Category Archives: science

Marvellous Magnesium

Magnesium Infographic from Ontario Health

Magnesium Infographic from Ontario Health

In my Supplements post I briefly mentioned that I’ve found Magnesium really helpful.  I want to sing it’s praises a bit more in this post.

Magnesium in the body

Magnesium is crucial to many reactions in the body ,in particular those involving energy production in our mitochondria.  Dr Myhill gives an excellent explanation of Mitochondrial Failure in ME/CFS here.

According to MedlinePlus

Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heart beat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein.

Magnesium is crucial to our health, and yet many people are deficient in Magnesium.

Causes of Magnesium Deficiency

Our diets may not contain sufficient magnesium.  If you are eating lots of processed foods you are unlikely to be getting sufficient magnesium in your diet.  However, due to magnesium depletion in our soils even someone eating a whole-food diets may struggle to get enough magnesium.  The table below shows the decrease in magnesium in a British analysis of various foods between 1960 and 1994.

Another common cause of magnesium deficiency is malabsorption. If you have a damaged gut (e.g. IBS) even if you are eating enough magnesium you may not be absorping it into your body efficiently.

Other causes are medications which prevent/reduce magnesium absorption and alcoholism. Additionally flouride, found in toothpaste and some drinking water, may bind to magnesium and prevent absorption.

Blood Test for Magnesium Deficiency

If you’ve been diagnosed with ME/CFS you’ve probably had a lot of blood tests to exclude other diagnoses.  One of these may well have been serum of magnesium, which probably came back “normal”.  However,

 only 1 percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a simple sample of magnesium from a serum magnesium blood test not very useful.

Most magnesium is stored in your bones and organs, where it is used for many biological functions. Yet, it’s quite possible to be deficient and not know it, which is why magnesium deficiency has been dubbed the “invisible deficiency.”


Dr Myhill has an excellent article on Magnesium deficiency in CFS/ME.  She recommends magnesium injections.

Ways to Increase your Magnesium:

1. via diet.  Eating magnesium rich foods such as spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avacado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.

2. Epsom Salt baths are a relaxing way to absorb magnesium through the skin.  However, I found that although this helped my restless legs, it was not fully effective (I think I wasn’t getting enough magnesium this way).

3. Magnesium Oil: You can buy this in health food shops and spray it on your skin.  I have been experimenting with natural deodorants, and found this effective, so I spray it on my underarms and also on particularly achy muscles – usually my calves – before I go to bed.

4. Supplements: I have taken magnesium citrate and magnesium taurate.  The taurate was suggested by my nutritionist because of hormone imbalances.  I started taking the magnesium as a temporary solution to constipation and noticed that my restless legs stopped, my muscles ached less and I was sleeping better, so I stayed on it.  Recently I experimented with removing it, but my symptoms returned, so for now it’s staying.  I’ve also noticed since starting my training for the Coast to Coast cycle ride that on days with lots of physical activity it is helpful to me to increase my dose of magnesium citrate.

5. Magnesium injections:  This is what Dr Myhill recommends, but I haven’t used this method.  It may be worth raising with your GP to see if they will do this for you.

Can I overdose on magnesium?

Theoretically yes you can.  However  Dr Myhill says she has yet to see a red cell magnesium level that is too high and my nutritionist told me that I could safely take my multi vitamin containing some magnesium, magnesium citrate and magnesium taurate, and also have an epsom salt bath whenever I wanted.  I did not start using magnesium oil until after I had reduced my multivitamin and magnesium citrate and stopped taking magnesium taurate.

If you have kidney problems then you should be careful with magnesium supplementation, as in healthy people the kidneys get rid of excess magnesium.


Magnesium supplementation in various forms has really helped me, and is one of the few supplements I’m still taking.  If my experience resonates with you, then why not try increasing your magnesium intake?  You could start slowly by having epsom salt baths and increasing magnesium rich foods in your diet, although if you have a damaged gut you may not absorb magnesium from food efficiently.

If the epsom salt baths help, but don’t totally alleviate the symptoms (for me key symptoms were restless legs and muscle aches) then you may wish to consider oral supplements or talk to your GP about injections.  If you want to go the injection route I recommend printing out the relevant section of Dr MyHill’s site to show your GP.

