was about to change. At this time a friend of mine sent me some information on the paleo diet and suggested I take a look at Mark Sissons’ site: Mark’s Daily Apple.
Once on the site, I was captivated. After spending hours and hours reading about the paleo diet and all the success stories attributed to it, I was convinced of its efficacy. This wasn’t because of its reliance on evolutionary theory. It was the science that convinced me.
1. Nutrient Dense Foods
The paleo diet stresses the importance of consuming nutrient-dense whole foods such as antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, fermented vegetables, pastured eggs, extra-virgin olive oil, spices like turmeric and cinnamon, bone broth, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (like wild caught salmon, sardines, and herring), and meats from pasture-raised animals. The nutrients from these foods are vital for healing and preventing chronic inflammatory conditions.
2. Elimination of Anti-nutrients
The paleo diet also stresses the elimination of anti-nutrients. One of these is gluten. As we saw in my last post, gluten (a wheat protein) causes intestinal permeability and possibly systemic inflammatory reactions.
Many plants and grains also contain lectins, phytates, and saponins (see my post here). These compounds are naturally occurring in plants and are part of their defense mechanism against pests. Unfortunately, they are also disruptive to our digestive systems. Someone on a paleo diet seeks to limit foods high in these compounds. The biggest culprits here are legumes and grains.
Since a paleo diet eliminates most grains, it is a naturally low carb diet. Many hardcore paleo adherents will eliminate potatoes, but I didn’t except for the skins (saponins). I also didn’t eliminate white rice. See my post on rice.
3. Elimination of Processed Foods
The paleo diet eliminates processed foods because the chemicals used in processing could be inflammatory. The saying goes that if it comes in a package, stay away from it. It also eliminates processed vegetable oils, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic sweeteners, artificial additives, and foods high in omega-6 fatty acids. These also can be highly inflammatory.
4. Avoidance of Dairy Products
The paleo diet discourages the consumption of dairy products. The idea here is that lactose is an intestinal irritant. However, since aged cheese and probiotic yogurt have very low to no lactose, some paleo experts have no problem with these foods in moderation. I personally continue to eat both. For more on the nuances of the paleo diet see here, here, and here.
As you can see, the general idea behind the diet is that it encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense foods that aid in fighting inflammation and discourages those that can cause it. But it also does another important thing.
5. Gut Healing
The paleo diet also promotes the healing of a damaged gastrointestinal tract. It does this by eliminating anti-nutrients and introducing fermented vegetables (sauerkraut and kimchi) that help restore the gut microbiota.
As I said, some strict paleo followers frown on yogurt but homemade probiotic yogurt can be a big help for those who have had their microbiome destroyed by years of antibiotic use. See here for how we make our own probiotic yogurt. See here for our post on how to make homemade sauerkraut.
I jumped into this diet head first. The only deviation I took was consuming a moderate amount of potatoes, white rice, and probiotic yogurt. Within a few months, my health transformation was remarkable.
I regained about 20% of my lost energy levels to where I was about 80% – 90% of normal. I rarely fell below 70%. Healthwise, things were really starting to look up. However, there were a few more tweaks that I needed to make.
Note: I continued to juice throughout my time on the paleo diet.
Strategy 6: Cutting Back on Work Stress
About the same time that I went paleo, I finally began to realize that a big part of my problem stemmed from the stress that accompanied my work. Apart from the psychological toll resulting from stress, researchers now know that prolonged stress can induce a chronic inflammatory state in the body and thus become a key risk factor in numerous diseases.
Our reaction to stress is not a bad thing. When we perceive a threat, our bodies will react so that we either avoid or eliminate the stress. Think of encountering a violent bear in the woods. That’s a stressful situation. To avoid this stress, our bodies will react. Our body will either prepare us to fight the bear a la Daniel Boone, or it will put us into flight mode so we can run for our lives.
So our body’s reaction to stress keeps us alive.
The Dangers Of Constant Stress
Constant stress, though, is dangerous. This is why. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These systems are activated when our bodies perceive a threat. They prepare us for the fight or flight situation. When the threat passes, they return to a resting state.
However, chronic stress may keep these systems overly activated. When this happens, pathophysiology results. This sets the stage for chronic inflammation and subsequently disease. See my post on adrenal fatigue. See also my series of posts on chronic stress and belly fat.
