We are all familiar with the daily drag of getting up and beginning our day. Some days may seem worse than others and take a little extra effort to roll out of bed. But that is usually the extent of our worries. For some, this “struggle” seems like a dream come true. Those suffering from Mitochondrial dysfunction (Mito) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) frequently experience such debilitating fatigue that getting up and moving can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Sadly, many of those who have one or both conditions are regularly overlooked by the medical community or wrongly prescribed medications that cause more harm than good.
A prominent problem of these conditions is that they are complex, difficult to diagnose, and are not widely tested for or recognized by most physicians. This is disappointing because, among all age groups, an estimated 1:8500 people worldwide have some degree of mitochondrial disorder. Greater occurrence of Mito may also contribute to the increasing prevalence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Without a widespread familiarity of each condition and a better understanding of how to go about resolving them the likelihood of reducing their incidence is low.
A Brief Look at Mito
Mitochondria produce about 90% of the body’s energy. These small factories are contained within one’s cells and convert oxygen and nutrients into usable energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is the most widely utilized form of energy in the body and allows for proper function. Poor energy production at a cellular level causes the entire body to slow down due to unmet energy demands. Inhibited mitochondrial function and mitochondrial disease can be caused by harmful pesticides, chronic bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, environmental toxins, neurotoxins (aluminum, mercury etc.), nutrient deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances. The many plausible contributors of Mito make it a difficult condition to resolve.
Mitochondria aid in more than just energy production and impact nearly every system in the body. Areas that require the most energy suffer the greatest when there is an energy deficit. Medical professionals believe this may be why Mito symptoms are frequently most prominent among areas such as the heart, brain, and muscles. Because energy is a near universal demand throughout the body, mitochondria malfunction can cause system-wide disruption.
Symptoms of Mito include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Severe, long-lasting fatigue
- Exercise intolerance
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Poor coordination
- Reduced cognitive function
- Seizures and neurological problems
- Autonomic dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Insomnia and poor quality sleep
- Headaches – of a unique nature
- Noise sensitivity
- Temperature intolerance
- Orthostatic intolerance
Many of these symptoms correlate to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Mito may be a prominent contributor to this disease. Furthermore, Mito’s reductive impact on heart function may explain many issues associated with CFS.
Checking in on CFS
At its base, CFS is caused by pituitary malfunction that can cause widespread hormonal imbalances and dysfunction. Because the pituitary gland, located at the base of the skull, is particularly impacted by mitochondrial dysfunction, those with Mito are more likely to experience CFS. Bruce Cohen, MD, states that many of those afflicted with Mito are prone to also developing CFS but those who have been properly diagnosed with CFS may not experience mitochondrial dysfunction.
There are many contributors to CFS including hormonal imbalances (particularly thyroid and cortisol), viruses, bacterial infections, and autoimmune dysfunction. Regardless of the primary trigger, CFS produces a variety of debilitating and frustrating symptoms.
CFS manifests itself in the following ways:
- Extreme and long-lasting fatigue
- Insomnia or poor sleep quality
- Muscle and joint pain/weakness
- Sore throat
- Flu-like symptoms
- Exercise intolerance or post-exertion malaise
- Weight gain
- Digestive problems
- Reduced cognitive function
Because they present similar symptoms, CFS and Mito are often mistaken as the same condition. This leads to poor treatment that may cause additional harm.
Finding the Right Approach
There is significant debate within the medical community regarding the best way to approach Mito and CFS. However, there is consensus that improving mitochondrial function, reducing toxin exposure, and overall optimization of malfunctioning systems is greatly beneficial.
Part of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating both CFS and Mito is correctly identifying symptoms and designating them to CFS or Mito as opposed to another similar condition. Because of the widespread nature of both disorders proper treatment requires a multi-system approach that systemically resolves dysfunction throughout the body. Furthermore, each patient has unique aspects such as medical predisposition, environmental factors, and current level of wellness that must be considered. Each case requires individually customized treatment to effectively resolve all contributing conditions and malfunctions to ultimately restore bodily function.
What Can I do If I have CFS or Mito?
At the individual patient level, there are lifestyle changes that can aid treatment and improve outcomes.
Being active and exercising is challenging when one has either CFS or Mito because they leave one feeling exhausted and drained. If one can regularly exercise, it can be greatly beneficial for resolving both conditions and supporting mitochondria restoration. However, it is important to exercise with caution. Over-exertion while experiencing mitochondrial malfunction or CFS can lead to fatigue lasting from days to weeks. Engaging in low intensity activities like yoga, Thai-chi, qigong, walking, swimming, or even stretches in bed help promote mitochondria function without risking overexertion.
Optimizing nutrition and diet can help lower inflammation, which is a significant contributor to Mito and CFS symptoms. Eating more lean proteins and fatty acids found in foods like fish and its oil, chia seeds, avocados, and coconut oil can help reduce inflammatory stress in the body. Avoiding inflammation inducing foods such as processed foods, sugar, white flour, gluten, and dairy can further reduce the prevalence of inflammation in the body. Appropriately regulating one’s diet supports the entire body, allowing for improved wellness.
Spread the Word
The complexity of Mito and CFS makes it a challenge to properly diagnose and treat. Unfortunately, this has led to many being improperly treated with antidepressants, muscle relaxants, pain medication, or sleep aids that may provide temporary relief of specific symptoms but will never resolve the underlying issue. Greater education regarding the unique qualities of these and similar conditions and the importance of utilizing a multi-system approach for treatment is a necessity. Raising awareness and understanding is a critical step in resolving Mito and CFS worldwide.