Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is an illness defined by inexplicable fatigue that lasts for at least six months. There is no known underlying cause that predisposes an individual to contract this disorder, causing many who suffer from it great anxiety and stress over their prognosis. This response is even more detrimental to recovery, however, as recent research has indicated that the etiology of the illness is rooted in cellular dysfunction and the physiological response to stress and inflammation. In other words, the stress evoked by CFS is also essential to the maintenance of the illness, causing serious chronic pain and decreasing the quality of an individual’s life who suffers from it.
So, What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is at its basest level the localized response to tissue injury. Typically, inflammation is associated with Cytokines and elevated levels of C-Reactive Proteins (CRP). Levels of these chemicals are greatly influenced by genetic factors and lifestyle choices. Additionally, CRP elevation can be a modest predictor of depression and other illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and depression.
As part of the body’s natural immune response, inflammation can be beneficial for protecting tissues that are vulnerable after an infection. However, inflammation can lead to further inflammation, meaning that that the body is constantly responding to the bacteria or harmful stimuli that have been introduced to it. This can be counterproductive to fighting off an infection, leaving the body vulnerable to contract illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
The Basic Anatomy of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Inflammation and the Immune System
There are a number of flue-like symptoms of CFS that are associated with inflammation including sore throat, muscular pain or tenderness, joint pain and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes. For this reason, research has recently delved into the association of inflammation with CFS, leading many to believe that it is indeed one of the components of the illness.
Inflammation is one of the primary results of Immune System activity. Whenever a foreign particle is introduced to the body, the Immune System releases white blood cells that produce a chemical called Cytokine. Cytokine regulates Immune System activity and makes it possible for the body to respond with an appropriate response to any bacteria or other substances that may enter the body.
Under long-term periods of stress, the proper functioning of the Immune System is severely impacted. Consequently, the body secretes excessive amounts of Cytokines, ultimately suppressing immune functioning and allowing for CFS to further impact health. For this reason, stress emerges as one of the most important factors that affect the development and prognosis of CFS.
The Central Nervous System and Inflammation
In addition to immune functioning, the Central Nervous System also plays a central role in the onset and maintenance of CFS. The physical and emotional stress that causes or sustains CFS affects activity of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, or HPA axis. Altering the activity of the HPA axis directly impacts the Immune System and other body systems as well through its related influence on Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), Cortisol and other hormones.
It has been found that some individuals with CFS produce lower levels of Cortisol than do those without the condition. Hormonal abnormalities are quite common in patients with CFS as well. The lack of Cortisol in people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an important indication of the condition because Cortisol suppresses inflammation and cellular immune activation. Therefore, a deficiency of Cortisol in the body would relax the suppression of inflammatory processes in the body, worsening the symptoms of CFS.
Prolonged stress can also impact the Central Nervous System and the production of Cortisol, as it decreases the body tissue’s response to the hormone, even when it is secreted. In these circumstances, the body is literally inept to regulate its own processes and responses to different stimulants. This propagates the development of more severe symptoms of CFS including heart palpitations, visual disturbances and intense depression or mood problems.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP): What is it, and How Does it Relate to Inflammation and CFS?
C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a substance secreted by the liver that directly impacts the amount of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation as a component of excessive levels of CRP in the body can result in conditions such as CFS, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and heart disease.
Elevated levels of CRP can be influenced by a number of factors also common to the onset of CFS. Family history, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive amount of stress and environmental toxins all have a large impact on the possibility for increased levels of CRP. However, an individual’s diet holds the largest implications for elevated levels of CRP, as consuming processed foods high in refined sugars is associated with the onset of many disorders.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is associated with stress and lifestyle risk factors also related to elevated levels of CRP. Because increased levels of CRP can cause excessive inflammation, which can result in the worsening of CFS or other diseases, it is important to address issues as they arise to avoid long-term problems. Getting adequate sleep, reducing stress and making the necessary lifestyle changes are all steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of increased CRP levels and the onset of CFS.
Inflammation and the Brain With CFS
Of great concern, of course, is the impact that CFS and inflammation can have on the brain, as this poses the greatest threat to normal functioning abilities.
There is a process referred to as excitotoxicity by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by glutamate and other toxins. Immune overactivity and excitotoxicity both pose a large threat to nerve cells, which are especially sensitive in people with CFS. Although immune cells in the brain are normally inactive, they become active when they are attacked. Once they are attacked, they secrete large amounts of Cytokines thatcan damage neurons, dendrites and synapses, all of which are vital to normal brain functioning. Because of this, it is increasingly important to address signs of CFS as they arise, avoiding long-term damage to brain cells that can be lost forever.
How to Handle Inflammation and CFS
When people with CFS realize the extent of the damage that can be done by inflammation should their condition remain untreated or ignored, they should begin to seek professional help immediately. There are a number of precautions that a person can take to reduce inflammation and decrease the cell damage that often results from CFS.
Diet-related steps are among the most crucial actions to take in combatting inflammation. Eating a well-balanced diet of natural foods free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals should be the basis of a diet to fight away inflammation. Along similar lines, decreasing the amount of animal fats in a diet is important because they are also high in pesticide residue and fats that hold the potential to increase brain inflammation. A person should also drink filtered water simply to avoid the potential of encountering any harmful substances that might be lurking in food or beverage products.
Nutrients and supplements are another important component of decreasing the inflammation associated with CFS. Taking a multivitamin is a great first step, and supplements for vitamin E and vitamin C are a must to stimulate the generation of neurotransmitters. Antioxidants are another vital part of a diet to increase brain energy, reduce inflammation and promote the repair of brain cells already damaged by CFS or CPRs. Magnesium should also be consumed either through enriched water or supplements, reducing excitotoxic damage and encouraging increased blood flow to the brain.
Lifestyle changes are another important component in addition to dietary efforts. Regular exercise is vital to maintaining the health of the brain. Not only does exercise reduce degeneration, but it also promotes healing and repair. An individual does not need to take extreme steps in this regard, however, as moderate exercise such as brisk walking and yoga will suffice. Learning new things and regular mental activity is also important to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Not only does this stimulate one’s brain, but it encourages the growth and further development of it. People should additionally spend an adequate amount of time resting their brain and sleeping each night, as reparative measures also occur during sleep.
The Bottom Line
Although inflammation does not address all of the problems associated with CFS, it does play a key role with regard to the implications of high amounts of stress and the onset of the disorder itself. By understanding the implications of inflammation in CFS, many individuals can take the necessary steps to address and correct the damage being done to the brain and body. Almost all of the hormones and chemicals related to inflammation are a direct result of stress, making alternative therapies such as meditation and counseling an even more appealing option in treating CFS.By visiting a doctor and making necessary adjustments, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome does not have to be a life-altering condition, as there is hope for a better future free from suffering.