Ayurveda And Chronic Fatigue
Late in the 1980s, a new and mysterious disease surfaced, whose principle symptom was chronic, and overwhelming fatigue. Since then, thousands have been victim to seemingly inexplicable and debilitating fatigue – upsetting life’s balance and making even the most mundane tasks absolutely impossible. Many theories have been presented to explain the cause of fatigue, among them have been: the Epstein Barr virus, lead toxicity, environmental toxins, dietary excesses and insufficiencies, food allergies, and stress. The real cause of fatigue; however, remains unknown. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is pervasive, and common amongst airline pilots, business executives, doctors and engineers. According to one survey of Fortune 500 companies, about 70% of their executives suffer from CFS.
Chronic fatigue is defined by its duration: six months or longer of continuous lethargy.
Patients may experience a host of symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, aches, pains, pharyngitis and swollen lymph nodes, all of which could be indicators of other, potentially fatal diseases. Doctors may not be able to diagnose CFS until a series of other medical tests have been performed. This is to rule out deadly diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, heart disease and lymphoma.
Standard medical authorities at first considered CFS patients, mere hypochondriacs, but with increasing numbers of patients complaining of chronic fatigue, and the advent of alternative, holistic approaches to treating it; the medical community has turned a serious eye toward treating the disease. Still, physicians and patients remain baffled as to the causes, and effective treatment of chronic fatigue.
Diagnosing fatigue with Ayurveda
Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine, sees disease as an imbalance: an unwanted interruption in the body’s natural equilibrium. From an Ayurvedic perspective, fatigue is considered an imbalance among the three doshas: Vata, Pita and Kapha. The cure lies in restoring that lost equilibrium.
An Ayurvedic physician will want to conduct a thorough medical and psychological history of the patient since depression along with any past psychiatric problems, episodes of medically unexplained symptoms, alcohol abuse. Prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, certain nutritional supplements and vitamins may all contribute to overall tiredness as well. The patient’s mental state is also important, i.e. intellectual functions, memory and personality. An Ayurvedic physician will pay particular attention to current symptoms of depression, self-destructive thought processes, psychomotor retardation, and evidence of neurological or psychological disorders. I always perform a thorough physical exam, including a baseline blood chemistry, thyroid function test, and in some cases, a test to determine if viruses are present.
Finding the cause of chronic fatigue
Medical tests and a thorough medical history will reveal whether a patient has an under-active thyroid, suffers from sleep disorders, viral infection, digestive or nutritional deficiencies or stress, or is taking certain medications, all of which may cause fatigue.
When testing the thyroid, most doctors just look at the value of T-4 for evaluation of fatigue, which reveals limited information. I always look at the TSH, which is the thryroid-stimulating hormone value, and also the overall picture of T-4, TSH, T-3 and reverse T-3. Another thyroid problem known to result in fatigue is Hashimotos Disease, an auto-immune illness characterized by an inflamed thyroid gland. People with Hashimoto’s develop antibodies against the thyroid. Thus, even if the TSH and T-4 are normal, they can feel fatigued because the thyroid, under attack from antibodies, is unable to function properly. The presence of this disease can easily be known by checking for thyroid antibodies.
According to the Center for Disease Control in Washington D.C., multiple viruses can cause chronic fatigue-like symptoms. These include cytomegalovirus- or Epstein Barr virus, Adeno viruses, Hawks virus, Herpes virus, and human B-lymphocytic virus, among others. Some researchers have suggested that certain vaccinations have even been shown to cause fatigue, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome. A balanced system could successfully defend itself against these viral invasions. An unbalanced system, however, will easily fall prey to them.
Sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and some medications like beta blockers can also cause fatigue. According to one study done in England, among 79 healthy individuals taking amoxicillin 500mg, three times a day for one week, 60% developed fatigue, revealing that even common medications like antibiotics can result in fatigue. When examining a patient with fatigue complaints, I also check for any past of current diagnosis of depression, bipolar disorders, dementia, bulimia and anorexia, as well as alcohol or drug abuse. Recently, I saw a 19yr old boy brought in by his parents concerned about his extreme lethargy. It turned out he was injecting himself intravenously with heroin.
