Rebecca Cotterall is a very busy 25-year-old. As well as running a successful nutritional therapy practice from her home in Chorley, UK, she also writes a monthly healthy-eating column for a local magazine, and regularly gives inspirational and educational talks to students and fellow practitioners. She even finds the time to volunteer at her local church and take her dog, Fudge, for walks in the park in between meeting clients.
You'd never know she has chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)—a condition that used to leave her bedbound and unable to feed or dress herself. "I can't believe how far I've come," says Rebecca. "I'm healthy and live a pretty normal life."
But the journey to get where she is now was a long and difficult one.
Rebecca was first struck down with the symptoms of CFS at the age of 13. "It just hit me," she recalls. "I was exhausted. I couldn't get out of bed, and my mom had to do everything for me. I even struggled to chew my food."
Rebecca was previously a top-grade student and an avid swimmer who had no problem clocking up 100 laps at the pool a couple of times a week. So doctors were suspicious when her energy levels suddenly plummeted.
But after being monitored in the hospital for three weeks, Rebecca was diagnosed with CFS and given a wheelchair to get around. "There was nothing much they could do for me," said Rebecca. "I just had to live with it."
Living with it at that age meant attending a "special school" for an hour three times a week, when Rebecca felt well enough, and seeing friends at home for just 20 minutes at a time. "Luckily my mom wasn't working," said Rebecca. "Caring for me was a full-time job."
Remarkably, Rebecca managed to finish high school and went on to attend college, by which point she felt "marginally better." At 18, determined not to miss out on the experiences her friends were having, she enrolled at Leeds Metropolitan University to study marketing, with hopes of working in the fashion industry, and decided to move out of home.
But she suffered a relapse just three weeks into her term, and ended up having to quit and move back in with her parents.
"I was in a worse state than I was when it all started," said Rebecca. "Really bad depression set in. I thought: 'Am I ever going to get better? Am I ever going to be able to do anything with my life?' I was suicidal."
The root of the problem
Rebecca was prescribed antidepressants and started having cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, to manage her depression. But what she really wanted was a way to beat her chronic fatigue, which was what was causing her to feel so low.
Fortunately, a doctor Rebecca was seeing recommended she get in touch with Dr Sarah Myhill, a specialist in CFS, who has treated thousands of patients with the condition since graduating from medical school in 1981.
Dr Myhill had a very different approach to treating CFS compared to the conventional medical approach, Rebecca discovered—one that aimed to uncover and treat what was actually causing the CFS in the first place. "I went to see her in Wales, and she talked to me like a real person. She came up with clear strategies to tackle the CFS."
One of the strategies was a 'Stone Age' diet—a stark contrast to Rebecca's typical teenage diet of lots of carbs, processed foods and fizzy drinks. Myhill believes that the standard Western diet is responsible for a whole range of health symptoms, including fatigue, so she generally recommends a Stone Age diet—also known as the 'Paleolithic' or 'Caveman' diet—to all her patients.
"I cut out gluten, refined sugar, dairy and all processed foods," said Rebecca. "I focused on eating whole foods including fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and good-quality meat, and drinking lots of filtered water."
Dr Myhill also arranged for Rebecca to undergo several tests to establish how well her mitochondria—the power generators of the cells—and adrenal glands were functioning, and whether she had high levels of toxic heavy metals. "It turned out my mitochondria were on the floor," said Rebecca, "and I had high levels of nickel."
Based on her results, Dr Myhill recommended a detox regimen for Rebecca to follow, which included avoiding common toxic chemicals as much as possible and taking far infrared (FIR) saunas. She also gave her a list of supplements to take, including coenzyme Q10, magnesium, and vitamins C and B12.
Rebecca and her family also did some detective work of their own.
They'd suspected for some time that Rebecca might be suffering from Lyme disease—an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria spread by a tick bite—as she'd been bitten by a tick at the age of eight. At the time, they didn't think much of it or see a doctor, but later, they began to wonder whether the CFS and tick bite might be connected.
