Patient Tackles CFS With Positive Outlook and Dietary Changes

I wanted to share a blog post written by my patient about how he is tackling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with a positive outlook and dietary changes. I had treated this patient for some time with some success with herbs and acupuncture to combat the fatigue experienced with work and life in general. He eventually retired and moved but we have kept in touch. A few months back he had mentioned that he was considering a more vegan diet after watching the Netflix documentary Game Changers. 

I am a huge advocate for most people eating more vegetables, way more than most people eat. That said, as far as what is healthier for humans to eat, there is a huge amount of nuance to take into consideration. In this case, this patient often suffered from fatigue and weakness and I felt like any overhauls to his diet should be considered carefully. The patient did not eat a lot animal products and I honestly did not believe that cutting out the small amount of meat that he was eating would lead to positive improvement. Therefore, I strongly recommended the patient listen to or read Mark Hyman’s Food: What Heck Should I Eat as it also reviews a lot of health research just like the documentary but the author comes to very different conclusions.

I told the patient to weigh the different arguments and to proceed with what he felt seemed the most concrete. After reading the book, the patient decided not to pursue a vegan diet and to base his diet off of Dr. Hyman’s recommendations. This patient has had some fairly dramatic improvements in his health which he shares below. 

What Really Stands Out

Before you get to my patient’s account of his health, I’d like to mention why I’m sharing this in the first place. I’m more interested in the process the patient has been following than his actual dietary regimen. As I said there is a lot of nuance to nutrition and a lot of variation in individual needs. There are people who have made changes entirely opposite to this patient and have seen great results.  Although I would say that I’ve seen more people achieve long term positive benefits from diets similar to that advocated by Dr. Hyman than from those going in the opposite direction. Either way, what I think is important to take away is this:

Positive Outlook: this patient has been battling various health issues for well over thirty years now. Yet he never gives up searching for various ways to improve his life. He never rushes in with blind faith. He will read or watch material, reflect on it, and consult with healthcare professionals when advice is needed. Then he takes action.

Grounded Action: when something works for the patient, he sticks with it. If it stops working he moves on. He occasionally gets excited about new discoveries, which I think is good. But he isn’t fanatical or overly attached to one way of doing things. Suffering from “chronic fatigue” (ME/CFS) as he mentions below, treatments tend to have a short term and then stop working. Therefore, he doesn’t cling to what is no longer helpful nor has he become cynical about continuing to look for treatments that work for him. I think these are worthwhile qualities to emulate. 

Here is his experience in his own words: Effects on ME/CFS and CHF of a diet inspired by Mark Hyman’s Book “Food, What the Heck Should I Eat?”

I am 77 years old and have had ME/CFS for 27 years and Congestive Heart Failure for 4 years. My main symptoms have been constant fatigue, post exertion malaise, insomnia and/or unrefreshed sleep, IBS, and heart arrhythmias. In 2016 I was hospitalized for 10 days with severe dehydration and congestive heart failure. 

On February 1, 2020 I removed from my diet the following: sugar, refined carbohydrates (breads, pasta, pastries, etc.), gluten, vegetable oils and dairy (except for yogurt, butter and ghee from grass fed cows or goat milk). 

My diet consists of nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oil, butter ghee, eggs & meat from pastured animals, seafood (mostly lower on the food chain like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and shellfish), whole fruit lower in sugar content  (berries, kiwi, pomegranate, etc) lots of whole, fresh vegetables of a variety of colors. I will occasionally have some carbohydrate in the form of sweet potatoes, beans, legumes or black rice.  I strive for 6 – 9 cups of vegetables per day, some protein at each meal along with smaller quantities of fruit, nuts and seeds throughout the day. A typical breakfast might be a vegetable omelet with fruit and some nuts.  Lunch might be a large salad with lettuce, raw vegetables, avocado, a protein, lemon or vinegar and olive oil. A typical dinner would consist of 25% protein and 75% vegetables.

Results:

  1. In the first two weeks I was able to stop taking a diuretic and potassium for congestive heart failure. I lost 8 pounds, probably mostly water and some belly fat. I am 5’ 11” tall and at the time weighed 143 lbs. I was definitely not overweight. The feeling of being full and bloated much of the time disappeared.  For a while I had a lot of putrid gas but that resolved after the second week. I began to have some days where I felt good energy and started going for walks. Up to this time I could not walk on most days more than the 50 yards to my mail box and back. 
  2. By the end of the second month I was walking 5 or 6 days a week for ½ mile, occasionally venturing a little further. I experienced some constipation so I added a glass of organic psyllium husks twice a day. 
  3. By the third month my sleep got better and I often woke up feeling refreshed. Anyone with ME/CFS knows how rare that is. I started some upper body strength exercise. It includes a few pushups on an incline and some core exercise (planks or stomach crunches). These are very tentative and gradual. I have not experienced post exertion malaise which was a common symptom for me and common with ME/CFS. The constipation is better but not fully resolved. 

*Update: The patient just told me that he walked ¾ of a mile the other day and that he continues to experience gradual improvements in strength and stamina. He has started to use a 5lb weight to do some exercises and is doing kneeling push-ups. He even ordered a pullup bar!  Occasionally, he still has days when he crashes, although not as often as before. By crashing he means an abnormal and intense fatigue where he cannot do much. This was a common feature of the ME/CFS previously. 

The patient reports feeling free of ME/CFS most days now.  He states that he has been conservative in reporting the benefits. He reports that he also has not been eating between 6:30 P.M and 8 or 8:30 A.M. He feels this has helped tremendously as well. 

Recent bloodwork also has shows a drop in fasting glucose and C-Reactive Protein, both of which had been high. I will be interested to see how his labs hold up over a longer period of time.  

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