Chronic Fatigue and Gluten: is there a connection?

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photo by fir0002

photo by fir0002

CFS (sometimes called ME) is a pretty horrible diagnosis – not like the big C, but in a different way. Basically, if your doctor decides you have CFS he will wash his hands of you, because there is nothing he can give you in the way of medicine to “fix” it.

CFS or chronic fatigue syndrome is a growing problem. But according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are: “no physical signs that identify CFS… no diagnostic laboratory tests for CFS… no known cure for CFS [and] no single therapy exists that helps all CFS patients.” In other words, CFS is Bad News.

There’s a list of symptoms which can lead to a diagnosis, including extreme fatigue that has lasted at least 6 months, waking up tired after a night’s sleep, memory and concentration loss, pains in muscles and joints, severe headaches and sore throat. Sufferers may feel completely drained after any activity, mental or physical, for more than 24 hours afterwards. Not all patients experience all symptoms.

If you suspect you may have CFS, it’s important to go to your doctor, as other diseases can cause similar symptoms. However, if you already have your diagnosis, you’re probably feeling pretty fed up about it. After all, the whole point of getting diagnosed is so that you can get the solution, isn’t it? But according to the medical profession, all you can do is treat the pain, and basically do as little as possible for months or years until, if you’re lucky, it goes away by itself.

There is one possibility that may be worth a try, though. It may be a bit of a long shot, but there is a certain amount of research to make it worth going into further.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is often linked to gluten intolerance, the most severe form of which is celiac disease, which has many of the same symptoms. So if you are looking for a possible solution to this problem, and you have given up on the doctors (or they’ve given up on you), one option is to try going gluten-free for a few weeks and see if it makes any difference.

Gluten is something we all eat large quantities of every day, because it is found in wheat, barley and rye (and a similar protein is also found in oats). It’s not that easy to avoid gluten completely unless you’re in charge of kitchen supplies.

The first thing to do if you are going gluten free is to go through all the kitchen cupboards. Throw away all wheat based products. This includes flour (all types), pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, linguine etc.) bread, cakes, biscuits, crackers and cookies. Have a look at the labels for everything. Discard anything that mentions barley, rye, wheat, flour or starch (unless it specifies vegetable or potato starch). Cheap ketchup usually contains flour. Don’t forget to check the fridge and the freezer. Low fat yoghurt may be thickened with starch, grated cheese may be coated in starch, and so on.

The easiest way to work out what you can eat is to imagine you’re on a low-carb diet, eat the sorts of food recommended (but NO FLOUR), with the addition of potatoes and rice.

If you like to eat out, it’s best to go to very healthy types of restaurant, where they are familiar with gluten free cooking concepts, or you could choose to go Indian or Chinese. Just remember to avoid the breads and the noodles (although rice noodles are fine) and ask them to leave out the monosodium glutamate (this mainly applies to Chinese food). Wheat is a fairly recent introduction to both these cuisines, so the selection is much wider than you will find elsewhere. Do ask them not to thicken the sauces for food you are going to eat, though.

If you try this diet for a few weeks, you will most likely be able to tell reasonably quickly whether or not it is helping you with your CFS. And with that information, you will be in a position to decide whether to go gluten free for life.

Good luck!

I offer a wide range of food for special diets in my online shop.

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