May 12th has been designated as the Day for International Awareness of Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases. But what does this mean? It’s clear that we need a day to promote awareness around these oft debilitating conditions that can take years to diagnose. These diseases include Fibromyalgia (FM), Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).
The date of May 12th was chosen because it was Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Florence became a nurse in the mid-1800s, and she is considered the founder of modern nursing. She is thought to have suffered from ME/CFS, though of course that was not recognized at the time.
Because these syndromes have many things in common and they can be difficult to diagnose, these diseases have sometimes been categorized together under the heading of Chronic Disease Syndrome (CDS).
What Is Chronic Disease Syndrome?
Chronic Disease Syndrome is characterized by long-term, often progressive symptoms that are not easy to diagnose. Many of the symptoms of CDS are shared with other conditions, which can make it difficult for a doctor to pinpoint the cause. Because there are currently no specific blood tests or imaging tools (Xray, CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, etc.) that can be used to diagnose these conditions, diagnosis comes from a thorough assessment that analyzes the timing of onset, history of illness, details of symptoms, and more, while ruling out other known diseases and conditions.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that was first named in 1988, but we still don’t know that much about it. When, in the mid 1980s, there were two large outbreaks of mystery illness in New York and Nevada that resembled mononeucleosis, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated, couldn’t find a cause, and gave it a name—CFS.
This syndrome remains difficult to diagnose, but the severe and chronic fatigue must have lasted for at least six months, other conditions must be ruled out, and at least four defined symptoms must be present, including from the list of muscle pain and weakness, headaches, insomnia, tender lymph nodes, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, depression, mood swings, light sensitivity, and more.
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a term that has been around in various forms for decades but remains poorly understood and highly unrecognized. It is a chronic and complex disease that affects the brain and nervous system. Myalgia means muscle aches and pains, while encephalomyelitis refers to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. ME causes severe exhaustion, as well as problems with thinking and memory. ME can also make it hard to do simple things like stand up or walk around. Additionally, some people have trouble talking because they’re too tired to form words properly.
People who have ME experience extreme fatigue—more than just feeling tired after an activity or task—and this fatigue can last for weeks at a time without any relief from rest or sleep. Other symptoms include dizziness when standing up quickly, muscle pain, difficulty concentrating, headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and sensitivity to light and noise.
Because it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, ME and CFS are often combined to a diagnosis of ME/CFS.
- Fibromyalgia (FM)
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain syndrome that can affect people of all ages, though it more commonly affects women and often starts in middle age. It is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and cognitive issues. The cause of FM isn’t well understood but it may be related to abnormalities in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).People with FM often feel tenderness to touch where even light pressure can cause pain. The diagnosis used to include having to describe at least 11 of 18 listed “tender points,” but now diagnosis includes having widespread pain for at least three months and that other conditions have been ruled out.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
Also known as Chemical Sensitivity (CS), Chemical Intolerance (CI), and Idiopathic Environmental Illness (IEI), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a condition that is widely debated in the medical community. The symptoms are varied, but can include headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, memory loss, confusion, rashes, and asthma.
We are well aware that we are heavily exposed to a wide variety of chemicals, and some chemicals and substances are highly recognized as being harmful to our health, including asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic, tobacco smoke, and PCBs. But some people appear to be more sensitive to lower levels of environmental chemicals, and they can experience severe symptoms, especially when exposed to things with a high degree of synthetic and scented additives like perfumes, cleaning products, body care products, plastics, new carpets and furniture, and pesticides.
A Common Thread
While each of these syndromes has its own system of acquiring a diagnosis, they share many symptoms, are all difficult to diagnose, and sufferers of these conditions are often told its “all in your head.” More recently, it seems that Long COVID can also be added to this list of chronic, debilitating syndromes.
Personalized care that calms the nervous system, supports a healthy immune response, and strengthens organ function is key to address Chronic Disease Syndrome.
Managing Chronic Disease Syndrome (CDS)
While conventional medicine can offer pharmaceuticals to try to manage symptoms, there are many key things you can do to improve your condition. It should come as no surprise that the first things you can do are to make healthy lifestyle choices.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep allows your body to rest and recuperate, which can help you feel better during the day. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try being consistent with a wind-down routine like taking a warm bath before bedtime, reading, doing some gentle stretches, listening to relaxing music, meditating, or practicing breath work. You may also want to speak with your healthcare provider about natural remedies to help improve sleep quality and quantity.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eating the right foods can help manage Chronic Disease Syndrome. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide you with the nutrients you need to maintain good health. Make sure to also include enough high-quality proteins and good fats. Good bacteria found in fermented foods (or probiotic supplements) are also important to maintain a healthy immune response.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for some form of physical activity every day. This depends on your ability, as fatigue and pain can make everything challenging. Activity can be divided up into short segments through the day, rather than done in one block of time. For some this will mean gentle stretches and joint mobility. For others it will mean walking a block or doing a household chore like dusting. As your health improves, this might mean upgrading to walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator or riding your bike instead of driving your car. The important thing is that you do what you can for movement activities, make it important, and do your best not to get discouraged. Physical activity also helps reduce stress levels which can help treat CDS as well.
How Reishi Mushrooms Can Help Treat Chronic Disease Syndromes
While there is currently little known about these chronic disease syndromes, one way that people have found success managing their symptoms is to take reishi mushroom supplements.
Reishi mushroom is an adaptogenic herb. That means it can help with a wide range of symptoms caused by stressors to the body, returning the body to a state of homeostasis, or balance. As a Qi tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), reishi can address symptoms of fatigue. It also supports the liver and kidneys, organs key to removing toxins from the body.
Perhaps even more importantly, reishi is classified as an herb to calm the nervous system and modulate the immune system. Since one aspect that seems common to all these chronic disease syndromes is a hypersensitive, hyper-reactive response by the nervous system, calming the nervous system without causing drowsiness can help CDS sufferers find relief. Additionally, because it is suspected that a potential cause of some of these conditions may be a chronic, lingering viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection that disrupts immune function, a remedy that supports the immune system is also thought to be helpful. But you don’t want to just stimulate a strong immune response because there are aspects of CDS that seem to act like autoimmune issues. So, a modulated response like that offered by reishi’s polysaccharide and triterpene compounds is ideal.
If you suffer from one of these chronic disease syndromes, Japanese red reishi supplements may help you on your journey to wellness.