What Other Help Is Available?

The best ways to help yourself, then, are rest and diet, as discussed previously. However outside help and support are available. There is not yet a cure for M.E., but there are various “treatments”, some of which could be worth trying. The main problem is that what works for one person will not necessarily work for the next, and many of the treatments are not available on the NHS and can be expensive.

1) Treatments

a) Thyroid and Adrenal Treatment – As mentioned earlier, there are those who believe that a significant problem for many M.E. sufferers is an underlying metabolic dysfunction, resulting in hypo-thyroidism and/or hypo-adrenalism (or “low adrenal reserve”). Treatment aims to remedy these deficiencies and is at three levels. Firstly, nutritional supplements to try and booster thyroid and adrenal function (e.g. vitamin C, the B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, co-enzyme Q10, liquorice). Secondly, the use of glandular concentrates, which contain a concentrated form of the thyroid and adrenal hormones from bovine sources. Thirdly, hormone replacement treatment. For thyroid problems, this means using the synthetic hormones thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) or the use of natural Armour thyroid. For adrenal function, hydrocortisone. These are not given in “mega doses”, but in low, physiological, replacement doses. For most people, as long as they are not too badly affected, treatment at the first and second levels are likely to be all that is needed. However, for those who have been ill for many years and who are severely affected, then level three may well prove to be necessary.

b) Magnesium Treatment – Magnesium is the 2nd most common mineral in our cells, and is necessary for normal muscle function. It occurs naturally in green vegetables, grains, nuts and soya. A study carried out in 1991 among a group of M.E. patients showed that many of their symptoms were similar to those found in people suffering from magnesium deficiency. The treatment involved a weekly injection of Magnesium Sulphate, injected intramuscularly, lasting for 6 weeks. The magnesium is best not taken in tablet form, as it is thought that most people with M.E. will not absorb it properly if taken orally.

In the study about 80% of sufferers improved: some benefited straight away; others needed to complete the course before feeling any real effect. However in follow-up trials the results haven’t been quite so impressive!

The treatment is said to be without side-effects, as long as you have no history of heart or kidney problems and it should be available on the NHS from your G.P. Alternatively, the treatment is available privately, but this would be expensive. It is not a cure for M.E., but if a blood test shows that magnesium deficiency is a problem for you, then it could well help. (If you have a blood test to look for magnesium deficiency, make sure it tests the red cell magnesium level, as this is the best indicator of any deficiency.)

c) Anti-Candida Treatment – Candida Albicans is a yeast which exists in the gut of all of us. In some people it gets out of hand, and needs to be bought under control. There are many factors that can cause the spread of Candida, including the over-use of antibiotics and steroids, and a diet high in sugar. Although Candida can be a problem in its own right, it would seem that many people with M.E. (some would say at least 50%) have some sort of Candida problem. Some blood tests are now available which can help to confirm a diagnosis of candida overgrowth (eg the “Gut Fermentation Test” – not as bad as it sounds!), but are usually only available privately. Actually, the simplest way of determining whether or not you have a Candida problem is by treating it to see if you feel better!

The main part of any anti-Candida programme is to go on the anti-Candida diet. This is a yeast and sugar free diet. All types of sugar and sugar-containing foods should be avoided; yeast and refined flours are also out; mouldy and fermented foods ought to be avoided as well. If you follow these measures, as well as the diet described in section two, then you should be well on the way to bringing any Candida problem under control.
However, in order to fully eliminate the problem, diet alone is not usually good enough, and some forms of anti-Candida medication are necessary. There are various anti-fungal drug treatments, for example Nystan and Fungilin. These are available on prescription, but you need a GP who has experience of using them. There are also some natural alternatives, for those who wish to avoid drugs, such as Caprylic Acid (available as Mycopryl from Biocare).

Following a strict anti-Candida diet and taking some anti-fungal medication should resolve any Candida problem. However, you really do need to find a doctor well experienced in treating the problem, and who has experience prescribing the various drugs available–which can be easier said than done!

If Candida is not a problem for you, then this diet won’t have any effect – although the fact that it is a healthy diet may in itself help!

d) Evening Primrose Oil – contains an Essential Fatty Acid called gamma-linolenic acid. EFA’s have an anti-viral effect, and are important for the proper functioning of the immune system, muscles and nerves. In a trial in Glasgow in 1990 85% of M.E. patients taking part showed some improvement – but they had to take a high dose of 6-8 x 500mg Efamol Marine capsules (80% evening primrose oil/20% fish oil) a day for at least 3 months. There were no reports of any side-effects.

e) Allergies and Food Intolerance – Many people believe that problems with allergies and food intolerances can form a major part of M.E., as with Candida (in fact some would say that where Candida overgrowth is a problem, this can itself be the cause of many food and chemical intolerances). It is thought that over-use of antibiotics and slow recovery from viral illnesses (both of which are common in M.E.) can predispose a person to developing various allergies or intolerances – although in M.E. any problem is most likely to be due to an intolerance (which builds up over time) rather than an allergy (which is usually a sudden, violent reaction).

The foods which most often pose problems for those with M.E. are wheat/gluten and dairy products, as well as caffeine and alcohol. Any such problems can usually be identified using an elimination diet – with the suspected “culprits” being temporarily removed from the diet for a few days, and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if there is any reaction. Any “problem” foods can then taken out of the diet.

This may sound simple, but it can be difficult getting used to a restricted diet, particularly when you have very little energy to start with!

There are a number of non-dairy types of milk, cheese and butter; they are available from health food shops and many supermarkets.

If a gluten-free diet is necessary, it is advisable to contact the Coeliac Society. They will require a signed doctors note confirming you have M.E. before allowing you to buy their publications. “The Food List” is updated each year and gives detailed advice on which foods can be eaten. They also supply other information about living on a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free bread/cakes can be bought from health food shops, and are also available either online or by mail-order.

