Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a disorder, or group of disorders, resulting in persistent fatigue. The symptoms are varied; they range from disturbed sleep, impaired memory and cognitive function, to muscle pain, headaches, sensitivity to light, and food allergies. Roughly 250000 people in the UK suffer from CFS, but there is no diagnostic laboratory test for it, and the causes are not understood. This article provides some strategies that may help you deal with CFS.
Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants in your body. It affects the rate of biochemical reactions in your cells, and regulates the cell cycle (including protein synthesis and gene expression). Glutathione (the active form is GSH) serves as the basis for the antioxidant network and assists in detoxification of foreign and endogenous toxins. It also transports amino acids into cells, especially cysteine. These functions help support the immune system.
GSH is often depleted in people suffering from CFS.
Stress, Toxins, and Inflammation
CFS is often triggered by stressful events, viruses, or physical trauma. Danny Roddy has written an excellent series on stress and stress hormones, here’s what he writes about cortisol in one article from that series:
…prolonged elevated levels of cortisol can result in suicidal depression, gastrointestinal problems, weight gain, poor libido, hair loss, skin problems, and insomnia
And here’s another quote from his article on gut health:
Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands to provide additional glucose at the expense our tissue during stress. The thymus gland (“immunity central”) and the muscles are among the first to cannibalized by cortisol. The breakdown of protein liberates anti-metabolic (and inflammatory) amino acids like tryptophan, which can be more easily converted to serotonin during stress. Cortisol increases the liberation of fatty acids to use as fuel, which suppresses glucose oxidation and our highly evolved ability to produce oxidative energy. Intestinal irritation can increase cortisol production.
The key here is that chronic stress and chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause many of the symptoms associated with CFS. Chronic stress also leads to increased levels of estrogen. Inflammation increases aromatase activity, which results in the production of estrogen too. Note that estradiol, which is the predominant estrogen during reproductive years, acts an endogenous toxin (recall that GSH is involved in detoxification). Here’s what Danny has to say in his article on estrogen:
Estrogen’s ability to increase the permeability of tissue, and hinder oxidative energy, the basis for maintaining all barrier functions, suggests that it is a large factor in “leaky gut,” food allergies, and conditions of “autoimmunity.”
“In the hormonal environment dominated by estrogen, mild stresses such as exertion, or even restless sleep, allow toxins (and sometimes bacteria) from the intestine to enter the bloodstream,triggering a complex chain of events that create a systemic inflammatory state.” – Ray Peat
Reduced thyroid function is a protective mechanism when the body is inflamed. Additionally, thyroid cells normally produce hydrogen peroxide as part of the pathway for producing thyroid hormones. This oxidation normally happens outside the cell membrane. The interior of the cell is protected from the hydrogen peroxide by intracellular GSH. Without that protection, hydrogen peroxide entry into thyroid cells may cause autoimmune thyroid disease (ATD).
Avoid stress. Remove sources of stress in your life, and try to manage stress with whatever techniques you find useful (like meditation).
Avoid BPA (Bisphenol A, contained in plastics). These are xenoestrogens that may act as endocrine disruptors.
Avoid hormonal contraceptives. Avoid probiotics. Do not eat soy. These are all potential thyrotoxins. Probiotics in particular may be implicated in ATD, and should be avoided if GSH is depleted too.
Do eat whole eggs, grass-fed beef, butter, full fat milk, and cheese. These foods are rich in sulphur-containing amino acids, like cysteine. Cysteine is usually the rate-limiting substrate for GSH synthesis in the body. They also provide folic acid and other B vitamins, in particular B12, which are necessary for immune function.
Supplement with whey isolate. Non-denatured whey protein is a rich source of cysteine. Whey protein appears to have a beneficial effect on immune function too.
Eat fibrous green vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables contain Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), which promotes healthy estrogen metabolism.
Supplement with creatine. ATP production is decreased in CFS due to depleted GSH. This causes fatigue in skeletal muscle. Creatine helps replenish and prevent the depletion of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It also protects cellular membranes.