M/E - Myalgia Encephalopathy

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

What's really going on?

In the early years of my practice I met many people who had been diagnosed with ME (Myalgia Encephalopathy) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), nowadays the same kind of symptoms are more likely to be described as adrenal fatigue or fibromyalgia but ME/CFS has become an established and accepted label and there are still many people from various parts of the world who are told that this is what is wrong with them and why they are have become so desperately tired and unwell.

Sometimes labels are important, even vital, and give us the necessary starting point to be looking and working in the right direction, and sometimes labels are frankly unhelpful, even harmful. The name 'chronic fatigue syndrome' perfectly fits description of what I would call a truly unhelpful label because it doesn't help you actually understand whats really going on any more than it helps you to know what to do about it. For some people, this label even does significant harm because they naturally go online to look it up and then can develop some very negative expectations from reading the accounts of others who have become somewhat lost in the system.

Let me perfectly clear that I do understand that many people do suffer with the exact same symptoms as described in the criteria for diagnosing ME/CFS. I am not exaggerating when I say I have worked with many hundreds of people who have been given this diagnosis and I see how genuinely sick they can become. My argument against ME/CFS as a label is that it does nothing to help us understand the cause of what we are dealing with, it would be much better to start again with an open mind. Then we can ask the most important question, 'what is really going on?'

Post-viral Syndrome

Many people who have been diagnosed with ME or CFS, when telling the story of their health problems, have an extremely important answer to the vital question of 'how did it all begin?'

They describe having had an infectious illness, and this may have been a long time ago, after which their health never really came right. Rather than the woolly label of fibromyalgia, such a person would have been much better to have been told that they are suffering from the post-viral syndrome, then a way forwards becomes instantly much clearer.

The classic picture of the post-viral syndrome starts with a severe infection followed by a cycle of relapsing symptoms since that time including high levels of fatigue and deep aches and pains in their body. The pains either move around somewhat randomly or happen in working muscles far in excess of what should be reasonably expected.

A person with the post-viral syndrome also typically experiences recurrent sore throats and/or swollen glands. They may also suffer from other signs of an embattled immune system such as recurrent urinary tract infections or increasing allergies to foods or other substances that they used to tolerate without any trouble.

If they can remember back to when it all started, they can usually recall feelings of being chilled or suffering from night-sweats in the first few weeks or months of becoming sick. These last symptoms are sure signs that their body was trying to mount a fever to rid itself of what it clearly recognised as an infection and this brings us to one of the most important steps for healing the post-viral syndrome.

Two white blood cells amongst red cells under the microscope


Sweating Therapy

One of the most effective therapeutic strategies we can bring to this problem is to work with nature and help the body do what it tried but was unable to achieve; i.e. mount a fever!

Fevers are widely feared and misunderstood in modern medicine, they are seen as undesirable side-effects of illnesses which should be squashed as quickly as possible with drugs such as paracetamol or aspirin but, in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth!

There is a place for all drugs at some point in time but nature, and evolution, are not stupid, we have developed the ability to mount a fever simply because it is the fastest and most powerful way to activate an immune system to fight against whatever invader it has detected.

Sweating-therapy is an intensive but effective method to help get the condition improving as quickly as possible. It is best to start using some herbal immune tonics, as discussed next, for at least a few days before doing the first sweat-out, then be prepared to repeat the process again approximately a week later. Sometimes two sweats are enough to shift a stuck pattern but it is certainly possible to do more if needed. The whole process is outlined in practical detail here


Immune Health

Sweating therapy can be a vital intervention, but if the post-viral syndrome is at the root of the problem then you will also need to use herbal medicines to rebuild a healthy immunity.

Two of the greatest immune tonic herbs are Echinacea, more info here, and Astragalus, more here. If you can get excellent quality of each of these herbs from a reputable supplier, and are prepared to take them both in high doses for as long as it takes, this may be enough of a base support for your immunity, but there are other steps and herbs that may help further and this subject is discussed in more detail in the article on immunity here

Echinacea angustifolia


Depression or Anxiety

The 2nd most common cause of M/E, after the post-viral syndrome, is depression or anxiety however, we must approach this subject with the utmost care because, if you were not depressed or anxious before you became profoundly tired and sore, then you are very likely to have become so afterwards!

