"What can I do to be healthy, full of energy, feel great and have an awesome memory?" The solution, as Forstbauer has discovered, is a whole-food diet high in vegetables, fruits and grains, and complemented by seven or eight glasses of water per day.
Her breakthrough came with choosing to be healthy: "What can I do to be healthy, full of energy, feel great and have an awesome memory?"
The solution, as Forstbauer has discovered, is a whole-food diet high in vegetables, fruits and grains, and complemented by seven or eight glasses of water per day.
Many experts also recommend garlic, ginseng and oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which collectively help to fortify the immune system and restore hormonal balance.
In the late 1980s, reports surfaced of a mysterious illness that seemed to target young professionals. Lasting for months, even years, the flu-like ailment would sap them of energy and muddy their concentration leaving them a shell of their former selves. The media dubbed it the "yuppie flu."
Around the same time, Natalie Forstbauer, then a 19-year-old college student, was realizing that whatever she had come down with wasn't going away anytime soon. At school, she tired easily and kept drawing blanks whenever she had to concentrate or remember. At night, she either fell coma-like into a 13-hour sleep or stayed up, a hostage of insomnia, until the early morning hours.
Listless and exhausted, she scheduled an appointment with her doctor to find out what was wrong. He told her she had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). "I was curious initially," Forstbauer recalls. "Mystified. It was something I had never heard of before."
In fact, CFS had only been identified two years prior to her 1990 diagnosis by a US researcher studying cases of the "yuppie flu." Since then, a long list of symptoms has been grouped under the syndrome, including memory loss, dizziness, poor concentration, insomnia, low blood pressure, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, headaches and, above all, profound weakness and fatigue.
In Forstbauer's case, the news that she had CFS as well as fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes severe muscle pain and stiffness, was devastating. "I was an athlete," she remarks, "the oldest of 12 siblings, involved with my community, and I loved to live life to the fullest. The shame I felt about being so sick and being diagnosed with CFS was extraordinary."
What Causes CFS?
Forstbauer did have one thing working in her favour: a doctor who understood her condition. Not all people with CFS are so lucky. To this day, many doctors still dismiss it as psychological a cry for help from an overstressed patient even though every major medical body now recognizes the disorder as real.
Part of the problem lies in the still-mysterious nature of the syndrome. No one knows definitively what causes CFS, but the most compelling theories point to an abnormal immune reaction or an infectious agent such as a virus, bacteria or parasitic micro-organism. In someone with CFS, the immune system seems to remain in a state of activation, disrupting neurotransmitters that control such important functions as blood pressure, appetite and sleep. As a result, the individual becomes stressed, depressed and even more prone to illness.
As she tried to learn more about what had hit her, Forstbauer met other CFS sufferers. She found out at least 12 percent of CFS sufferers eventually make a full recovery. Determined to be one of them, Forstbauer decided to make a "pivotal shift" encompassing all aspects of her health from what she ate, to when she slept, to how she exercised, to her very outlook on life.
The Road to Recovery
The top experts treating CFS agree that diet constitutes a key component in recovery. Digesting processed foods uses up far more energy than most bodies can handle especially bodies already weakened by CFS. Moreover, many people with the syndrome also suffer from multiple nutritional deficiencies, particularly magnesium, zinc, L-tryptophan, L-carnitine, vitamin C and B vitamins such as folic acid, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B12.
The solution, as Forstbauer has discovered, is a whole-food diet high in vegetables, fruits and grains, and complemented by seven or eight glasses of water per day. Many experts also recommend garlic, ginseng and oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which collectively help to fortify the immune system and restore hormonal balance. On the other hand, they strongly advise against caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, as well as eating or snacking after 8 p.m. For help relaxing, people with CFS can try natural remedies such as skullcap, chamomile, valerian, hops, passionflower, lemon balm, crampbark or Jamaican dogwood.
But ironically, the best natural remedy for re-establishing healthy patterns of activity and rest may well be a balanced exercise regimen. Though experts caution people with CFS not to overexert themselves, acti-vities such as walking and swimming and movement therapies such as yoga and t'ai chi can lower stress, improve circulation and reinvigorate the spirit all prerequisites for quality sleep.
Forstbauer initially tried yoga exercises of five to 10 minutes' duration to help her get back into shape. "They were the only things I could do without being in extreme pain or discomfort," she says. Gradually, her stamina increased and her energy levels rose to the point where she has now resumed hiking, rock climbing and playing basketball.
Saying 'Yes' to Health
Important as they are, proper nutrition, ample rest and sensible exercising formed only part of Forstbauer's recovery process. Ultimately, her "pivotal shift" hinged on a fundamental change in the way she looked at herself and her health.
By definition, having CFS results in a "substantial reduction of occupational, educational, social or personal activities" (according to the Center for Disease Control). To many people with CFS, this involuntary change in lifestyle can be cataclysmic.
Forstbauer has decided to view CFS differently: as "our bodies telling us something to pay attention." Typically, she notes, "people who have CFS are overachievers and martyrs who have a tendency to put other people's needs first. I noticed for myself that CFS gave me permission to stay in bed long hours, not to do well in school, to be lazy, and not do everything I felt I should be doing."
Her breakthrough came with choosing to be healthy: not because she felt guilty, ashamed or obliged, but because she wanted to be. "I changed the questions I was asking myself from 'Why am I so sick, tired, sore, headachy and forgetful?' to 'What can I do to be healthy, full of energy, feel great and have an awesome memory?' "
Thirteen years after her diagnosis, a completely recovered Forstbauer now works as a health consultant and coach in Chilliwack, BC, helping other people faced with the same decisions she once was. "I say 'yes' to my health and I make healthful choices every day," she says. "Do I think I could one day have CFS again? Yes, it is possible, but only if I allow myself to."
To this day, many doctors still dismiss chronic fatigue syndrome as psychological a cry for help from an overstressed patient even though every major medical body now recognizes the disorder as real.
Ironically, the best natural remedy for re-establishing healthy patterns of activity and rest may well be a balanced exercise regimen.