Liver toxicity, especially among patients diagnosed with hepatitis B or C, may also cause chronic fatigue. In these cases, I put patients on a liver-cleansing regimen that involves careful diet and herbal preparations, and the fatigue is lifted as the liver cleanses and resumes its normal functions. Nutritional deficiencies and digestive problems may also lead to exhaustion. When you don’t digest your food properly, you create a toxic overload that your body is unable to clear. This leads to feelings of lethargy and tiredness, as the body battles against accumulating toxins. Iron and magnesium deficiencies, as well as vitamin deficiencies, have also been linked to CFS.
Finally, we are in a culture of overachievers and workaholics. The average Boeing worker puts in 60 hrs weekly, and the average Microsoft employee works around 70-80 hours a week. Self-employed people and small-business owners like me often work 60-70 hours a week. Thus, we overburden our adrenal glands, exhausting them and finding ourselves too tired to keep up with our daily tasks.
Once diagnosed, how to treat fatigue Ayurvedically
Once the potential causes of the patient’s fatigue are determined, an Ayurvedic physician will set to work, devising a customized program of diet, nutrition, and herbal supplements, along with exercise and stress reduction techniques to help the patient regain balance within their lifestyle. This Ayurvedic approach is thorough and life-changing.
Digestive problems are often at the root of fatigue. A person suffering from fatigue may be allergic to some foods or eating foods without proper digestion. We transform food into fuel and waste through the digestion process. Our digestive system turns carbohydrates into glucose, proteins into amino acids, and fat into fatty acids leading to a long series of functions involving mechanical and chemical change. If these functions are left incomplete, they can create toxins that ultimately lead to fatigue. Therefore, proper nutrition is absolutely important. I always encourage people to consume organic foods, free of preservatives, insecticides and pesticides, especially since these additives can cause fatigue-like symptoms. It is also important to eat organic meats and dairy products, because toxic residues in these products are high. Residues from hormones injected into animals can create fatigue symptoms in meat eaters.
Many people have allergies to wheat, milk, potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers and are completely unaware of it. I see remarkable changes when I ask people to simply stop eating these foods. In Ayurvedic medicine, food should be taken according to body type (Vata, Pita, or Kapha) and to the pathology at the time. If you have an imbalance that is caused by something in your diet, that food needs to be eliminated. Also, creating a ritual such as sitting down to eat, helps build healthy digestion. Due to our fast paced lifestyle, we often eat on the run. We must realize that food is the most important thing for our bodies and if we don’t eat properly, we are inviting disease. I encourage people to meditate on their food – smell the aroma, look at its color. The more you enjoy your food, the more your body is able to digest it and reap its nourishment. Without this intimate relationship with your food, you will be unable to get the best rewards from it.
Schedule a time for each meal. Eating at the proper time facilitates the body’s regular production of enzymes, which are necessary for proper and complete digestion. If you don’t eat at the proper time, you may miss the enzyme surge and not be able to digest the food properly. Do not drink lots of water with your food – this dilutes digestive juices, causing indigestion and fatigue. According to studies by Dr. Jonathan Wright, most of us have low hydrochloric acid levels. Fresh ginger tea is an excellent remedy. Simply chop ginger into small pieces about one inch of the root, boil in a cup of water, strain, and sip slowly before or during meals. Ginger stimulates digestive juices and contains active enzymes that help digest food. I recommend sitting for a few minutes after each meal, followed by a short walk. These very simple rituals will help the body to increase the efficiency of digestion.
All of our eating habits play an important role in determining the strength and efficacy of digestion. If we eat under stress, at the wrong time, or when we are not hungry, we fail to create a healthy relationship with our food. Instead, food produces toxic materials in the body, which results in fatigue. Most people abuse sugar, alcohol and dairy products. An average American can eat about half pound of sugar a day. A 12oz soda contains 10 tsp of sugar, candy can have 5-6 tsp, a scoop of ice cream can have 5-6 tsp and a chocolate bar can have up to half a pound of sugar. So, if you have only one soda, one candy, a slice of cake and a cookie, you can well imagine how much sugar you are taking during a day.
