ME/CFS and Supplements: 1. Essential Fatty Acids

There is a huge range of dietary supplements that are recommended by various alternative health practitioners for this condition. I, like many others, have found myself trying all sorts of things and perhaps sticking to some with blind faith even though I’m not really sure that they are helping. This time around the prohibitive cost of many has forced me to take a much more ruthless approach to letting go of anything I’m really not sure about. I also only ever try something new one at a time so that I can observe any new benefits. From time to time I stop taking certain supplements (again one at a time) to see if I can do without them. I now feel more confident that I am getting some benefit from those that I have chosen to continue with. This is the first of many posts where I will explore the supplements that I have found helpful and why I take them. However this is not meant as a recommendation. Each of us must take responsibility for our own decisions and making sure that they are adequately informed. If in doubt consult your doctor or alternative health practitioner.

However I would recommend that when you choose to take a supplement you introduce each new one, one at a time. I would also suggest that you record your symptoms and general state of wellbeing before and after to observe if and how they make a difference. From time to time, if you are well enough to experiment with not taking one, it’s a good idea to cut it out for a few weeks and see if there are any ill effects. If there are you can resume taking them with confidence, if not you might want to economise.

One thing that is important is to make sure that the combination of your supplements does not lead to you taking too much of a particular ingredient. For example my multivitamin and my magnesium tablets both contain a range of B vitamins so I have checked that the combination does not exceed the recommended upper tolerable limits. Some people can also find the non-active ingredients of a supplement can cause problems so you might also want to take care that you’re not taking too much of a particular bulking agent, for example.

I am starting with essential fatty acids (EFA’s) because it appears to me that this is the supplement that is best supported by research findings. In his book ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a natural way to treat M.E.’, Professor Basant K. Puri explains the benefits of a fatty acid supplement that contains pure EPA and virgin evening primrose oil (GLA) excluding another particular fatty acid (DHA). He argues that this combination allows us to produce all the essential omega 3 and omega 6 oils that are important to our health, taking into consideration the problems that a viral illness may cause with these processes. His review of the relevant research (including his own) suggests that some of the many health benefits of this supplement include the fact that it can improve our sleep, improve our energy production and help us to fight viral infection. He recommends a dose of 8 capsules of vegEPA a day obtainable from (a product he invented). He also suggests that in order to get maximum benefit from essential fatty acid supplements it is also important to have enough of the following nutrients provided by your diet. Folic acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, Niacin, Biotin, Vitamin C, Zinc, Selenium and Magnesium. For a detailed review of this book see this link.

Essential fatty acid supplements also seem to be one of the few supplements that the ME association considers there to be sufficient evidence of some benefit. They stock a supplement called Efamarine which contains a different combination of GLA, EPA and DHA and can be ordered from their website (click on the order form for leaflets and books). If you have other conditions and/or take any medication it’s important to consult your doctor when considering introducing this supplement. The action for ME website questions the benefits of EFA’s at this link.

The disadvantage of this supplement is that for the benefits to show it has to be taken in large amounts. It is also thought that the benefits will only show up after they have been taken for up to 3 months so it could be quite a costly experiment. There are rumours that some GP’s might prescribe these supplements for ME patients so it’s always worth asking. One criticism of some essential fatty acid supplements is that the fish oils that they are extracted from may be very high in toxins. Certain supplements claim that their extraction process minimises the risk of this kind of contamination.

I take the vegetarian version of vegEPA: echiomega. But because of its prohibitive cost I combine it with cheaper evening primrose oil supplements and a spoon full of hemp oil following the advice on Dr Myhill’s website. I also make bread and pastries out of ground up linseeds to further increase my essential fatty acid intake.

The most obvious benefit I experienced after taking these supplements for about a month was that my sleep became more refreshing, which had a knock on effect in terms of a general improvement to my condition. I haven’t yet had a break from this supplement because it would take a while to get out of my system and I’ve decided to trust it for the time being.

Do you take essential fatty acid supplements? Which ones? What’s your experience?

1 thought on “ME/CFS and Supplements: 1. Essential Fatty Acids”

  1. I personally am taking evening primerose oil, and hempseed oil. and olive oil and organic/raw butter everyday. eating my fats make me feel less prone to sugar cravings. I am 100% sure of that ! when I don’t eat enough fats, I start feeling nervous for carbs again. healthy fats, fibers, proteins, and the right kind of carbs, have been a game changer to help with my digestion AND beat my sugar addiction. Beating my sugar addiction has made my tummy so much happier !! ! !!
    I would take clean fish oils everyday or every other day, if I was 100% sure they are not sensitizing me to having rashes. I got my first two rashes last year, and it was during my two tests with the fish oil.
    I am taking the fish oil for some periods during the year, but outside my allergic season, twice a week by precaution, as I am not eating lots of EPA rich food.

    I am taking primerose oil as a blood test pointed out that I don’t have the ability to convert the lipids I am normally eating in my diet into GLA and DGLA (lack of an enzyme called delta-desaturase / mineral deficiency in selenium and zink) _ the blood test is called “red blood cell fatty acid profile” _ do I have results regarding the lowering effect of GLA on inflammation? well, I am not sure about that. I still get “hot muscles” when I am overexerting myself. but where would I be if I didn’t compensate the lack of GLA / DGLA ? that’s hard to know ! I am trusting the blood test and taking my GLA !!

    I did have an effect in reducing the pain due to inflammation that-day-of-the-month during my periods. I had no pain at all some of the months this year. that is improvement.
    I guess it shows the ‘inflammation bucket’ is reducing.


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