Weightloss with ME/CFS

It’s the new year and I see several people in the PVF/ME/CFS/ facebook group I belong to setting resolutions to lose weight. Many people with PVF/ME/CFS find themselves putting on weight. This could be due to numerous factors, here’s a few that I thought of:

  • Some of the medication used to control symptoms can lead to weight gain;
  • When you haven’t got the energy to cook it’s all too easy to make poor food choices, a bag of crisps is much less effort than preparing a meal;
  • It’s tempting to comfort eat, the temporary pleasure derived from a bar of chocolate can be very appealing when your whole life has been turned upside down;
  • ME sufferers are a pretty inactive bunch so we can’t use exercise to help our weight.

Over the last 18 months I have listened to, and read, lots of information by Jonathan Bailor, he has a podcast (called at various times The Smarter Science of Slim, The Calorie Myth and now the SANE show). I started listening to Jonathan because I wanted to understand more about why the food I was eating was good for me, because what he was recommending for weight loss was virtually identical to what I was doing for health.

Jonathan was not trying to cure himself, or clients, of illness, but he was a personal trainer and could see the standard advice of eat less calories and do more exercise wasn’t working for many clients. He started reading research papers about diet and exercise and realised that the standard advice from the US government (very similar to the UK government advice), and taught to personal trainers is not based on science and in fact the research shows why this approach does not work.

The scientific evidence he reviewed showed that our weight is controlled by our hormones. When we eat our hormones will control what we store and what we excrete, based on our set point weight, which our body is balancing to. This is a completely different way of looking at weight loss/gain to the traditional calories in/calories out and explains why some people can eat lots and not gain weight and others seem to gain weight even when eating very little.

Over time our metabolism, controlled by hormones, can become “clogged”, and this causes our set point weight to increase. The research led Jonathan to focus on “unclogging”, which would then cause fat loss.

He concluded (from the research) that the way to effect this change is by eating a SANE diet. Where SANE stands for Satiety, Aggressiveness, Nutrient Density, and Efficiency.

If you classify foods this way you end up focussing on a diet with lots of non-starchy vegetables, some low sugar fruits, sufficient protein and some healthy fats. Wow – look how similar that is to the diet I’ve been following to improve my health, and recommended by people like Dr Terry Wahls for improving MS.

It turns out the diet to improve health and lose weight (for the long term) are nearly identical. 

I think hormones played a big part in my ME/CFS.  Although all my blood tests were normal I had several discussions with my nutritionist about how I showed symptoms of thyroid problems, and later symptoms of too little progesterone and/or too much oestrogen.  It therefore makes sense to me that a diet that improves hormones will improve ME symptoms and cause fat loss.

Of course you can lose weight in the short term by going on a low calorie diet, but most people cannot sustain this over the long term. You will be trying to work against your body, whereas, following the SANE/eating for health approach is about working with your body – providing the nutrients it needs to heal itself.

I am applauding all the great dietary changes I see – people swapping crisps and cakes for vegetables and fruits, eating more whole food and less processed food and being more concious of what they are eating. However I wish more people understood that focusing on increasing the nutrient density of their diet is much more important than counting calories.

I am lucky not to have gained weight whilst ill, I’ve changed my diet to improve my health.  If you’re in the position of wanting to do both then I encourage you to nourish your body with nutrient dense foods, not starve yourself on a low calorie diet.  Perhaps 2015 will be your year for better health and losing weight.

A Low GI Diet

One thing that most nutrition advice agrees on is that a low GI diet is better than a high GI diet.  Even the NHS ME/CFS clinic I attended recommended a low GI diet, and they didn’t give much nutritional guidance at all.

What is the GI?

GI = Glycemic Index.  The Glycemic Index is a measure of the speed at which carbohydrates break down in our digestive system into glucose. Glucose is indexed at 100 and all other foods are calculated against this.  For example cornflakes, which contain mainly carbohydrate, are digested quickly and have a GI of 77, whilst yoghurt has a much lower GI of 14.

Why is it Important?

Some carbohydrates break down quickly and flood the bloodstream with glucose, others break down more slowly, only marginally increasing blood sugar levels. (High GI foods increase blood sugar faster and higher than low GI foods).

In my post on sugar I explained how sugar causes a spike in blood glucose levels. Our body responds to this by releasing insulin, which reduces the level of glucose by diverting it into body tissues for short term use or storing it as fat. The surge of glucose followed by the rapid drain leaves us starved of energy, so we search for another sugar fix to bring us out of the slump. By knowing whether a food is high GI or low GI we can understand whether it is likely to increase our insulin levels.

