What could a bunch of overweight, cigarette smoking, high blood pressured or diabetic Spanish people tell about a diet for chronic fatigue syndrome? Perhaps a lot.
No one diet will be right for everyone with ME/CFS but a very large recent Spanish dietary study that was called a ‘watershed moment in the field of nutrition’ suggests that diet can make a difference, a large difference, in a person’s cardiovascular risk.The study suggested that no less than 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease could be prevented in individuals that are at high risk of cardiovascular events (stroke, heart problems) if they switched to a Mediterranean diet featuring olive oil, nuts, white meat, fish, beans, fruits and vegetables
Why does this matter to people with chronic fatigue syndrome? Because the nature of their disorder may very well put them into the high cardiovascular risk category. First let’s take a look at the study.
The Mediterranean Diet Study
The participants in this study were at high risk for heart attacks because they were obese, smoked, had diabetes or other conditions and many were already taking powerful drugs to counter that risk.
One group was assigned to take at least 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil every day and another group was instructed to an ounce of a nut mix (almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts) a day. They were to eat at least three servings of fruit and two servings of vegies a day, eat fish and legumes three times a week, to eat white meat instead of red, and, if they were wine drinkers to drink at least seven glasses a wine a week with meals. A third group was assigned to a low fat diet.
All the groups were asked to avoid processed foods, reduce dairy consumption and processed meats.
The researchers assessed compliance by measuring markers of olive oil consumption (hydroxytyrosol) and nut consumption (alpha-linolenic acid). It turned out that the participants had no trouble consuming either; the low fat diet participants, however, soon flopped and were back to their normal diet of red meat, processed food and soda’s.
Neither group was asked to exercise more or change in any other way. A substantial number were probably couch potatoes but it didn’t matter; somehow the diet still worked and, in fact, appeared to be more successful than many drugs in reducing the risk for cardiovascular events.
While cardiovascular events still did occur to some individuals, thestudies findings were impressive enough that the trial ended early.
Another High Risk Group – This One
Several research groups have reported raised levels of oxidative stress, low-grade inflammation and increased arterial stiffness. These different evidential strands form a picture of increased cardiovascular risk in people with the illness, something of great potential importance to patients and healthcare services. MERUK Research on ME/CFS
Thankfully three major risk factors for heart disease; high blood pressure, obesity and hopefully smoking do not appear to be common in ME/CFS. Several other features, though, make it difficult to see how cardiovascular risk (the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes) could not be increased. Inactivity is a major risk factor and few people are able to tolerate even the minimal activity level – 30 minutes of brisk walking a day – found to be protective against heart disease (and other disorders such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer , etc.).
The low heart rate variability findings common in ME/CFS are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and mortality. Increased c-reactive protein findings suggest ME/CFS patients are at increased risk of atherosclerosis and possibly heart disease. Significantly increased levels of oxidative stress and lipid factors (higher levels of isoprostances, oxidized LDL lipoproteins, HDL cholesterol, lower levels of LDL cholesterol) and increased arterial stiffness – all could place people with ME/CFS at increased risk of early cardiovascular disease. (A study attempting to reduce the arterial stiffness with vitamin D supplementation is under way.) Dr. Cheney believes reduced diastolic heart outflows play a major role in this disorder.
The danger that some sort of cardiovascular event (heart problems, stroke….) showing up at some point appears real ; the good news is that the Spanish study participants were in pretty bad shape themselves; they were either overweight or smoked or had diabetes other risk factors and while the diet didn’t stop the group from having cardiovascular events it significantly reduced the number of events they had.
This diet is something to think about.
Not So Virginal After All – Choosing Your Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive not only tastes good but has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties and one of the group in the study took at least 4 tablespoons a day. They used extra virgin olive oil (first press) – something that may be hard, believe it or not, to find given that that a UC Davis study found that up to 70% of store bought olive oils arewatered down with canola, sunflower and other oils. In fact an entire book has been written on the scams perpetuated on consumers of this unique and delicious oil.
How tell if you’ve actually purchased real olive oil? One blog recommended putting the bottle in the fridge to see if thickens and becomes cloudy. A better way to ensure that’s it real is purchase from the few manufacturers oils that passed a UC Davis test in 2010 (California Olive Ranch, Lucero (Ascolano), McEvoy Ranch Organic, Corto Olive, and Kirkland Organic). You might also focus more on California olive oils because these oils – which must pass stricter standards, were far less likely to be bogus than European oils.
Back to the Stone-Age: The ME/CFS Mediterranean Diet? – Dr. Myhill’s ‘Stone -Age’ Diet
Dr. Myhill’s ‘Stone-Age’ diet may be the Mediterranean diet for ME/CFS patients. Low on processed foods and sweets, dairy and grains, and high on vegies, meats and oils, if you were to take the known problems in ME/CFS and tweak the Mediterranean diet to account for them, you’d probably come up with something like Dr. Myhill’s diet.
The basic thrust of the two diets – to reduce carbohydrates and increase fat intake is similar. Myhill’s diet includes more protein (meat) – probably a good idea for ME/CFS patients, does not reduce red meat intake, does not include grains or fruits (gut issues) and limits legumes and nuts initially for many patients.
It’s a high vegie, high fat, high oil, high meat diet…Cut out the fruits, reduce the grains, up the meat a bit and you have your Stone-age Mediterranean diet for ME/CFS.
The Starter Stone-Age Diet
- Any meats: choose from chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, duck, ‘game’ meats such as venison, pheasant, goose etc. Bacon and ham. Salami. Liver, kidney and offal are fine too. Fatty meat is ideal and tastes wonderful!
- Eggs - an excellent source of lecithin (eat soft yolks).
- Any fish: salmon, mackerel, cod, haddock (care with smoked fish which often contains dyes). Tinned fish in brine or olive oil is fine. Tinned shrimps, prawns, mussels, cockles etc.
- Any green vegetables
- All salads: avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery, peppers, onion, cress, bamboo shoots, mushrooms etc.
- French dressing: make your own from olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard.
- Use cold pressed nut and seed oils liberally such as sunflower, olive, sesame, grapeseed, hemp, linseed, rape and so on.
- Spices and herbs: chilli, cumin, ginger, coriander, pepper, cloves etc
- Herbs, salt (ideally Solo – a sodium reduced sea salt), olives, pork scratchings
Additions – If all gut fermentation issues are resolved she recommends following low carbohydrate foods
- Dark chocolate at least 70% cocoa solids.
- Seeds: sunflower, poppy, sesame.
- Nuts: peanut, Brazil, hazel, cashew, pistachio, walnut etc.; nut butter spreads, tahini (sesame seed spread).
- Pulses: when cooked these are rich in starches and vegetable fibre the latter is excellent but some people will ferment the starch in pulses
- Oats and oatcakes
Diet and Recipes
Check out Myhill’s Stone-Age Diet here
Given the increased cardiovascular risk factors that must be present in this disorder the Mediterranean diet study provides hope that it or some variant of it may help reduce the chance ME/CFS patients have bumping into some big, nasty physical issues in the futures. What’s your diet like?
Olive oil anyone?