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Condition - ME - are you tired of being tired?

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

Myalgic Encephalopathy, commonly called ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue, which may get worse with physical or mental activity, but that is not alleviated by rest. Instead, the fatigue lasts a long time and affects your ability to perform daily tasks. According to the ME association, it is estimated that some 250,000 people in Britain are affected by this illness. 

People with ME may experience a variety of symptoms that come and go frequently with no identifiable pattern. Since other illnesses can cause similar symptoms, ME is hard to diagnose.

Primary symptoms

ME has eight official symptoms, plus the central symptom that gives the condition its name: 

  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
  • Painful and mildly enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Unrefreshing sleep

Additionally, people with ME may suffer from bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, depression, irritability, stiffness, nausea and sensitivities to foods, chemicals and medications.


The cause of ME still remains unknown. While a single cause for ME may yet be identified, it is possible that the condition may be caused by multiple factors.


Candida albicans, a form of yeast that lives in all of us, should be kept under control by our immune systems and usually doesn’t cause any harmful effects. However, certain factors, such as a poor immune system, taking antibiotics, stress and a poor diet, may lead to an overgrowth of this yeast, causing a condition called Candidiasis. Many of the symptoms associated with Candidiasis, including bloating, diarrhoea, headaches, stomach ache and poor concentration and memory, are associated with ME and this has lead to the theory that Candidiasis has a role to play in the cause of ME. In fact, research has highlighted that many ME patients have reported an improvement in symptoms after following an anti-Candida diet and taking an oral anti-fungal.

Viral infection

Due to its similarity to acute and chronic infection, one possible cause of ME was thought to be a viral infection, particularly the Epstein-Barr virus, which is part of the herpes family. It is now not thought that ME is caused exclusively by a virus, but research has shown that infection with the Epstein-Barr, Ross River and Coxiella burnetti viruses will lead to ME in approximately 12% of cases.


ME has also be associated with poor adrenal function. The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and are responsible for releasing stress hormones, such as cortisol. Physical or emotional stress is commonly reported as a pre-onset condition in ME patients and recent studies have revealed that ME patients often produce lower levels of cortisol than healthy controls. 

Blood sugar balance

ME is also associated with poor blood sugar balance, which, in part, is regulated by cortisol, especially in severely stressed individuals. ME sufferers have an increased risk of suffering from a condition called metabolic syndrome, also known as insulin resistance, where the body doesn’t respond to insulin and normal amounts of insulin are insufficient to control blood sugar levels. As a result, the body produces more and more insulin to try to compensate. Poor diet, stimulants and stress also contribute to poor blood sugar balance.

Imbalance in gut flora

Research has shown that ME sufferers often have an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut and that probiotic bacteria may help support digestive and immune function in people who suffer with ME.

Essential fatty acids

ME patients may suffer from low levels of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids and research has shown that sufferers may benefit from supplementation.

Dietary recommendations 

  • Eat little and often– leave no longer than two to three hours between meals. This is often better for balancing blood sugar levels, rather than eating three large meals a day.
  • Avoid sugary food– to help balance blood sugar levels, it is important to avoid foods that release glucose into the blood too quickly, such as refined sugar, white bread, white rice, cakes and biscuits. There is a tendency for the body to overcompensate for the rapid rise in blood sugar that these foods produce, leading to dips later on. Try basing your diet around foods that release glucose relatively slowly into the bloodstream, such as the wholegrain alternatives (e.g. oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta).  
  • Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Try to eat good-quality protein with every meal. Protein,e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans,slows sugar absorption. 
  • Include plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Increase consumption of high-fibre foods – fibre slows the absorption of sugar from food, particularly water-soluble fibre, as found in legumes, oat bran, apples, pears and most vegetables.

Supporting supplements 

  • Grapefruit seed extract, olive leaf and oregano oil– these may support immune and digestive systems 
  • Vitamin C and zincthese help support healthy immunity 
  • Rhodiolathis may help with the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress, such as fatigue and exhaustion 
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium lactisthese are probiotic bacteria, which may help support a healthy digestion, and immune system 
  • Fish or flax seed oila good source of omega 3 essential fatty acids 
  • Starflower oil –a good source of omega 6 essential fatty acids 
  • B vitamins, chromium, cinnamon bark and liquorice root extract –may help to support healthy blood sugar balance 
  • Magnesiumresearch has shown that ME sufferers often have reduced blood levels of magnesium and supplementation appears to support energy levels

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