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 Integrative Medicine: Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs for Chronic Fatigue 

Vitamin E can act as an estrogen substitute. Like bioflavonoids, it has been studied as a treatment for hot flashes and for the psychological symptoms of menopause, including depression and fatigue. It can even relieve vaginal dryness in those women who either can't take or can't tolerate estrogen. According to one study, vitamin E helped skew the progesterone/estrogen ratio in the body toward progesterone. This could be very helpful for women who have heavy menstrual bleeding caused by excess estrogen. Vitamin E is also needed for healthy thyroid function.

Vitamin E occurs in abundance in wheat germ, nuts, seeds, and some fruits and vegetables.

An essential component of red blood cells, iron combines with protein and copper to make hemoglobin, the pigment of the red blood cells. Studies have shown that women with iron deficiency have decreased physical stamina and endurance. Iron deficiency, the main cause of anemia, is common during all phases of a woman's life, because of both poor nutritional habits and regular blood loss through menstruation. Iron deficiency frequently causes fatigue and low energy states.

Women who suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding are more likely to be iron deficient than woman with normal menstrual flow. In fact, some medical studies have found that inadequate iron intake may be a cause of excessive bleeding as well as an effect of the problem. Women who suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding should have their red blood count checked to see if supplemental iron and a high iron diet are necessary.

Good sources of iron include liver, blackstrap molasses, beans and peas, seeds and nuts, and certain fruits and vegetables. The body absorbs and assimilates the heme iron from meat sources, such as liver, much better than the nonheme iron from vegetarian sources. To absorb non-heme iron properly, you must take it with at least 75 milligrams of vitamin C.

Zinc plays an important role in combating fatigue. Supplementation with zinc improves muscle strength and endurance. It reduces fatigue by enhancing immune function, acting as an immune stimulant and triggering the reproduction of lymphocytes when incubated with these cells in a test tube. Zinc is a constituent of many enzymes involved in both metabolism and digestion. It is needed for the proper growth and development of female reproductive organs and for the normal functioning of the male prostate gland. Good food sources of zinc include wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, whole grain wheat bran, and high protein foods.

Magnesium and Malic Acid
Combinations of these two supplements are very important for the maintenance of energy and vitality. Magnesium is required for the production of ATP, the end product of the conversion of food to usable energy by the body's cells. ATP is the universal energy currency that the body uses to run hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions. Malic acid is extracted from apples and is also an important component in the production of ATP. Another form of magnesium has been researched for the treatment of fatigue called magnesium aspartate, formed by combining magnesium with aspartic acid. Aspartic acid also plays an important role in the production of energy in the body and helps transport magnesium and potassium into the cells. Magnesium aspartate, along with potassium aspartate, has been tested in a number of clinical studies and has been shown to dramatically improve energy levels after five to six weeks of constant use. Many volunteers began to feel better even within ten days. This beneficial effect was seen in 90 percent of the people tested, a very high success rate.

Magnesium is an important nutrient for women with chronic candida infections. A magnesium deficiency can develop from the diarrhea, vomiting, and other digestive problems associated with intestinal candida infections. Magnesium deficiency can worsen fatigue, weakness, confusion, and muscle tremor in women with candida infections. Women with these symptoms must replace the magnesium through appropriate supplementation. Magnesium deficiency has also been seen in women suffering from PMS; medical studies have found a reduction in red blood cell magnesium during the second half of the menstrual cycle in affected women. Magnesium, like vitamin B6, is needed for the production of the beneficial prostaglandin hormones as well as for glucose metabolism. Magnesium supplements can also benefit women with severe emotional stress, anxiety, and insomnia. When taken before bedtime, magnesium helps to calm the mood and induce restful sleep. Good food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, beans and peas, raw nuts and seeds, tofu, avocado, raisins, dried figs, millet and other grains.

Like magnesium, potassium has a powerful enhancing effect on energy and vitality. Potassium deficiency has been associated with fatigue and muscular weakness. One study showed that older people who were deficient in potassium had weaker grip strength. Potassium aspartate has been used with magnesium aspartate in a number of studies on chronic fatigue; this combination significantly restored energy levels.

Potassium has many important roles in the body. It regulates the transfer of nutrients into the cells and works with sodium to maintain the body's water balance. Its role in water balance is important in preventing PMS bloating symptoms. Potassium aids proper muscle contraction and transmission of electrochemical impulses. It helps maintain nervous system function and a healthy heart rate. Potassium is found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, seeds and nuts, starches, and whole grains.

This mineral helps combat stress, nervous tension, and anxiety. An upset emotional state can dramatically worsen fatigue in susceptible women. A calcium deficiency worsens not only emotional irritability but also muscular irritability and cramps. Calcium can be taken at night along with magnesium to calm the mood and induce a restful sleep. Women with menopause related anxiety, mood swings, and fatigue may also find calcium supplementation useful. It has the added benefit of helping prevent bone loss, or osteoporosis, because calcium is a major structural component of bone.