Learning to cope with a diet that is different to what you are used to does take a bit of time, but is not too much of a problem when at home. The main difficulties can be when eating out – but there is normally something suitable available. Most people with M.E. would probably argue that it is worth sticking with a restrictive diet, as long as it is healthy and well-balanced, in order to relieve any of the symptoms of this frustrating illness!

If food and/or chemical sensitivities become a major problem (and some people with M.E. do seem to become intolerant of numerous foods and chemicals, which makes life extremely difficult), it would be advisable to get advice from a practitioner skilled in treating such conditions.

There are other “treatments” available for M.E., but these are probably the 5 main ones. Other treatments include using anti-depressants to help restore normal sleep-patterns. However, they don’t work for everyone with M.E., and some feel worse. The herbal remedy St John’s Wort has been found to be as good as anti-depressants in treating both depression and sleep problems – and it doesn’t result in all of the side-effects that can occur with orthodox medication.

There are also two main forms of complementary medicine – herbal medicine and homoeopathy:

a) Herbal Medicine – Herbalism was the original form of medicine from which today’s orthodox medicine developed. Therefore many modern drugs are derived from plants, and on the whole herbal medicines tend to be safer than synthetic drugs if used as prescribed. Many remedies are available at health food shops, but for a chronic condition such as M.E. it is a good idea to see a qualified medical herbalist. They will take a detailed history, and prescribe a herb or combination of herbs.

However some people have tried treating themselves with various herbal remedies. Some herbs that have been found to be useful in M.E. are as follows:

Echinacea: for its anti-viral properties and support of the immune system.

Ginkgo Biloba: to improve circulation to the brain; can also help with dizziness.

St Johns Wort: for support of the nervous system; also to aid the restoration normal sleeping patterns.

Feverfew: to alleviate and control migraine-type headaches.

b) Homoeopathy – homoeopathy follows the principle that “like cures like”. A homoeopathic remedy is a specially diluted preparation of a substance which, when taken undiluted by a healthy person, produces symptoms similar to those of the patient. The greater the dilution of the medicine, the more powerful it becomes. The curative effect comes from stimulation of the body to get rid of what is causing the symptoms. Homoeopathy sees symptoms as the body’s reaction against the illness as it attempts to overcome it, and therefore seeks to stimulate and not suppress this reaction.

Like herbal medicine, some homoeopathic remedies are available in health food shops and chemists, but with an illness like M.E. it is worth seeing a fully trained medical homoeopathist. A medical history is taken, along with details of personality, in order to build up a full picture of the problem. Remedies are prescribed to fit both the symptoms and the person – so different people with the same illness may all be prescribed different medication.

There are no side-effects from homoeopathy (although an aggravation of symptoms can occur at first), and it is safe for children to use.

I have mentioned herbal medicine and homoeopathy because I believe that they are complementary to orthodox medicine. Both forms of treatment have been subjected to various scientific trials showing their effectiveness in treating a variety of conditions.

There are also numerous types of “alternative” therapies which many people have found to be beneficial e.g. acupuncture, yoga, reiki, shiatsu. However, just about all of the “alternative” treatments seem to have a link with false religion and/or the New Age movement, and should therefore be avoided by Christians (cf Ephesians 5v11: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”). Care is even needed when considering herbal or homoeopathic medicine, to make sure that the practitioner is properly medically qualified – as even these forms of treatment have been “hijacked” by some and incorporated into the alternative/New Age sphere.

It should also be noted that some alternative treatments involve an altered level of consciousness (e.g. hypnotherapy, Transcendental Meditation) – and this is something clearly forbidden in Scripture, where we are told to remain rational, alert, and in control of our minds e.g. 2 Timothy 1v7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”; 2 Peter 1v5-6: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness.”

Whatever you decide to do, remember: there is no cure for M.E., and some sufferers have spent a lot of time, money and energy trying to find one. If you do decide to try out some form of treatment, do make sure that the practitioner is medically qualified and has experience of treating people with M.E.!

Also, remember that Christians who are living with a chronic illness are in the unique position of being able to help others (both Christians and non-Christians) in similar situations: 2 Corinthians 1v3-4: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”

2) Support

If you have M.E. then you will need support. There are two organizations which provide support and information for M.E. sufferers and their families:

a) The M.E. Association – founded in 1976, the M.E. Association became a registered charity in 1980. It is now a large, professionally run organization, and has a nationwide network of self-help groups and a listening ear helpline. It has 3 main aims: to offer support to people with M.E.; to spread information about the illness; and to promote research. It produces a magazine, “M.E. Essential”, 4 times a year and numerous leaflets on M.E.-related issues, as well as funding various research programmes. The organization campaigns for more government recognition of M.E. and aims to send information to all GPs. The Association has an orthodox medical approach to M.E.. Membership is £18 per year.

b) The 25% M.E. Group – this group exists to offer help and support to those severely affected by M.E. – many of whom are virtually housebound and/or bedbound – and their carers, although anyone not severely affected is welcome to join as an associate member. The group is a nationwide charitable organisation managed entirely by volunteers (most of whom are severely affected by M.E. themselves) and is supported by two part-time admin staff.

The 25% M.E. group provides many services including a newsletter, a talking book service, a “listening ear” telephone support service for M.E. sufferers as well as information for carers and the promotion of proper bio-medical research into M.E.

I would say that it is worth joining either one or both of these charity organizations, as they will keep you up-to-date with the latest information on M.E., and they provide lists of contacts so that you can get in touch with other sufferers. It is a good idea to keep family and friends up-to-date on M.E. as well, so that they will know how best to help you. You may also find that it is up to you to keep your G.P. informed on the latest news on M.E., as you will probably know more about it than he does!

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