Hello to all the members of York ME Community. I’m Sally, a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist at ‘Nutrition in York’ and Bill has asked me to share some nutritional therapy approaches for managing ME.
Many nutritional therapists – myself included – are trained in the Functional Medicine approach to healthcare which means we are less concerned with the name of a condition (ME, CFS etc.) and more interested in the underlying cause and contributing factors of the condition.
We see each client as an individual, with their own unique health history and pattern of ill-health. Unravelling this web of causes, contributing factors and ongoing symptoms means the care offered is tailored to suit the individual.
This diagram is a simplified view of what we see as the most common underlying causes and subsequent effects in ME;
Each of you has your own personal combination of contributing factors and causes, and therefore, your own set of ME symptoms.
The first place to start with symptom management is in the digestive system. This really is the foundation of health and disease. The billions of micro-organisms living in the gut regulate;
- The immune response
- Inflammation: not just in the gut but throughout the body
- How well you absorb and utilise vitamins and minerals
- How well you get rid of toxins via faeces
It is vital for bowel movements to be regular – by which I mean at least once a day if not 2-3 times – well formed, mid brown in colour and comfortable to pass. If you are constipated, suffer bloating and wind, or have loose stools then look at natural ways to deal with this such as using soaked ground flaxseeds or psyllium husks (‘Lepicol’ is a useful product – see Tullivers healthstore on Colliergate for details); good quality aloe vera juice and a high strength, good quality probiotic supplement.
To help reduce inflammation it is important to look at what may be contributing to it. Toxins from household cleaning chemicals, chemicals in bodycare products, pesticide residues on food and pro-inflammatory foods need to be looked at.
Eating 100% organic foods is not an option for many people because of the cost, so just do what you can and focus on fruits and vegetables that have edible skins. Pesticide residues remain largely on the outer skin so if you’re peeling and discarding the outer layer e.g. bananas, oranges, then its less important for it to be organic. The Environmental Working Group offers a list of the ‘Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen’ that highlights which are the most important foods to eat organic wherever possible and those which aren’t.
Modern wheat products have much higher levels of gluten compared to wheat varieties grown 100 years ago and with wheat being added to so many foods nowadays we are exposed to this gluten at unprecedented levels. Gluten damages the lining of the gut and can contribute to systemic inflammation. There are many naturally gluten free grains available in healthstores and supermarkets and cutting out gluten is not the onerous task it once was! Quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, gluten-free oats, and brown rice are all great alternatives.
Sugar is a huge issue for ME sufferers. Low mood and anxiety can make you want a sweet treat for comfort but sugar to inflammation is like petrol to a fire. It stops vitamin C and zinc from working properly and lowers immunity. Phase out sugar and refined foods gradually and you will find your taste buds soon adapt: some alternatives are listed below.
Foods to include are;
- Dark green leafy vegetables: rich in magnesium and B-vitamins for energy production
- Brightly coloured vegetables: aim to eat a rainbow of colours each day. The different colours denote the different antioxidant compounds in the food, which can help deal with inflammation and support immunity.
- Good quality protein with each meal, especially breakfast; eggs, nuts, seeds, meats, white fish and oily fish, pulses, and legumes.
- Gluten-free grains
- Alternatives to sugar: these are still forms of sugar, but are broken down and metabolised slightly slower. Use as little as you can: maple syrup, stevia, date syrup, raw honey.
- Sources of healthy fats: avocado, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, and fresh tuna.
Certain functional tests can be helpful for identifying the underlying causes or contributing factors of ME. I know that you will have had a battery of tests already via your GP as ME is a diagnosis of exclusion but not all of these tests are available via the NHS.
Vitamin D: this is available from your GP or privately (I offer it to clients for £30). Low levels of vit D are common in the UK because of our lack of sunshine. It is virtually impossible to rectify low levels through diet alone (unless you want to live on salmon and butter!) so if you’re levels are below 75nmol/l you will need to supplement it.
Vit B12 & folate: another one available via your GP. Low B12 and folate is of consideration if you are taking long term medications like Omeprazole or Lansoprazole for acid reflux.
The ONE test (Optimal Nutritional Evaluation): available privately, costs approximately £330. Yes, this is an expensive test however it does provide a lot of information. The results indicate your levels of a wide range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which can be compromised in ME, alongside metabolic markers related to inflammation, digestive function, and energy production.
Adrenal and thyroid function tests: available privately. Chronic and/or acute severe stress can impact heavily on adrenal and thyroid function which in turn influences energy production, immunity, and inflammation.
I hope this article gives you some ideas and insight into how nutrition and nutritional therapy can be of benefit when managing ME. If you would like to know more or wish to work with me you can find details at www.nutritioninyork.co.uk where you can download a free copy of ‘Your 3 Easy Steps to All Day Energy’.
T: 07910 705272