An elusive condition, chronic fatigue syndrome continues to confuse and frustrate patients and physicians alike.
A multi-faceted disorder with no definitive cause, physicians must weed through perplexing symptoms, from bowel disorders, overall exhaustion and joint/muscle pain, before making an official diagnosis. Even then, patients have more questions than answers-as treatments are as varied as the condition's symptoms.
While many theories circulate, some experts believe this perplexing condition is caused, in a large part, by the down-regulation of mitochondrial function, the internal powerhouses of the cell where energy is manufactured.1 Research shows that supplements, such as alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), L-carnitine, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADA), d-ribose and essential fatty acids, specifically help to regulate this function, thereby playing a role in controlling symptoms.
Mitochondria and Cellular Energy
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The first step to understanding this theory begins with metabolism. Conversion of food molecules into the high energy compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate) occurs in the super minute cells known as the mitochondria.2
These specialized cellular organelles are composed of their own lipid membranes, enzymes and genetic information.3 These cells convert sugars and fats into energy, which are stored in the formidable energy molecule ATP.
Numerous clinical trials have found excessive oxidation and damage to lipid membranes cause mitochondrial dysfunction,4 which disrupts the production of cellular energy.5 This mishap has a profound effect on physical and muscular energy levels.5
The synopsis below reviews a number of natural nutritional supplements that are able to support mitochondria function, possibly reducing the negative symptoms associated with CFS.6
Alpha lipoic acid. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) has been researched since the early 1950s and was recognized as an antioxidant in 1988. Extensively studied by Lester Packer, PhD, ALA is considered a metabolic or all-body antioxidant.7
Dr. Packer's research showed ALA not only reduces oxidative stress as an antioxidant in fat- and water-soluble environments, it also charges other antioxidants, thus restoring their power. Lipoic acid directly increases plasma and tissue levels of glutathione, which can limit oxidative stress.8 Additionally, ALA is needed to produce energy, playing a crucial role in mitochondria function, protecting the genetic material DNA.
CoQ10. Coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone (found everywhere), provides energy for the body's cellular growth and maintenance. Years ago, researchers discovered CoQ10 manufactures 95 percent of all cellular energy.9 Research shows CoQ10 molecules move between energy-charged enzymes that direct the transportation of energy from one enzyme to another to create ATP.9
Additionally, CoQ10 in cells are abundantly concentrated within the mitochondria. CoQ10 is also vital to cellular respiration and controls how well protons are pumped across the mitochondria membrane, which regulates the energy necessary to sustain life. CoQ10 also acts as a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from free radical and oxidative damage.
Studies indicate CoQ10, along with B6,10 is highly effective in preserving and restoring mental functions, as well as controlling immunity.11 It also appears to increase the heart's tolerance to a lack of oxygen,12 all problematic areas for chronic fatigue suffers.
L-carnitine. Weight trainers gave the amino acid L-carnitine its notoriety when they used the ergogenic substance to build muscle. It works by breaking down fats into fatty acids, which are transported into the cell's mitochondria to be burned as fuel.
Deficiencies of carnitine are associated with low energy levels and muscular weakness. Paradoxically, cellular energy production itself produces free radicals that can destroy cell structures, including the mitochondria, thus reducing the body's natural antioxidant pool and its neutralizing ability.13
Being an endogenous antioxidant (naturally present in the body), L-carnitine has the ability to maintain mitochondrial function by reversing age-associated mitochondrial decay and the natural cell auto-oxidation.14
Additionally, clinical trials show L-carnitine in its acetyl form (a combination of a organic acid with alcohol), can dramatically improve various neurological disorders,15 as well as minimize the mental confusion or fog associated with Alzheimer's.16
D-ribose. D-ribose, a naturally occurring carbohydrate, best known for its ability to increase cellular energy in heart and skeletal muscle, has also shown the ability to improve symptoms related to chronic fatigue.
In fact, Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, and scientists at the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Center in Dallas, found D-ribose significantly improved all five categories within the Visual Analog, such as energy, sleep, mental clarity, pain intensity and well being.24 In a study, 66 percent of the 41 patients nearly doubled their energy levels. They also noted a 30 percent improvement in overall well being.17,18
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, commonly abbreviated as NADA, is a compound found in all cells. NADA is responsible for the generation and transmission of energy within cells. Found abundantly within the mitochondria of the cell, NADA is also referred to as coenzyme 1, being the coenzyme form of the B-vitamin niacin. NADA is intimately involved with maintaining energy cycles that occur in human bio-energetic pathways, especially in the brain and nervous system.
Research shows that NADA supplementation can increase the production of dopamine, L-dopa and norepinephrine, which translates into improved vitality, mental clarity, alertness, energy production and better regulation of age-related cognitive decline.19
Fish oil. Fish oil also does its part in mitochondria regulation. In fact, a small study published in 2006 showed that dietary lipid replacement (LTR), preferably with n-polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as fish or flax seed oil, can restore mitochondrial function and energy. Forty-three percent of patients showed that LRT plus antioxidants reduced moderate to severe fatigue by 43.1 percent.
Scientists at the Clinical Research Center for Mental Health in Belgium reported that a strong co-morbidity exists between major depression and CFS. They concluded this is a direct result of decreased levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid.22
Although there is no known cure for chronic fatigue disorder, scientists continue to explore this complex condition. More studies are needed; however, many scientists contend that improving and preserving mitochondria function can enhance these patients' long-term quality of life.
George L. Redmon, PhD, ND,is an expert on nutritional supplements, herbal botanicals and holistic health care. Published in various health and alternative health care publications, he has also authored six books focusing on alternative ways to treat and manage arthritis, chronic fatigue, sexual dysfunction and prostate disturbances. Disclosure: Dr. Redmon indicates he has no commercial affiliations, directly or indirectly referenced within this article.
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