Again, it is a matter of carefully asking this most important question, 'what was happening in your life when you first became sick?'

People know when they have reached a breaking point from being under too much stress. If the ME or CFS symptoms began during or immediately after a period of overwhelming stress, or depression, or anxiety, then you must understand that a damaged nervous system is something that can always be healed with the right approach and the right support.

If the predominant symptoms, alongside muscle aches, are a profound loss of energy and motivation, then carefully read the article on depression here. If the predominant symptoms are a kind of internal agitation, a deep, abiding tension and worry, then carefully study the article on anxiety here

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)


Another cause for ME or CFS symptoms is a deficiency of one or more of the key elements that are essential for energy metabolism. There are usually visible 'tells' that deficiency is the core issue, especially in the growth of hair on the head and the nails of the hand. Losing significant amounts of hair can be a clear sign of nutritional deficiency. Likewise, signs on the nails such as weakness, slow growing, splitting, spots etc. can all be clues that something essential may be lacking.

To some extent, it will be wise to take one or two multi-vitamin/mineral supplements a day if this looks like a key area. To a much larger extent, you must carefully review the health of your diet if you are showing signs of deficiencies. A big issue with food and fatigue for many people is the vicious cycle that happens when people who are too tired go for refined and processed foods because they are quick and easy to prepare and their high sugar and intense flavours trick us into thinking they will make us feel better. A straightforward review of what reliably constitutes excellent nutrition is found here


ME/CFS & Toxicity

A major potential cause of ME/CFS can come from excess toxicity in the body. Low grade poisoning from things like heavy metals or other environmental toxins can definitely cause deep and unrelenting tiredness and soreness.

If you instinctively feel this may be an issue or you can consistently see that when your symptoms are worse your tongue gets an unhealthy looking, off-colour coating on it, then you should consider this as a possible cause of the ME or CFS symptoms.

The subject of detoxification is very important, a short article on the key points, including a section on 'how do you know if it's necessary' is found here


ME/CFS & Thyroid Health

There is no doubt that a low-functioning thyroid gland can cause major issues with energy, fatigue and soreness. You can rule out a frankly underactive thyroid with blood tests but, if your TSH level is over 3.0 you may still need to do some work in this area to regain your health. This important subject is written up in more detail here


ME/CFS and Insomnia

You might be surprised how many people have been given a label such as ME or CFS when the true root of their health breakdown is that they are just not sleeping well!

If this is the case for you then you simply must get acquainted with the herbs in Nature that help relax the body into a better state for deeper and healthier sleep starting with, but not limited to, Valerian root, more about it here

Sleep is such an important subject that, if you are not sleeping well, you simply must put it at the top of your list, more here

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)


The Tonics

Do whatever you can to treat the true cause of the ME/CFS symptoms and, whilst you are doing this essential work, take some tonics! Two of the very best being Panax Ginseng, Withania somnifera and St John's wort.

Panax Ginseng is known as the 'Emperor tonic' in Chinese medicine and has been revered for millennia for its ability to restore energy. Withania is equally as highly regarded in the great Ayurvedic system of the Indian sub-continent and likewise has a tremendous history of use for all kinds of problems where increasing a person's vital energy is understood to be the key to their healing.

Learn more about them if you will use either or both of these great herbs, Panax Ginseng here and Withania here


Permission to rest!

Many people who go on to get chronic tiredness have an upbringing or a nature to push themselves hard in whatever they do and may not take well to being idle. For such people, the most important step of all in the healing process may be simply giving themselves permission to rest when tired.

This probably sounds simple and you could easily gloss over it (especially if it applies to you!) but in fact this can be the greatest challenge to the healing process and can be the thing that can sabotage what would have otherwise been a successful recovery.

Of course, if you have a deficiency, or toxicity, or an immune or nervous-system health issue then that must be attended to. Further to that only you can really know how much you push yourself through fatigue at times when you could actually let go and let your tiredness guide you towards the you need. It's a strange, counter-intuitive concept to think of tiredness as a friend but sometimes that is exactly what it can be... this brief poem sums it up here

Only you can say if you know how to give yourself permission to rest when you are tired. If you do, don't worry about this, but if not, think about it, this could be the thing that makes or breaks your future health...

Constitutional Health Note:

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd