There are some promising natural treatments for CFS, but the scientific evidence for them is not yet strong.
Essential Fatty Acids
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 63 people were given either a combination of essential fatty acids containing evening primrose oil (a source of
, or liquid paraffin placebo over a 3-month period.
At 1 and 3 months, participants in the treatment group reported significant improvement in CFS symptoms as compared to the placebo group. The researchers also found that at the beginning of the study many participants had abnormal essential fatty acid levels, and these improved with treatment.
However, in 1999, researchers tried to replicate this study with 50 other people, using more precise means of measuring CFS symptoms.
The results showed no difference between individuals given essential fatty acids and those given placebo (sunflower oil). These researchers also found no difference in fatty acid levels between individuals with CFS and individuals without CFS who served as controls.
Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) is a naturally occurring chemical that plays a significant role in cellular energy production.
supplements have been tried in hopes they might improve energy levels in athletes and in individuals with chronic fatigue.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial that followed 26 people given 10 mg of NADH for a 4-week period showed some improvement in symptoms during NADH treatment as compared to the period of placebo treatment (31% versus 8%).
However, larger studies will have to be performed to actually prove a benefit with this supplement.
is a substance the body uses to convert fatty acids to energy. Early studies reported decreased carnitine levels in people with CFS.
Based on these, an unblinded crossover trial (8 weeks with each treatment, and a 2-week "washout" period in between) enrolled 30 individuals with CFS to evaluate the potential benefits of carnitine supplements.
The results suggest potential benefit with this supplement.
However, this study was severely flawed. One problem was that, rather than using a placebo group for comparison purposes, researchers chose to investigate the antiviral drug amantadine. This drug has no proven efficacy in CFS, and it caused so many side effects that more than half of the participants dropped out during the period they were taking amantadine. This high dropout rate makes statistical interpretation of the results unreliable. In addition, the lack of
in the study also impairs the trustworthiness of the results.
Other Herbs and Supplements
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study available only in the form of a press release (at the time of this writing) reportedly found dark chocolate helpful for CFS.
Traditional Chinese herbal medicine
is part of a comprehensive and unique approach to healing developed over many centuries in Asia. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 29 people suggests that the use of an herbal formula originating in this system may be helpful for CFS.
A test tube study of
found that both increased cellular immune function in cells taken from people with CFS.
However, many herbs and supplements can cause measurable changes in immune function, and such observations do not prove that there will be an actual benefit in people with the disease.
have been suggested as treatments for CFS, but the evidence that they work remains extremely preliminary at best.
Based on the theory mentioned above that CFS might be related to low blood pressure, the herb
has been recommended for CFS by some herbalists. Licorice raises blood pressure (and causes other potentially harmful effects) when taken in high doses for a long time. However, there is no evidence that it works for CFS, and other treatments to raise blood pressure have proven ineffective for CFS.
Although some authorities have suggested that CFS might be caused by deficiencies of multiple vitamins and minerals, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 42 people found no significant improvement in CFS symptoms when a
supplement was given four times daily after meals for 3 months.
Another trial failed to find benefit with a multivitamin/mineral supplement as well.
A fairly substantial (96-participant) double-blind, placebo-controlled study failed to find
helpful for people with CFS.
Over the 2-month study period, both eleutherococcus and placebo reduced fatigue symptoms, but there was no statistically significant difference. (The researchers managed to find some benefit by resorting to statistically questionable after-the-fact procedures.)
Another study failed to find
helpful for CFS.
A special bran extract marketed for enhancing immunity failed to prove more effective than placebo for CFS symptoms (although placebo was quite effective).
People with CFS may at times attribute their symptoms to chemical exposures, thereby relating chronic fatigue syndrome to another loosely defined condition known as multiple chemical sensitivities, or MCS. One study evaluated people with chronic fatigue syndrome who believed that certain chemical triggers affected their mental function, causing mental sluggishness and confusion.
The results showed decreased mental function on testing following exposure to supposed chemical triggers; however, the decrease was the same whether the actual chemical or a substitute placebo was used. In other words, it was the
that a substance causes harm, rather than actual harm caused by the substance, that produced the symptoms.