Fat and protein can slow down the rapid absorption of carbohydrates in our digestive system.  Hence foods with higher fat content tend to have a lower GI.  For example whole milk has a lower GI than skimmed milk.

Is all low GI food good for us?

I’m sure you can guess the answer to this: No!

Whilst we should all avoid the highest GI foods (sugar and refined grains), just because a food is low GI does not mean it’s OK to eat huge amounts of. There are other things we need to consider:

  • Do I have a food allergy/bad reaction to this food?
  • Is this food inflammatory? (more information in a future post)
  • Is this food nutrient dense?
  • Am I eating a variety of foods?

What are the main recommendations of the GI diet?

  • Avoid heavily processed foods (these tend to have a high GI)
  • focus on low GI “slow release” foods
  • Eat plenty of wholegrains – many of the recipes add wheat bran
  • Eat regularly  – 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day
  • aim for your plate to have 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 wholegrains
  • avoid alcohol
  • drink plenty of water
  • eat plenty of vegetables
  • exercise is not essential for weight loss, but is good for long term health

I have the GI diet book by Rick Gallop.  Some of the thinking in the book seems outdated, particularly as to which fats we should be consuming. Many of the recipes rely on the addition of wheat bran as additional fibre, to lower the GI of the food.  I have a post about gluten sensitivity which explains the problems that gluten (found in wheat) can cause.   However, there are plenty of naturally low GI foods that we can eat without wheat.

My Experience

I first discovered the GI diet after having my second child.  I wanted to loose the “baby” weight and following the low GI diet worked really well for me.  I enjoyed the food, wasn’t hungry and it was a diet that the whole family could eat (except the baby).  I have recently learned that our family carries the gene for coeliac disease (I don’t yet know whether I have this gene).  As such, with hindsight, adding additional wheat bran into our food was not good for my family. My daughter and I currently follow a gluten free diet and hence avoid wheat.  However, there are plenty of low GI foods that we can, and should include in our diet.


The GI diet has lots of positive aspects, and much of the dietary advice agrees with advice from other diets e.g. my foods to eat more of and foods to eat less of posts. It is a good idea to avoid foods with a high GI, and it’s no coincidence that these are the highly processed foods: white flour, bread, cakes, sugar etc, which every healing diet I’ve read about recommends we avoid. However, whether a food is low GI is not the only criteria we should consider when we decide whether or not to consume it.

The Wahls Protocol

“The power of healing is within you. All you need to do is give your body what it needs and remove what is poisoning it. You can restore your own health by what you do—not by the pills you take, but by how you choose to live. When you eat and live in accordance with the needs of your cells, your body can finally concentrate on healing, and that is when the dramatic changes will happen for you.”

Dr Terry Wahls

I saw Dr Terry Wahl’s TEDx talk Minding Your Mitochondria a few months ago.  If you haven’t seen it yet I suggest you check it out.

Here’s a quick bullet point summary

  • Dr Wahls has MS
  • She went from using a tilt recline wheelchair to being able to walk unaided, cycle 30 miles and horseback ride.
  • She did all this via changes in diet, meditation electrical stimulation of her muscles and self massage.
  • She recommends eating a paleo diet with 3 cups of green vegetables, 3 cups of sulphur rich vegetables(cabbage and onion family, mushrooms and asparagus) and 3 cups of colourful vegetables each day.

She is proof that the functional medicine approach to chronic disease works and she is now working on clinical trials to prove it to the wider medical community. In the meantime she’s sharing the information she has learned in a new book: The Wahls Protocol.  I’ve pre-ordered it and I’m looking forward to reading it next month.

Meanwhile if you’re struggling with ME/CFS, MS or any other chronic disease I hope her TED talk gives you hope that things can change.




I confess. I’m a sugar addict. I gave up sugar for several months in the spring/summer of 2012 when my determination to get well overcame my desire to consume the white stuff. Then I went on holiday, slipped off the wagon and (because holidays are a relaxing time with few demands) improved. That destroyed my motivation to go back on a sugar free diet, and although I’ve had a few attempts at it since I’ve not managed to kick the habit. I’m doing my best to minimise my consumption, but I frequently succumb to some dark chocolate, or my daughter’s baking.

A sugar free diet is crucial if you are someone who is suffering from Candida or Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). It’s also an ideal for all of us. There is plenty of evidence that sugar is bad for us, and unlike some foods e.g. caffeine and red wine where there are health claims that in some way counter balance the negative effects I’m not aware of any beneficial health claims for sugar.

What’s the problem with Refined Sugar?

Whole books have been written about sugar. Since I want to keep this post fairly brief, I’ll focus on the main issues for ME/CFS sufferers:

Nutritional Value

It’s empty calories – no micronutrients, just pure carbohydrate. To heal our bodies we should be aiming for optimum nutrition from our food, refined sugar is absolutely wrong in this respect.

Blood sugar, insulin and weight gain

Sugar is absorbed into our blood stream quickly leading to a spike in blood glucose levels. Our body responds to this by releasing insulin, which reduces the level of glucose by diverting it into body tissues for short term use or storing it as fat. The surge of glucose followed by the rapid drain leaves us starved of energy, so we search for another sugar fix to bring us out of the slump. Insulin also inhibits the conversion of body fat back into glucose for the body to burn. Since high insulin levels prevent the body from burning fat if you want to lose weight it is important to keep your insulin levels low. You may have been advised to eat low GI food -this was the only nutritional advice I got from the NHS ME/CFS clinic I attended. Low GI foods break down in your digestive system at a slow, steady rate and hence do not cause such a spike in insulin levels.

Hormone Regulation

ME/CFS sufferers often have difficulty regulating their hormones, due to problems with the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Thus putting stress on this system, by eating lots of sugar and needing our hormones to balance is not a good idea.

Gut Bacteria

Bacteria in our gut carry out many important functions. You can read more about that in A Healthy Gut. There are many factors that can affect our bacteria, (see what causes damage to our gut). One of the factors that can have an adverse effect on our gut bacteria is Sugar. The “bad” bacteria feed on sugar and increase in number. This crowds out the “good” bacteria and can lead to a damaged gut.

My Experience

I know if I eat a lot of sugar I don’t feel good. I get shaky and weak. It’s not a nice feeling. On my 40th birthday my friends threw a small get together for me (it was all I could cope with). They baked cakes and whilst they were drinking wine, they knew I wasn’t drinking alcohol, so they had bought a selection of soft drinks for me. I was touched by the effort they had put into the evening, and whilst normally I politely decline soft drinks and stick to water I did imbibe on this occasion, along with plenty of cake (it was my birthday after all). That night I woke up at about 3 am with my heart pounding – fight or flight at its best. When I spoke to my nutritionist about this she explained it was probably due to my body trying to process the sugar – in particular my liver struggling to cope with blood so high in glucose. In simple terms my liver was struggling so the body helped by going into emergency (fight of flight mode). This experience was unpleasant enough to ensure that when I do eat sugar I usually limit the quantity and try to eat it with other foods, especially fat and/or protein which helps moderate the effect.

A way forward

If you’re eating a high sugar and high refined carbohydrate diet, don’t try and make a sudden change. Instead aim for a gradual change. Think of one thing you are going to change this week. For example, perhaps you will stop drinking fizzy pop and replace it with water and/or herbal tea, or perhaps you will swap your daily mars bar for a square of dark chocolate and an apple. As I said in increasing or decreasing it is easier to focus on what you want to increase in your diet rather than what you are decreasing.

Writing this article has made me more mindful of my own sugar consumption. I am not ready to commit to going sugar free again at the moment, but I am going to take a look at my sugar habit and think about how to reduce it further.


It may seem to you that all has been quiet on this blog, but I have been beavering away and I’m really pleased to announce that my pages about meditation are all now live.

Some of the pages have been available for a few days and I apologise to anyone who read them and tried to follow the links.  I discovered several of them were broken.  I have now checked and repaired them all.

You can find all the pages about meditation under the other helpful stuff tab, but to make things easier, here are direct links to all the pages.


New page – fight or flight

Today I’ve put a new page up all about the fight or flight/maladaptive stress response.  Since I’m not sure you get updated when I post a new page, I’m writing a post about it too.

It ended up quite long, as for me it’s a really important component of my ME/CFS.  If you have brain fog and struggle to read long articles, break it up into sections.

