The road to recovery

Last month Naomi Murray from Botanica asked her father, the esteemed medical herbalist Brian Lamb, to write about natural ways to combat Post Viral Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Here we publish the second part of his fascinating essay on this condition and discover what can be done to return to peak health once again…


Of late, there has been much medical emphasis on the connection between mitochondrial function and chronic fatigue syndrome. (Mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses of our cells). This is a huge subject and one we are only on the threshold of understanding, but this we know, mitochondrial depletion is at the core of chronic fatigue.

Whilst it is impossible to give specific advice on Post Viral Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (PVCFS) – which will need professional help – certain principles can still be considered.

To understand what is going on at a deeper level, we need to review a fundamental physiological cycle central to life and health. I refer to the catabolic and anabolic cycles of metabolism. This again is a very complex subject but basically catabolism refers to the breakdown of large molecules into smaller ones whilst anabolism refers to the building up of complex molecules from smaller ones.

Broadly, metabolism is about how our cells get energy and remove waste. However – and this is vital in connecting the dots to PVCFS — we need to visualise metabolism as a biological cycle driven by daylight. Put simply, optimum health derives from natural rhythmicity. Our catabolic cycle starts early in the morning, driven by the rise of cortisol from our adrenal glands. This is a time for energy release and work. By late afternoon the anabolic cycle is rising to prepare us for relaxation and restorative sleep some hours later. The catabolic and anabolic cycles seamlessly ebb and flow and mesh, similar to the tides of the oceans. This was called ‘dualism’ by Emanuel Revici, MD. Revici was a remarkable doctor who passed away just a few years ago, working till he was over 100 in New York, USA. He attributed serious disease to an imbalance between catabolism and anabolism.

In my opinion, the ‘retention factor’ in post PVCFS relates to anabolic imbalance. To assure good health, the catabolic flow should not be impeded by anabolic activities and vice versa. For example a hot bath in the morning is ‘anabolic’ and pro-viral, whereas a warm shower is fine as it is catabolic and stimulating. Oppositely, a short warm bath in the evening aids anabolism and encourages sleep. I well remember a young woman consulting with me many years ago suffering continuous flu-like symptoms. Once she stopped taking a morning hot bath she completely recovered.

By all means, be sure to maintain a robust defence by ensuring supplementation with Vitamins C and D and Zinc plus a good quality Echinacea and/or Elderberry elixir. As valuable as these supplements are in supporting immunity, they should be used within a lifestyle framework of good nutrition, adequate relaxation and restorative sleep, moderate exercise and avoidance of emotional strife. And an essential abstinence from food at the onset of a cold or ‘flu with the caveat that diabetics will be mindful of their condition.

So what might be a naturopathic approach to post-viral chronic fatigue? Primarily convalescence. One must then get in phase with the catabolic/anabolic cycle. After the acute phase is over, one should arise from bed at the same time as when previously well and not go back to bed during the day unless essential (an anabolic regression). Cat naps of about 20 minutes are valuable as long as they are not taken in bed. Eating only when hungry and making sure to eat during a time slot of no more than 8 hours — lesser the better. Stimulating foods (even garlic!), and hot spices should be avoided during the early stage of chronic fatigue. Green, lapsang or oolong teas are acceptable whereas coffee and strong black tea are not advised.

Herbal medicines can make all the difference. The reason for this is that well-chosen herbal remedies can act to cleanse, detoxify and revitalise. A consultation with a professional medical herbalist provides the best option.

Failing this, my first choice is a heroic infusion of dried dandelion leaf for the following reasons: dandelion leaf opposes the anabolic feature of chronic fatigue. It is a depurative — acting to cleanse the body of impurities — by stimulating the liver and kidneys whilst providing a gentle laxative action. Even more, dandelion aids digestion and is a potent anti-viral agent.

Here is a suggested adult preparation: Add about 30g dried herb to a large carafe and fill with boiling water. Allow to cool, strain and drink over the day making sure to start early in the morning. Frugal eating will add efficacy. The dandelion cleanse may be repeated every other day for a total of three infusions.

My second choice of herb is Astragalus root, a tonic herb in the Chinese tradition. Whilst this is best prescribed professionally, as long as precautionary care is taken, astragalus is safe and enjoys a long tradition of use.

An extract of the leaves of Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) has been shown to act against bacterial infections of the lungs and is therefore valuable. The Ayurvedic herb Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) also acts favourably on the lungs and Tulsi is available as an infusion blended with spices to provide a pleasant and therapeutic tea.

To conclude: we have an awesome immune system so by all means support it by a healthy lifestyle. If and when immunity is breached, listen to your body. A sore throat surely wants relief from food. A sore head needs respite from TV and phones. A rising temperature demands bed rest. A chest infection warrants medical attention. These are timeless observations and can prevent the development of chronic fatigue.

All suggested remedies are available at Botanica Health along with guided support.

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