Also, a constantly activated SNS means that there will be an imbalance between it and the parasympathetic nervous system. This chronic imbalance can cause further dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Remember that a dysfunctional ANS is associated with ME/CFS.
Though I intuitively sensed from the beginning of my illness that chronic stress played a part in its genesis and continuance, it took 26 years for me to finally deal with it properly.
Some Stress Solutions
The Gallup Poll found that most people hate their jobs. Not only did I dislike my job, but it was also often a source of extreme stress. If I was going to heal, I knew I had to do something about it. About seven years ago, instead of making the daily drive into Manhattan, I was able to structure things so that I could work 3 days a week from home. This helped immensely. It’s something I should’ve done a lot earlier.
By working from home, I then had the opportunity to engage in projects that allowed me to achieve more significance than simply making money to pay the bills. I led a debate club for home educated children, taught co-op classes on apologetics and history, produced history videos on youtube, did a lot more writing, and continued to research health and wellness strategies.
Here’s the amazing thing. Often, when I was in the midst of doing these activities, the fatigue would simply vanish!
Why did the fatigue temporarily vanish?
Standing up for an hour while teaching a group of 15 and16-year-olds can be physically taxing. But I never became fatigued while doing it. Why? Obviously, I was doing something I loved and that meant no negative stress. My body wasn’t being worn down by stress but was actually gaining energy.
Finally, the light switch turned on. Maybe I should find a “day job” that I loved and get paid for doing it. It wasn’t an easy task, but after 5 years I did exactly that. Is there still some stress involved? Yes. But not nearly as much as I had in the previous 35 years.
Bottom line: A key to improving from ME/CFS is reducing stress. For me, I did this by walking, changing my diet, reducing work stress, and by engaging in deep breathing.
Strategy 7: Deep Breathing
As I have mentioned in previous strategies, I believe that in my particular case of ME/CFS an imbalance in my autonomic nervous system played a major role. This accompanied by chronic stress also contributed to that imbalance.
One of the strategies I used to realign my ANS was to employ deep breathing techniques. Researchers have found that slow diaphragmatic breathing has the ability to slow down SNS activity and enhance PNS activity. See here. This is why physicians and psychologists prescribe deep breathing as a way to reduce stress.
When I first came across this strategy about 5 years ago, I thought it was ridiculous. How could simply breathing deeply help me? Well, I thought the same thing about walking and was I wrong! After doing some research on the autonomic benefits of deep breathing, I decided to give it a try.
Learning To Do Diaphragmatic Breathing
I generally like to keep things simple so I started with this very simple tutorial on diaphragmatic breathing from the Cleveland Clinic. The cue of placing my hand on my stomach and causing it to raise as I inhaled allowed me to quickly learn how to breath using my diaphragm.
I practiced this technique for about a day, and then I decided to try it at bedtime. At the time, I was under a lot of stress and suffering some relapses of fatigue. This was causing me to have trouble falling asleep at night.
Well, I tried it, and it worked. Within a few minutes, I dozed off and slept through the whole night. Since that time, I use it every night before I go to sleep and also throughout the day.
Paul Chek has an in-depth youtube series on deep breathing. See here.
Strategy 8: Improve Sleep
Sleep disturbances, particularly non-restorative sleep, are a common symptom of ME/CFS. Non-restorative sleep is where you’ve had at least 8 hours of sleep but wake up feeling totally unrefreshed. Researchers are not exactly sure why this happens in ME/CFS, but again some clues may be found in a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system.
I’ve experienced non-restorative sleep for most of the time I’ve had ME/CFS. At times, I also experienced apnea and insomnia.
The problem with sleep disturbances is that not only do you wake up tired, but they also have other damaging effects on our bodies (not to mention damage to other peoples bodies by keeping them from enjoying refreshing sleep).
Research has shown that sleep deprivation leads to inflammation. So whatever inflammation is already taking place in ME/CFS, it will be compounded by a lack of sleep.
Also, it’s during sleep that the body restores and repairs itself. This occurs during specific cycles of sleep. If these cycles are disrupted, the body’s ability to repair itself may be severely impaired. See here.
Here are 15 techniques I use to optimize conditions so that I get a better night’s sleep.