I hope you find it useful.  I always enjoy feedback so feel free to leave comments.

Here’s the page link again fight or flight/maladaptive stress response.

Gut microbes video

I came across this animation which does a great job of explaining why microbes are important to our health.

Should you go gluten free?

              • Bone or joint pain,
              • muscle cramps,
              • leg numbness,
              • chronic fatigue,
              • abdominal pain,
              • headaches,
              • foggy mind,
              • diahorrea,
              • weight loss,
              • eczma and rashes,
              • depression,
              • anemia,
              • behavioural changes.

This is a list of symptoms for Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) source.  There is a lot of overlap with CFS/ME symptoms, so If, like me, you read this list and identify with several symptoms then perhaps it’s time to try cutting out gluten for a few weeks and see if things improve.

What is gluten

Gluten is a protein found in Wheat, Barley and Rye.  It is made up of two main groups of protein glutenins and gliadins.

Wheat Allergy, Coeliac Disease, Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity

There are three different types of reaction to wheat proteins; Wheat Allergy, Coeliac Disease and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).

  • Wheat Allergy is a classic food allergy and is an adverse immunologic reaction to wheat proteins.  I won’t be discussing this further in this article.
  • Coeliac Disease is an auto-immune condition where the reaction to gluten causes damage to the small intestine.  There is a good explanation of how gluten contributes to Coeliac Disease and damages the gut at SCD lifestyle.
  • In Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity consuming gluten does not cause damage to the small intestine, but there is an immune response.  People with NCGS are more likely to have non-GI symptoms such as headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers.  The symptoms can occur hours or days after gluten has been eaten source.  There seems to be some confusion in the literature as to whether people with NCGS have a damaged gut.  my understanding is that damage can be present, but it’s not caused by gluten (because that would change the diagnosis to Coeliac Disease).   This post lists the other causes damage to our gut.

More detail on the differences between these three types of reaction to wheat/gluten can be found in this paper if you’re interested. In all three conditions the immune system is activated, but in different ways.

There are tests available for Wheat Allergy and Coeliac Disease, although it’s possible to get false negatives in Coeliac Disease diagnosis.  There is currently no test that can diagnose NCGS. Therefore it will not have been excluded as part of your diagnosis of CFS/ME.

What happens to gluten in a healthy gut

Digestion of Wheat Proteins happens in two stages in healthy individuals:

1. Stomach – Digestive juices produced by the stomach wall split the proteins  into peptides.  These peptides move to the small intestine for the second stage of the process.

2. Small Intestine –In the small intestine they are subjected to pancreatic juices and then reach the intestinal wall where they are broken down by enzymes in the gut lining.  Even in a healthy gut these peptides are resistant to digestion.

What happens to Gluten in a Damaged Gut

With damaged gut flora the second stage of the digestion process does not happen, as a result the peptides get absorbed into the body and cause problems: in particular, problems with brain function and the immune system.  A damaged gut is one of the characteristics of Coeliac Disease, and can also be present, but usually to a lesser extent in NCGS.

Can I have Gluten Sensitivity if I have a healthy gut.

The simple answer is Yes.  The sources I have read here and here agree that NCGS can occur when there is no increase in intestinal permeability.  It is an immune reaction.


It is possible to have Coeliac Disease or NCGS and be unaware, because the reaction to eating gluten is sometimes delayed by several hours or days.  Given that most people eat gluten containing foods several times a day the best way to see if you react to gluten is to remove it from your diet completely for 2 weeks and see if you notice a difference.

I know first hand how daunting it is to make a major change in your diet when you are suffering from CFS/ME.  I explain in this post how our family coped with changing to a gluten free diet for first my daughter and then me.

There is plenty of clear evidence that NCGS does exist, but this does not seem to be widely known by many doctors.  If you want advice from your doctor about whether you should try a gluten free diet I suggest you first question them on their knowledge of NCGS.  If they are not aware that the condition exists and that there is medical evidence to support this, they are not in a position to give you advice about going gluten free.

Please note that I have no medical training and my recommendation in this post is based on the reading I have done and my own experience of following a gluten free diet.




I’ve just been made aware of this amazing TED talk.

I highly recommend you sit somewhere comfy for 17 minutes and watch it.  What this lady has achieved by changing her diet is inspiring.

If you feel like reaching for a biscuit, cake or bread roll, watch this video first.