Does tired not even begin to explain how exhausted you feel every day?
Are you suffering from unrelenting fatigue that interferes with your ability to get through the day?
Perhaps you’ve even tried seeking help from your doctor and still aren’t getting any answers.
If this sounds like you, you are not alone. This is the reality for millions of people struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome.
While science still doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to this disorder, research has found that chronic fatigue may, in fact, be a symptom of a more serious underlying issue. More and more research is finding that chronic fatigue syndrome may be the result of a hidden infection overworking your immune system and robbing you of your energy.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
The central symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is what gives this condition its name—persistent and unrelenting fatigue that doesn’t seem to improve no matter how much rest you get. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated disorder that can be challenging to diagnose due to the constellation of vague symptoms.
While chronic fatigue is the primary symptom associated with this disorder, there are actually 9 official signs and symptoms, which are:1
- Loss of memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
- Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
- Un-refreshing sleep
- Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
The term chronic fatigue syndrome is not necessarily a diagnosis in itself. Rather, it’s a label to identify a group of symptoms caused by an unidentified underlying condition.
A diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome is often a diagnosis of exclusion. Meaning, doctors will first rule out other potential conditions that can cause fatigue, such as hypothyroidism, sleep deprivation, or adrenal burnout, before diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is often multifactorial and different in each individual. Researchers have identified several underlying issues that can contribute to the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, including: 2,3,4
- Poor immune system response
- Viral infections
- Increased activity in mast cells
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Oxidative stress
- Hormonal imbalances
Nearly all of the identified potential root causes have something in common. They all share a common pathway of dysfunctional immune activation and long-term inflammation.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Your Immune System
Ever notice that when you have a cold or flu, you get really tired and even minor mental or physical activities wipe you out? You often get achy and have bad brain fog. Sometimes, you’ll get a sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes.
Any of those sound familiar?
If you scroll back up and look at the list of cardinal symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, you’ll notice that nearly all of the symptoms are the same ones we experience when we get sick. So it’s no surprise that there is a connection between chronic stimulation of the immune system and chronic fatigue syndrome. But we are all exposed to pathogens and toxins on a regular basis and catch a bug every once in a while.
Why then, do some people recover fully while others end up with a chronic disabling condition?
It appears that part of the answer lies in the genetic polymorphisms or variances in our bodies’ response to infection and inflammation.
How a Hidden Infection Can Cause Chronic Fatigue
When faced with pathogens or irritants, the body releases a number of substances known as cytokines. In simplest terms, cytokines are proteins secreted by immune cells that communicate with other cells in your body and signal them to perform a certain action.5 When certain pro-inflammatory cytokines are released, they activate and ramp up inflammation in order to target and attack the invaders.
In a normal individual, a simplified version of the process goes something like this:
- Pro-inflammatory cytokines are released.
- The inflammatory response revs up.
- The immune system rids the body of foreign invaders.
- And then the body returns to its baseline.
But due to certain genetic polymorphisms or variances, some individuals have a more profound immune response when faced with an infection.6 This creates a vicious cycle of pro-inflammatory cytokines that continue to trigger more inflammation and amplify the cycle—leading to even more damage and inflammation.
The initial infection followed by continued immune activation causes the body to be in a constant state of inflammation. This overreaction and overstimulation of the immune system require copious amounts of energy and resources, resulting in fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The Link Between Histamine and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Cytokines are not the only chemicals released during an immune response. Histamine is also released as part of the inflammatory process in response to pathogens, allergens, or wounds. When released as part of the immune response, histamine’s role is to increase capillary permeability so white blood cells can enter capillaries and target pathogens and irritants.
Histamine also plays an important role in maintaining numerous bodily functions, including:
- Blood pressure
- Mucus secretion
- Sexual function
- Smooth muscle contraction
Our bodies are designed to handle small amounts of histamine to function properly with occasional spikes when responding to foreign invaders. But when your body is in a constant state of inflammation, you end up with an overload of histamine, meaning your body has more histamine floating around than it can break down.
This overabundance of histamine in the body can contribute to many of the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. To learn more about how histamine overload can cause fatigue, head over to my post about what to do when histamine goes haywire.
Common Hidden Infections That Could Be Causing Your Fatigue
There are a number of hidden infections that can cause chronic fatigue syndrome, but some of the more common ones include:7
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6)
- Parvovirus B19 (Parvo B19)
- Mycoplasma sp.
- Borrelia Burgdorferi
- Chronic mold and mycotoxin exposure
How to Treat the Underlying Cause of Your Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Outsmarting and treating these hidden infections can be challenging and often requires a lot of detective work. But regardless of what chronic hidden infection you may be harboring, the foundation of treatment is making lifestyle changes that support your immune system’s ability to fight off underlying infection while minimizing overall inflammation.
Reducing your exposure to potential sources of mold and other mycotoxins is vital. While it is impossible to entirely avoid all exposure, many people are unaware that their home or workplace could be the breeding ground of their symptoms. Click here to read more about toxic mold and how to avoid exposure.
Treat Other Issues First
In order to address an underlying chronic infection, your body will need your immune system firing on all cylinders. By first addressing things that may be suppressing your immune system, such as food sensitivities, heavy metal exposure, or an overload of environmental toxins, your immune system can then direct all resources to zap those hidden bugs.
Focus on Gut Health
Your gut health and immune system are intricately linked. If your gut is not functioning at optimal levels, it’s likely that your immune system isn’t functioning at 100% either. Focus on healing your gut by:
- Eliminating inflammatory foods, such as sugar, gluten, corn, soy, dairy, refined oils, and other processed foods
- Adding in plenty of healing foods, such as nutrient-dense veggies, fermented foods (e.g., kombucha, kimchi, or sauerkraut), bone broth, and healthy fats
- Drinking plenty of high-quality filtered water
- Establishing and maintaining a healthy elimination pattern
- Giving your gut a boost by taking gut-healing supplements, such as Intestinal Essentials, Probiotic Daily Essentials, or Gut Immune
Strengthen Your Immunity
With a chronic low-level hidden infection, your immune system is overworked and not able to do its job properly. Giving your immune system the support it needs will help it fight off underlying invaders that have made themselves at home in your body. Some of the best ways to show your immune system some love and give it the boost it needs are to:
- Get plenty of restful sleep: Sleep is vital to proper immune function, so aim for a minimum of 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Minimize stress: Chronic stress stimulates the immune system and triggers the release of histamine and other stress hormones. Find ways to minimize stress when possible. Try incorporating daily habits, such as deep breathing or meditation, to manage unavoidable stress.
- Take a high-quality supplement: Your immune system demands a lot of energy. Taking a supplement, such as Immune Booster, can give your system the extra support it needs.
Struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Talk to a Functional Medicine Practitioner
While lifestyle changes are essential to treating the root cause of any diagnosis, it is imperative to do so under the guidance of an experienced healthcare professional. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex disorder to both diagnose and treat.
If you suspect you may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, contact a doctor experienced in treating patients with the disorder. Many traditional doctors are not well-versed in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, so I recommend seeking out a functional medicine practitioner.
If you’ve never seen a functional medicine practitioner before and aren’t sure where to start, I recommend reading my article, “How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor.”
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