We have all experienced tiredness. After a long hard day at work or looking after children, we feel spent, weary or finished! All we want to do is veg out on the sofa, eat some home cooked food and watch our favorite TV program. If we are disciplined, we will have an early night, wake up refreshed and go into the next day feeling revived and full of energy again. But what about fatigue? Is this just another synonym for tired? As many of us know, the answer to this question is a resounding NO! Most people with MS know all about the crippling and persistent fatigue that comes with the illness. It is a very different feeling to normal tiredness and simply turns every day life into a struggle for survival. Let's explore this sinister symptom and have a look at foods to combat it.
Chronic fatigue is the most common of all the MS symptoms but the hardest to treat and the most misunderstood. It has been defined as a debilitating state of physical and mental exhaustion that comes crashing down suddenly and can, without warning, attack eyesight, balance, muscular strength, and threaten everything in one's immediate focus. Fatigue affects people in different ways, and it may change from week to week, day to day, or hour to hour.
Alison Potts (who wrote an article for the BBC) describes her fatigue as the 'feeling of a blanket' on her head with which she stumbled around for years. She goes on to say that, before she was diagnosed, she didn't understand why she found the simplest activities so hard. Someone else described their fatigue like this,"I am lifeless. At times it is like someone has switched me off,". Does this sound familiar to you? I have often felt this way. People around you often just can't understand why you can't just 'get on with it'. You are labelled as lazy and always tired'. It is a highly frustrating situation!
If you are experiencing MS related fatigue, you may be dealing with some of the following difficulties:
- An overwhelming sense of tiredness with no obvious cause.
- Feeling extremely tired after very little activity.
- Waking up feeling as tired as you did when you went to sleep.
- Heavy limbs
- Difficulty grasping things or writing
- Inability to concentrate for any period of time.
- Wanting to sleep all the time.
Day to Day Life Is A Challenge
Every facet of one's life of can be affected by fatigue: going to work, cooking a meal, playing with your children, going out with friends and just staying up to date with the day to day things that need to get done. Balancing these activities can become a daily issue when you’ve got limited reserves of energy. I know how frustrating it feels to have so much to do but no energy to do it. You feel overwhelmed and quite hopeless. It is also extremely stressful if you feel that you are letting people down or not getting important things done.
There Is Hope
The good news is that fatigue is usually the first of the MS symptoms to improve when you change your diet. This was certainly the case for me. Just before I started the diet, I felt like I wasn't coping very well with normal life. I was at home with my fourteen month old daughter and looked after another child two days a week. The kids kept me on my toes but it shouldn't have drained me to that extent. I found it hard to motivate myself to keep the house clean and the meals cooked. Every time Rachel slept, I slept too. I also had terrible brain fog that hung over my mind and interfered with my ability to think clearly.
I could have been recovering from the shock of being a parent but I had been getting a full night's sleep for quite a few months and Rachel was an easy baby so I didn't really have any excuse to be tired all the time. I remember discussing the matter with my husband and we decided that it was time for more drastic action. This is when I contacted my 'natural nutritionist' and my MS Diet journey began.
Within a week of being on the diet, I was feeling more like my normal self again. My energy returned and I was just finding life a bit easier to cope with. Within two weeks, I felt better than I had felt in years. I was excited and enthusiastic about living again. Loving life with my toddler, I was actually feeling motivated to do everything I needed to do. The fatigue vanished just like that! It was quite astonishing. After about 2 months of being on the MS diet, I had a very stressful week of moving house. I ate badly and the fatigue started returning. I quickly got back on track and within a few days was feeling good again. This proved to me, that what I ate had a huge impact on my symptoms of fatigue.
Fatigue Fighting Foods
Fatigue starts at a cellular level. Cells that are not receiving the nutrients they need can't work efficiently and are sluggish in their essential jobs. An even worse situation is when they have to deal with the toxins and bad fats from foods we shouldn't be eating. You all know what those foods are! Refined sugars, dairy, margarine, red meat, preservatives and artificial sweeteners are a few of the usual suspects. If our cells are feeling fatigued, our whole being will feel fatigued.