Like magnesium and potassium, calcium is essential in the maintenance of regular heartbeat and the healthy transmission of impulses through the nerves. It may also help reduce blood pressure and regulate cholesterol levels; it is essential for blood clotting. Good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, salmon (with bones), nuts and seeds, tofu, and blackstrap molasses.

This mineral is necessary to prevent fatigue caused by low thyroid function. Iodine, along with the amino acid tyrosine, is necessary for the production of the thyroid hormone thyroxin. Without adequate thyroid hormone women may suffer from excessive fatigue, excess weight, constipation, and other symptoms of a slowed metabolism. Iodine deficiency has also been linked to breast disease. Only trace amounts of iodine are needed to maintain its important metabolic effects. Good food sources include fish and shellfish, sea vegetables such as kelp and dulse, and garlic.

This amino acid combines with iodine within the thyroid gland to form the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Thyroxine has many important functions in the body, including control of metabolic rate, promotion of growth (particularly crucial in children), and carbohydrate and fat metabolism.

Women whose protein intake is low (which can be a problem for vegans who get their protein exclusively from plant sources) and women who can't absorb and assimilate protein due to severe digestive problems, may lack sufficient tyrosine in their diets and require manufactured thyroxine. These women may have border-line low thyroid levels which can be remedied by increasing their intake of thyroid hormone precursor nutrients. Besides increasing protein, tyrosine may be taken as a dietary supplement. Generally, 500 to 1500 milligrams of pure tyrosine per day may be used. It is best to take tyrosine with a meal high in carbohydrates.

Tyrosine has been reported to help relieve depression, another cause of chronic fatigue. It has also been shown to relieve some symptoms in patients with Parkinson's disease. Women using monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drugs for the treatment of depression should avoid taking tyrosine as should those diagnosed with melanoma. Otherwise, tyrosine is safe for use by most people.

Tyrosine, the amino acid needed by the body to produce the thyroid hormone thyroxine, is actually manufactured from another amino acid called phenylalanine. This essential amino acid must be acquired through diet since the body cannot make phenylalanine from other amino acids. Good food sources of phenylalanine include fish, poultry, red meat, soybeans, almonds, lentils, lima beans, chickpeas, and sesame seeds. It can also be taken in purified form as a dietary supplement. Five hundred to 2,000 milligrams per day is the usual theraputic dosage. Be sure to start at the lower end of the range, increasing gradually.

Phenylalanine is a natural antidepressant and pain killer, but can also cause jitteriness and nervousness when used in too high a dose. As with tyrosine, it should be avoided by women using monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs for depression. Patients on phenylalanine may notice a greater alertness, an increased sense of well-being, and an enhancement of sexual interest.

Essential Fatty Acids for Chronic Fatigue
Essential fatty acids are very important nutrients for women with fatigue and play an important role in maintaining optimal health. Essential fatty acids consist of two types of special fats or oils, called linoleic acid (Omega-6 family) and linolenic acid (Omega-3 family). Because your body cannot make these fats, you must sup-ply them daily via foods or supplements. Though these essential fatty acids supply stored energy in the form of calories, they also perform many other important functions in the body.

Essential fatty acids are important components of the membrane structure of all the body's cells. They are also required for normal development and function of the brain, eyes, inner ear, adrenal glands, and reproductive tract. The essential oils are also necessary for the synthesis of prostaglandins type I and III, which are hormonelike chemicals that help decrease the risk of heart disease by regulating blood pressure and platelet stickiness. Prostaglandins type I and II help reduce fatigue through their role in preventing a number of healthcare problems: they decrease inflammation, boost immune function, decrease menstrual cramps, and help to reduce PMS symptoms. One essential fat evening primrose oil has been tested in the United States and England for its beneficial effects on PMS and menstrual cramps.

Essential oils are particularly important to menopausal women because deficiency of these oils is responsible in part for the drying of skin, hair, vaginal tissues, and other mucous membranes that occurs with menopause. Along with vitamin E, which also benefits the skin and vaginal tissues, I have used essential oils extensively in my nutritional program for women. Essential fatty acids are important in treating immune problems such as candida infections, allergies, and CFS, which worsen fatigue in millions of women.

The best sources of linoleic and linolenic acids are flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Both the seeds and their pressed oils should be used absolutely fresh and unspoiled. Because these oils become rancid very easily when exposed to light and air (oxygen), they need to be packed in special opaque containers and kept in the refrigerator. Essential oils should never be heated or used in cooking because heat affects their special chemical properties. Instead, add these oils as a flavoring to foods that are already cooked. Fresh flax seed oil is my special favorite. Good quality flax seed oil is available in health food stores. Flax seed oil is golden, rich, and delicious. It is extremely high in linoleic and linolenic acids, which comprise approximately 80 percent of its total content. Pumpkin seed oil has a deep green color and spicy flavor. It is probably more difficult to find than flax seed oil. Fresh raw pumpkin seeds are a good source of this oil. They can be purchased from many health food stores. Both flax seed oil and pumpkin seed oil can also be taken in capsule form.

(Excerpted from The Menopause Self Help Book ISBN: 0890875928)
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 About The Author
Susan Lark MDDr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
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