According to one study, when people consume 100grams of sugar, or about a quarter pound, their immune system becomes sluggish and completely dysfunctional, which leads to fatigue. Therefore, do not over-eat sugar, even if you crave things like bread, cookies, ice cream, crackers, and raisins. It is important to control your cravings. It is also important to make a conscious effort to eat good food. Choosing organic foods, and eating three meals a day, while watching our intake of sugar helps create a balanced approach to eating. Snacking between meals is fine as long as you eat the proper amounts of sugar, protein, carbohydrates and get the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Beyond Nutrition: Additional Treatments for Fatigue
Panch Karma, an Ayurvedic detoxification program, is highly effective in treating fatigue. By ridding the body of toxic materials, this rejuvenative program aids in restoring a normal, healthy balance in the body. Panch refers to five, and Karma refers to the major eliminative processes which aid the body in restoring balance. At the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Clinic in Bellevue, Washington, patients receive herbal oil massages using customized oils created to fit their body type and pathologies. Herbs are also chosen according to body type and present imbalances. Our Panch Karma technicians concentrate on specialized and highly energetic points in the body, called marma points. These are much like acupressure points. As the body is vigorously massaged, the herbal oils absorb the toxins. The herbs seep through the skin, and as they circulate throughout the body, they stimulate the internal organs. After the massage, patients are put into an herbal steam bath. As the body t emperature gradually increases, a few things happen. First, sweat rids the body of toxic materials. Also, the white blood cell count increases, helping to kill viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Even cancer cells die quickly under intense heat.
Following a lengthy series of oil massages, patients are instructed to fast. Depriving the body of food for a sustained period of time lowers its toxic load and cleanses the upper alimentary carnal, especially the stomach area. After fasting, patients take a laxative like castor oil, olive oil, or certain herbs, which help to clean out the small intestines, liver and spleen. Afterward, more herbal oil massages and herbal steam saunas are given, followed by enemas or a colonic treatment to clean out the large intestine. By the end of Panch Karma, the body’s toxic load has been dramatically reduced.
Ayurvedic Herbs Remedies for Fatigue
I prescribe several herbs in almost all cases of chronic fatigue, including Ashwagandha™, Amla, Turmeric, and Trifal™. In all cases, I prefer to use the standardized extracts rather than raw herbs, ensuring strong potency and safety.
Ashwagandha is a rejuvenative herb and its use in Ayurvedic medicine dates back to 3-4,000 years. It is reputed to clear the mind, calm and strengthen the nerves, promote sound sleep and rejuvenate the bodily tissues. You can take up to 500mg of Ashwagandha extract three times a day. Larger doses may also be taken safely.
Another favorite herb of mine is Turmeric: the bright, yellow spice ever-present at all Indian or Asian food stores. Curcuma longa, as it is also known, is a detoxifier and a liver stimulant. It is also anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and has also been shown to kill the AIDS HIV virus. Turmeric works synergistically with Boswellia to reduce inflammation.
Another herb that works wonders is Amla. It is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C and bioflavonoids available. Bioflavonoids are anti-oxidants, helping to protect and regenerate the body. Amla is also very safe and can be taken in very large doses without creating an imbalance. Perparations like Amla Plex have been used for centuries in India as Rasayanas, or rejuvenative and adaptive therapies. Small amounts are eaten daily, as a tasty, therapeutic jam. It contains the Ayurvedic mineral called sheelajeet, which, in India oozes out of the mountains under the heat of the sun. Sheelajeet is an organic material that has been under the earth for many years and is a rich mineral source. It has been shown to reverse the aging process, an in a few studies has even increased hair growth. Other herb blends which I like are Trifal™ or Triphla™, which aid in digestion and overall cleansing, and Centella asiatica (Gotu kola) and Tribulus Terrstris that increase the am ount of testosterone in the body.
Taking too many supplements; however, is not good either. Many people come to my clinic with bags filled of vitamins and supplements. All herbs may not be safe, and could themselves, create a toxic overload.
A Final Word
If you suffer from fatigue, watch your nutrition. Eliminate the body’s toxic overload. Take some helpful herbs and supplements, exercise and perform stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, walking or any other exercise. Make a promise to yourself that you want to be healthier! Create a discipline and then follow it. If you go off track, start again. I compare this to a savings account – only if you put money in the bank on a regular basis will you build up a reliable savings account. The same holds true with health. Following a healthy lifestyle will reduce your chances of fatigue, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis and other diseases and you will eventually come to rely on a stronger happier self.
For more information about Dr. Virender Sodhi and the Ayurvedic Clinic, please visit www.ayurvedicscience.com. For the herbs listed above, please visit www.ayush.com
Disclaimer: This article is purely informative and should not replace the guidance of your physician. If you suffer from an illness, you should consult a physician before taking any herbs, vitamins, minerals or enzymes. Even at the peak of health, it is best to consult a qualified practitioner before taking any