Foods that contain high levels of nutrients feed your cells and help them to carry out their functions at maximum efficiency. Antioxidants are particularly important as they neutralise free radicals that cause cell damage. All fruit and veg is amazing for keeping fatigue at bay but there are a few super foods that I would like to mention.
This is one of those whole foods that provides a full range of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, enzymes, chlorophyll, protein(amino acids) and antioxidants. The big advantage with this supplement is that it is quickly absorbed and utilised at cell level. I simply cannot do without my tall glass of green barley juice in the morning. It makes me feel ready for anything. For more information, see the Green Barley Supplements page.
Delicious in salads and cooked meals, this dark green leafy vegetable is packed full of the right stuff! Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth, which makes it a perfect food for people seeking to restore their vitality and get rid of their chronic fatigue symptoms. Spinach is an excellent source of 13 vitamins and minerals, and is full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that reduce cellular stress, giving your adrenal glands (which control stress response) a well-needed rest and leaving you with extra energy. It also has a good amount of protein in it! I try to have a large handful of organic spinach every day.
Kale is overflowing with vitamins A, C, and K and contains a good amount of vitamin E and magnesium, all of which are key nutrients to keep your energy levels up and your MS symptoms down. It also contains omega 3s, which are essential elements of the MS diet. Kale is rich in chlorophyll which helps remove toxins and calm the immune system. Kale also contains a host of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonols, such as quercetin, which help prevent immune attacks on your nervous system. Steam it, juice it or dehydrate it. This versatile vegetable is great in any dish.
This has to be one of my all time favourite vegetables. It is very tasty and goes well in salads, bakes and just on its own. It has a low glycemic index so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer and releases energy slowly. It is full of beta carotene which is an important antioxidant in the effective functioning of our bodies. Definitely a must for keeping the fatigue locked away.
Fruit has been referred to by many as the most perfect food. Raw fruit gives the body exactly what it needs to function at its best. Contrary to many opinions, fruit has a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels. This should reduce or even eradicate cravings for refined sugar. Sweets and other refined sugars will give you an energy boost for about an hour but then insulin kicks in and your sugar levels drop lower than before, making you feel more tired. Eating a beautiful piece of fruit won't do that to you. It will give you the boost you need and keep you there. This summer I have been loving grapes, strawberries and nectarines!
Nuts and seeds are rich sources of protein and essential fats. They also contain those beautiful vitamin Bs and other essential minerals like vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. Almonds, pecans and cashews are my favourites. I soak them in a little salt water overnight, then dehydrate them. They are brilliant snacks and keep me going in between meals.
Flaxseeds & Salmon
Belgian researchers found that patients with chronic fatigue had low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and those with the most severe fatigue symptoms had the greatest deficiencies. These two foods are some of the richest sources of omega 3s and will definitely help your body fight fatigue. Salmon is a true superfood and is absolutely delicious. You can read more about salmon in the healing foods post. A recent study by Dr. George Jelinek has revealed that taking flaxseed oil every day reduces relapses by two thirds. A significant finding!
Summing it all up
There are so many other foods that will help to combat fatigue. For a full list, visit the MS Diet page. It is so easy to incorporate them into all your meals and they will have you feeling energetic within days and really improve your MS symptoms. This goes without saying but I need to remind you that you that getting rid of the nasties is part and parcel of the energy restoring process. You can also find a comprehensive list of these foods on the MS Diet page. Remember to drink water very regularly throughout the day as this amazing liquid also helps your cells work more efficiently. They need it to perform every function they have. If I start to feel a bit tired and lethargic, the first thing I do is down a large glass of water. It gives me an instant energy boost. Which foods give you energy? You are welcome to leave a comment below and let us know.
If you need help and support to take the next step with your lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
Love and nutrients,