Chronic fatigue syndrome: treatment from an adaptogenic perspective

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Date: February-March 2004
Publisher: The Townsend Letter Group
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,836 words

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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a relatively common medical condition that affects approximately 500,000 Americans at any given time, or approximately 1 in 544 or 0.18% of the US population. (1) It appears to affect nearly twice as many women (522 per 100,000) as men (291 per 100,000). (2) Characterized by symptoms of sore throat, joint pain, headache, mild fever, painful or swollen lymph nodes, depression, sleep disturbance and of course fatigue, CFS has many distinct purported causes ranging from viral infection (Epstein-Barr, human herpes virus-6, and others) to bacterial infection (Giardia lamblia, Borrelia burdorferi) to various immunologic abnormalities such as decreased natural killer cell activity and altered helper/suppressor T cell ratios.

This is a highly abbreviated listing of both the symptoms and causes of CFS, a highly complex syndrome in which multiple causative factors act as promotors that may also be the result of the syndrome. In turn, the numerous causative factors of CFS can serve to characterize particular subsets of patients with CFS. (3)

Indeed, it seems there are proportionally just as many treatments as there are contributing causes for CFS; the large majority of which have strong clinical backing evidence. The purpose of this paper is not to review the details of causation, but to present some useful treatments that can serve to address the symptoms of CFS. That being said, these treatments are of course not all-inclusive and represent only a small portion of viable treatment options; in the end a comprehensive treatment plan that is specific to the particular patient at hand is the proper course of action.

The realm of complementary medical therapeutics provides a wide range of treatments from which practitioners can choose the best options for their patients. Perhaps some of the most interesting choices are the botanical medicines that are described as adaptogens. Adaptogenic botanicals have the distinct ability to increase the body's resistance to stress resulting from physical, biological, and chemical factors. The first description of the term 'adaptogen' is credited with the Russian scientist Lazarev, whose definition of an adaptogen described a substance that supported an organism against a variety of stressors by increasing its non-specific resistance; this is said to imply that an organism, when supported by an adaptogenic substance, is able to more appropriately adapt itself to forces of stress. (4)

A more thorough set of criteria was incorporated in the late 1960's for the adaptogenic plant group. (5) The criteria include:

* The adaptogenic substance must produce a non-specific response in the organism such as an increased resistance to several stressors of various origins including physical, chemical, and biological.

* The adaptogenic substance may also have an effect of normalization on the organism's physiology regardless of the direction of physiologic changes caused by the stressor. (If blood pressure is elevated, the adaptogen will decrease it and if too low, the adaptogen will work to elevate it to normal physiologic levels.)

* The adaptogenic substance cannot drive physiologic function beyond that necessary to achieve a state of non-specific resistance to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A113807012