Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) aka Adrenal Insufficiency

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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 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

Thoughts on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Since being in full-time practice in Christchurch, New Zealand, from 1989, I have had a great deal of experience in treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) most of it very positive. These days it is more likely to be called fibromyalgia or adrenal insufficiency, and the same strategies that have been seen to best help the great many people that have come to the clinic with CFS over the years are usually able to help with fibromyalgia or adrenal insufficiency too.

In all these conditions, there seems to most often be a deep imbalance and a profoundly disturbed function of either the nervous system, the immune system, or both. Fortunately, the old ways of herbal medicine, including diet and other lifestyle interventions, can give much help to people who have lost that balance and function.

Whatever labels we give to people, no two cases are exactly the same and it is imperative to do your utmost to reach down in the causes of things if you will see a lasting change and a true healing process.

However, one of the hardest areas to navigate in CFS can be the expectation that it will be a chronic and life-long condition.

I understand that people who have been sick with chronic fatigue and ill-health can feel much relief when they are finally given the diagnosis of CFS or adrenal insufficiency to explain what has gone wrong. They have been profoundly unwell but have not had any physical signs or abnormal tests to prove it and, at last, there is a strong sense of validation because, with the official diagnosis, there is proof that they really are sick, and it was never just 'all in their minds'.

I accept the value of this, and I recognise its importance, but it is what happens next that gives me a twofold concern;

1) in identifying with having CFS especially (less so for adrenal insufficiency), most people will then go online to learn more about it and will soon find that there are many sources of information, individuals and communities of people with CFS who maintain a great deal of emphasis on the message that it is a chronic condition that cannot be cured. The rationale is to set the expectation low so that people will accept the need for 'managing' their condition, and I understand this too but...

2) consequent to the last point, there is then a common theme to use a number of elaborate medication protocols to manage the various symptoms of CFS or adrenal insufficiency. The patient is suddenly eligible for all kinds of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical medications, many of them habit-forming, many of them eye-wateringly expensive.

The mind is a very powerful thing. If we expect that we will always have a problem, then we will probably be right. Likewise, if we accept that we will need to be on medication for life and we then take classes of drugs that are unlikely to be of any lasting help but that are given to people regardless and that create a lot of dependency, at least psychologically, then we can soon be doing more harm than good.

I do not accept that CFS or adrenal insufficiency are incurable, or that a person must take drugs or natural medications to manage it in an ongoing and endless manner. A person who was previously healthy who falls into the kind of deep imbalance that is called CFS or adrenal insufficiency was not born this way. It is not in their genes any more than it is in their fate. The loss of health has a good cause, always, and it is finding and treating that cause that is the key to success.

Commonly, there is a breakdown of immune health that precedes the CFS or adrenal insufficiency, this is described first, in the section below called 'post-viral syndrome'. Often, a breakdown of the nervous system is what is at the roots of it, and this is what happens when there has been too much anxiety or too much actual depression for too long. Anxiety and depression are treatable, curable conditions, they do not need to be life-long. People can get better. This is all talked about below in some practical depth, along with some other key areas that may need attention in order to see, and treat, the cause.

Ideally, as mentioned at the beginning, you will be able to find a good herbalist who has plenty of experience in treating CFS or adrenal insufficiency and will know how to cast the net wide and to keep an open mind to best see what needs attention. But not everyone can find such a person and these notes are written to give as much practical support as possible to those who need to use Nature and the old ways of healing to help themselves. It will need some careful thought and study to bring this work into use but let no-one be under any doubt that herbs are the people's medicine. You do not need to have a special qualification to use them, they cannot be patented because they belong to us all and they are there for all of us to use, safely and wisely, when needed.

CFS or adrenal insufficiency, and its potential treatments, is a huge subject, To write everything that may be relevant to its treatment here would make this page unreadably long. I suggest, whenever you are ready, to read through the following page with a view to see which area is the one you need to direct your attention to first.

The following material seeks to introduce the key themes, to give some suggestions as to where you will need to focus your work to get well. The further pages that are linked in each of the sections below contain much practical information that may be put to good use when you know that this is where you need to be. Good luck, I hope it helps!


