Many of my male patients complain of being tired, stressed out, and just feeling like they’re burning the candle at both ends! I like to call this “too busy syndrome”, fatigue that’s caused by overly-busy schedules and not enough down-time to just hang-out and relax.

There is a difference, however, between “too-busy tired” and the debilitating exhaustion associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Let me share with you some of the facts regarding chronic fatigue syndrome, particularly how it affects men, and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Statistics show that between 100,000 and 250,000 Americans suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome with some researchers believing the levels are actually higher than that.

There is a misconception that chronic fatigue syndrome is more common in women than it is in men. For this reason, CFS may have gone undiagnosed in men. Also, men don’t visit doctors as often as women. The fact is, while women are 3 times more likely to get CFS, men DO get it as well.

Both male and female CFS sufferers share many of the same symptoms and levels of functioning/disability. It can be difficult to diagnose CFS because the symptoms can be different from person to person.

The reason CFS is hard to diagnose is because the symptoms can mimic other health issues like flu, mononucleosis, fibromyalgia, or even depression! However, researchers have identified these common complaints that occur in 85 to 100% of CFS sufferers:

•Persistent, life-altering fatigue not related to exertion, not relieved by rest.
•Four or more of the following symptoms that have been present for 6 months:

o Short term memory impairment
o Impaired mental function/lack of concentration, brain fog, depression
o Sore throat
o Swollen lymph nodes
o Low grade fever
o Muscle/joint pain without redness/swelling
o Unusual (for you) headaches
o Sensitivity to smells, noise, light, medications, food
o Sleep disorders, too much, inability to sleep
o Impaired immune function – Candida infections, allergies.

What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Researchers are not quite sure what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. There are some who favor viral causes from several different possible viruses including herpes simplex, the virus that commonly causes cold sores. Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis is another possible cause.

There are others who think that CFS is an autoimmune disorder, as seen in lupus, or allergic individuals, or rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system ramps up into high gear to fight invading organisms and winds up attacking itself instead!

Still other researchers feel CFS may be caused by other physical conditions, such as mercury dental fillings, low thyroid, low blood sugar, insomnia, or even a nutritional deficiency! Whatever the various possible causes, there seems to be an association between CFS and stress which may trigger the condition.

CFS and Guy Issues

Unlike women who suffer from CFS, managing the illness can pose unique problems for men. First of all, most men do not express their feelings easily, even when feeling sick, and visit doctors less often causing them to suffer in silence.

Secondly, men’s perception of their worth is typically tied to their career, earning potential, and/or their ability to take care of themselves or a family. When a man starts having chronic symptoms, he may feel less masculine, afraid, or try to ignore his symptoms. In some cases men may push even harder to maintain a private and public expectation, which only adds to their fatigue.

What You Can Do

When male patients do come to me with CFS-sounding complaints, I favor a natural, more self-managing, approach using nutritional (diet and vitamins), along with lifestyle adjustments, in treating their symptoms. Below are some strategies that I use in managing CFS:

Vitamin therapy: Men need higher doses of all the B vitamins which can boost energy levels. Vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene are antioxidants that also help fight viruses. Vitamin D helps boost the immune system.
Mineral therapy: Calcium, magnesium, and manganese. These three minerals are crucial in energy production.
Diet therapy: A well-balanced diet with 6-8 fruits, vegetables, higher protein, high fiber, complex carbohydrates. Limit refined sugars, caffeine, and fat. Add acidophilus to aid the immune system, drink 48-64 oz water daily.
Lifestyle therapy: Minimize emotional/physical stressors. Get enough sleep, supplements such as melatonin can help. Get regular, moderate exercise that you can sustain, like casual walking, bicycling, or swimming. Yoga and Tai-Chi can help de-stress you.
Counseling: Men need to talk about their feelings, how being chronically sick is affecting their personal relationships and their career life. One-on-one, or group therapy, can help restore a man’s loss of self-esteem and give him a sense of support and camaraderie amongst other men during the illness.

Though diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome in men can be difficult, treatment of it doesn’t have to be. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Together you can decide on the best treatment for managing your CFS symptoms. Many of the nutritional suggestions listed here can also help prevent CFS as keeping a healthy immune system is a key to staying healthy!

Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging