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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Awareness Month With Lauren Windas

It’s Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Awareness Month, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month (M.E/CFS) and Nutritionist and Naturopath Lauren Windas is sharing both her patient and clinical experience of the condition.

Over 17 million people worldwide live with M.E/CFS, 250,000 of which live in the UK. These numbers are thought to be even higher since the COVID 2020 pandemic.

CFS stands for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a complex and debilitating condition characterised by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest. People with CFS often experience a range of symptoms beyond fatigue, such as:

  • Cognitive difficulties (often referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Post-exertional malaise (worsening of symptoms after physical or mental activity)
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Heart palpitations
  • Food and alcohol intolerance
  • Chemical, light and noise sensitivity,
  • Digestive issues
  • Flu-like symptoms

The exact cause of CFS is not fully understood, however science is starting to emerge about the involvement of a combination of factors including viral infections, immune system dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, genetic pre-dispositions, and psychological stress. There is no specific test to diagnose CFS at present, and diagnosis is typically based upon ruling out other possible causes of symptoms.

Conventional management of CFS focuses upon symptom relief via improving quality of life through a combination of lifestyle changes, such as pacing activity levels, cognitive behavioural therapy and also medication(s) to address specific symptoms such as pain or sleep disturbances.

If you suspect you or someone you know has CFS, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and support.

My Experience with M.E/CFS

My experience with M.E/CFS began in 2012 when I caught a viral infection and never fully recovered, experiencing a vast array of symptoms that was debilitating and all-encompassing. I went to the doctors, but they didn’t offer any solutions and I was met with shrugged shoulders regarding my symptoms of fatigue, brain fog (amongst other chronic debilitating complaints such as heart palpitations, dizziness and digestive issues). After seeing countless doctors for other opinions, I eventually visited Harley Street where one consultant mentioned that he believed I was suffering with ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ yet offered no insight on how to recover from the condition. When I searched the term online, the next bout of fear set in as I saw the words ‘no cure’, which was pretty terrifying and overwhelming…

The fact that conventional medicine wasn’t offering any solutions for me was daunting and left me in fear about my future. My symptoms were so debilitating that I couldn’t face living like this for the rest of my life and I saw online that there were people who had made huge strides in their recovery via alternative approaches (such as nutrition and functional medicine). It was through this approach and seeing nutritional practitioners that practiced Functional Medicine, as I detail in my book ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Your Route to Recovery’ that I eventually found help and managed to reclaim my health by putting the jigsaw pieces back together of what was driving my symptoms over time.

Recovery was not linear. Whilst at first I thought I would be on a constant incline towards better health, I soon realised that there was no magic pill to fix me with this condition. It can often feel like a case of snakes and ladders, where one minute you feel better and the next you feel lousy (almost like one step forwards and two steps back), however I came to re-frame these setbacks as learning events, as ways to navigate and build from any crash I experienced so that there was a positive insight to take going forwards.

Over time and as my recovery progressed through incorporating an array of dietary and lifestyle changes to bolster my health, I quickly gained a passion about the transformative effects of natural lifestyle interventions which led me to qualify as a Nutritionist and Naturopath myself, so that I could share my knowledge and help support others going through CFS and other complex, chronic illnesses… hence how the ARDERE Clinic was born.

Helpful Tips for Navigating Journeys

Living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) presents unique challenges that require careful consideration, especially when it comes to driving and travelling.

ME/CFS is a complex condition characterised by extreme fatigue and a range of other symptoms affecting multiple body systems, therefore it can affect you both mentally and physically (note: it is a spectrum disorder which means sufferers can be mild to moderate, as well as 25% suffers are wheelchair/bed-bound). For individuals managing ME/CFS, planning outings involves thoughtful preparation. When driving or travelling, it is crucial to prioritise comfort and pacing activity levels.

Route planning is essential to minimise stress and conserve energy. Opt for routes with minimal traffic or choose off-peak travel times. Water and snacks (such as nuts) should be readily accessible to maintain hydration and energy levels. Regular comfort breaks are vital to prevent exhaustion, therefore incorporate rest stops into the itinerary as much as possible to help re-charge your energy batteries.

By planning ahead and incorporating these strategies, individuals with ME/CFS can better navigate outings and enjoy a more manageable travel experience.

If you have a partner or friend traveling with you who does not experience fatigue, you could kindly ask if they would be comfortable taking on most of the driving to support you from a pacing point-of-view.

By Lauren Windas (BA Hons, mBANT, CNHC, rNCfED), Nutritionist, Naturopath, Co-founder of and Author of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Your Route to Recovery’.

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