Post-viral Syndrome

Many people who have been diagnosed with CFS or adrenal insufficiency, 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. Such a person may in fact have the post-viral syndrome, which illuminates an entirely different way forwards to regain their health.

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 originally 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 a certain supply of high-quality 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,

Sweating therapy plus two of the greatest immune herbs on Earth may be enough to shift the balance for some people. Perhaps you just have to try and see what happens to know. But each case is different and there are other steps and other herbs that can be necessary to rebuild a healthy immunity.

Removing undiagnosed food allergies or intolerances can be a vital intervention in some cases. In a person not receiving adequate sunlight or fresh good, significantly increasing vitamin D or vitamin C can be necessary before things can properly turn around. There are other herbs, things like Reishi mushroom or Withania root that can work just as well or even better than the two herbs already mentioned for some.

These matters, a sample of a potent herbal immune formula, and the important subject of immune health, are discussed in further depth here

Echinacea angustifolia


Depression or Anxiety

I do not know how representative my own patient population is, but from what I can see as primary causes of CFS or adrenal insufficiency, a close 2nd after the post-viral syndrome, is a chronic state of depression or anxiety that has manifested deep into the body, as it so often does in so many people.

However, we must approach this subject with the utmost care because, if you were not depressed or anxious before you became profoundly tired and unwell, 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 CFS or adrenal insufficiency symptoms began during or immediately after a period of intense stress, depression or anxiety, then there must be a willingness to acknowledge that a damaged nervous system is likely to be at the root of the CFS or adrenal insufficiency,

If this is the case, then this is not an incurable state of affairs, people can heal from just about anything, including deep damage to their nerves and psyches.

Rather than try to summarise how to work with these vitally important areas, if this is the area that is going to be the most relevant to what you need to know about how to treat your own CFS or adrenal insufficiency with herbal medicines etc. then I would prefer to direct you to the appropriate page to carefully study in your own time, especially because the approach to anxiety has some crucial differences to the approach to depression.

If you can look at your own case and see that, alongside the fatigue, the primary emotional state has been one of a profound loss of energy and motivation, the best help may be from the article on depression found here

However, if you can see that, alongside the fatigue, the predominant emotional state is one of a deep, abiding tension and worry, then I think you will do best to study and use the article on anxiety found here

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)



A less common contributing factor for CFS or adrenal insufficiency, but one that needs to at least be considered, 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 a 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.

I know there is a huge market of nutritional medicine suppliers out there promising to cure CFS or adrenal insufficiency, and everything else, with their particular brand of high-priced supplements but really, if there is any concern about a singular deficiency in one of the key vitamins or trace elements, then it may be simply answered by taking one or two good multi-vitamin/mineral supplements a day for at least a couple of months.

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.

What does always matter for the recovery from any kind of health problem is to be eating a healthy diet and a straightforward review of what reliably constitutes excellent nutrition is found here



Perhaps not relevant, perhaps only a contributor, but also potentially a cause of CFS or adrenal insufficiency 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.

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 issue that needs the primary attention.

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


Thyroid Health

There is no doubt that a low-functioning thyroid gland can cause major issues with energy and fatigue. 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 whole subject is written up in more detail here



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

If you are not sleeping well, and especially if you know that you had a history of insomnia that led up to your getting the symptoms of CFS or adrenal insufficiency, then this may be the area that needs to receive the primary attention in your health recovery.

The next comments are about getting rest when needed but, for a focused article on insomnia, there are also a number of practical strategies that have been seen to consistently help found here

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)


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 may sabotage what would otherwise have been a successful recovery.

Of course, if you have an immune or nervous-system health issue, or a deficiency or toxicity, 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 rest you need.

It is a strange, counter-intuitive concept to think of tiredness as a friend when you have been battling it for what will seem like forever but sometimes that is exactly what it can be...

This is a big subject in its own right, it is summed up in a brief poem here and, for a person who was ready to explore these matters in greater depth, I would direct them to the chapter on emotional healing that starts here

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