- Avoid blue light 2-3 hours before bedtime (I use these blue light blocker glasses)
- Keep your bedroom temperature at 60 – 65 degrees
- Wake up in a completed sleep cycle (See here)
- Wake up with a calming, not startling alarm
- Use deep breathing techniques to fall asleep (see above)
- Go to the bathroom before you go to sleep
- Use a comfortable mattress and pillow
- Create a bedtime habit such as reading or writing
- Find an activity that helps you wind down
- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark at night, but remember you need light in the morning to wake you up
- Try to get regular exposure to outdoor light during the day
- Stick to a sleep schedule even on weekends
- Exercise daily but not 6 hours before bedtime (For severe ME/CFS sufferers, exercise may be a problem).
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.
- If you sleep with your electronic devices near, put them on airplane mode.
See my post for an in-depth look at sleep optimization and the importance of sleep cycles.
For the last 4 years, I’ve made it a daily habit to try and take an afternoon nap. This has helped me tremendously in taking a break from the stress of the day. Sometimes I may not even fall asleep but quiet rest time really helps.
I know a lot of you can’t do that with work and all. But you can take a few minutes to just tune out, close your eyes, and do some deep breathing and meditating.
Incidentally, since going paleo, I rarely suffer from severe apnea. Infrequently, I have periods of mild insomnia. However, when I find it happening, I quickly resort to deep breathing. This always gets me to sleep.
Strategy 9: Supplements
Prior to going on a paleo diet, I experimented with all kinds of supplements. These included high dose vitamin C, other vitamins, minerals, colostrum, botanicals, herbs, and probiotics. They may have been doing me some good, but I didn’t experience any significant relief.
I Discover Lauricidin
About the time I went paleo, I came across a product called Lauricidin. Lauricidin is the trade name for monolaurin. Monolaurin is a chemical derived from lauric acid and glycerin and is a byproduct of coconut fat. It reportedly has immune-boosting, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. See here.
If my ME/CFS did have a viral component to it, then perhaps Lauricidin would help. I took it on and off for about 2 years. It’s hard to say if it helped a lot since I was also paleo. But it was during this time that I was making significant health gains, so I would say that it was important to my overall protocol.
I’m still currently taking vitamin D3 and magnesium. Along with these, I take
Thorne Research – Meriva (Curcumin) as an anti-inflammatory and vitamin K2 (see the link on vitamin D3 above). This is the vitamin K2 that I use.
Also, because I lift heavy weights 4 times a week, I take collagen daily. Collagen helps to keep my tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and bones healthy.
That’s about it for supplements.
Strategy 10: Low-Carbohydrate (Keto) Diet
By August of 2017, I had been on a paleo diet, which was relatively low-carbohydrate (<100 grams of carbs per day), for approximately 5 years. My energy levels were at between 80% – 90% of normal with some days at 100%. I had healed enough that I could lift heavy weights for the previous 2 years without a severe relapse.
It was now time to take my diet to the next level.
I had read stories of how a ketogenic (ultra low-carb: <25 net grams/day, healthy fat, moderate protein) diet was helpful in healing people from all sorts of illnesses (type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, etc.). It also appears that a ketogenic diet has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. So I decided to give it a try.
Amazing Health Gains
Within a few months, my health gains were amazing. My energy levels were consistently between 90% – 100% every day. A year later, I am even starting to do some high-intensity interval training on my treadmill. That’s something that would not have been possible even 2 years ago.
Check out the series of posts Barbara and I wrote on how we went keto and how we are continuing on the diet.
Many people on a keto diet do extended fasting (> 1 day). Since I’ve found that prolonged fasting puts a lot of stress on my body, I avoid it. I do practice delayed eating though. In this instance, I generally eat within an 8-hour window, usually between 12 PM to 8 PM.
The Bottom Line
I suffered from ME/CFS for over 20 years before I started to make significant gains in my health. The strategies I used to get well didn’t come to me overnight. It took years of trial and error to determine what worked and what didn’t.
I am not recommending these strategies to anyone suffering from ME/CFS. I can’t do that. But they worked for me and they do have the science behind them that proves that they can reduce inflammation and promote healing.
ME/CFS is a serious disease. Please don’t try any of these strategies without consulting with your physician.
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- How To Make Dieting Successful: Strategies For Keeping Off The Weight You Lost - January 31, 2020
- Our Strategies For Getting Healthier And Stronger at 63 - November 7, 2019