Lyme disease is known to cause symptoms that can resemble CFS,1 and viral or bacterial infection is known to be a possible cause of CFS.2
Although Rebecca's two standard tests for Lyme disease came back negative, encouraged by Dr Myhill, Rebecca and her parents contacted ArminLabs in Germany, a specialist laboratory that tests for chronic infections originating from tick-borne diseases, and sent a sample of her blood for the highly sensitive ELISpot test. "The test came back positive for Lyme disease," said Rebecca.
With this new diagnosis, Rebecca then added another strategy to her anti-fatigue program: an herbal treatment called the Cowden Support Program, developed by Dr Lee Cowden for late-stage Lyme disease and related infections. "It's a regimen of different herbs designed to kill off the Lyme bacteria in the blood," said Rebecca. It's a protocol she still uses today.
No quick fix
It took a lot of time and commitment, but Rebecca's health gradually began to improve.
"It was a good 12 months before I noticed a real difference," said Rebecca. "But I stuck to it. I'm a very determined person."
Rebecca improved to such an extent that she felt she was ready to study again. But she didn't go back to her old university. Instead, she enrolled at the UK's College of Naturopathic Medicine with a new dream of becoming a nutritional therapist. "After seeing the results of a better diet and lifestyle, I knew I wanted to help others like me with this newfound knowledge."
It took her five years instead of the usual three—Rebecca was still recovering and had to pace herself to cope with the work—but, in June 2015, Rebecca graduated with a diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition.
"It was great because what I was learning about I could use to help myself."
By August, Rebecca had set up her own business, Hello Healing, and was already seeing clients, the majority of whom also had CFS. "I feel I give my clients hope as they can see how much I have improved."
Today, Rebecca says she feels so much better and can't quite believe the dramatic turnaround in her health. "Now I lead a normal life, and have a busy social life with no fatigue or pain. And the wheelchair is long gone."
Rebecca hopes that if she continues with the diet and lifestyle changes as well as the herbal remedies, she will continue to improve.
"It's a lot harder than just taking a pill; it takes a lot of time and effort," she says. "But the payoff is so good."
Symptoms of CFS
• Very poor stamina (you can do things, but only for a few seconds before tiring)
• Delayed fatigue (symptoms persist for 24 hours when you overdo things)
• Poor short-term memory
• 'Foggy brain'
• Malaise (feeling ill)
• Muscle pain or weakness
• Joint pain
• Hypersensitivity to noise, light and/or smells
• Poor temperature control
• Tendency to suffer recurrent infections
• Mood swings
Dr Myhill's must-dos
Dr Sarah Myhill has spent more than 30 years studying and treating chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which she describes in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Hammersmith Health Books, 2014) as not a diagnosis, but a clinical picture of symptoms that can have many causes.
- One of these causes is diet, Myhill believes, specifically a diet high in allergens, artificial additives and foods with a high glycemic index (GI). This is why she recommends a Stone Age diet, which is low GI, avoids common allergens like grains and dairy, and is as natural as possible. Foods allowed on this diet include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, low-carb fruit, nuts, seeds, and coconut and olive oils.
- Besides a change of diet, Myhill also has a number of other must-dos for treating CFS, many of which are aimed at boosting the function of mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells:
- Correct mitochondrial function with d-ribose, magnesium injections, NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), acetyl-l-carnitine and coenzyme Q10
- Address poor antioxidant status with B12, coenzyme Q10, SOD (superoxide dismutase) and glutathione peroxidase
- Get plenty of sleep so mitochondria can be repaired: aim for nine hours between 9:30 pm and 6:30 am
- Try detox regimens, if needed, such as far infrared (FIR) saunas and chelation therapy, to unload heavy metals, pesticides, social poisons (alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs), volatile organic compounds and prescription drugs
- Optimize gut function by making sure you have sufficient stomach acid, pancreatic function and fermentation in the large bowel
- Pace your activities to avoid undue mitochondrial stress
- Address secondary damage such as immune disturbances, hormone gland (like the thyroid) failure and slow liver detoxification
- Correct underlying problems such as underactive thyroid, underactive adrenals and low melatonin levels
- Identify chronic allergies/infections, which can arise from fermentation in the gut caused by microbes to which the immune system is reacting inappropriately.
For more information on Dr Myhill's approach to CFS, see her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalitis, recently released in an updated second edition.
contacts and resources
Myhill S. Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalitis: It's Mitochondria, Not Hypochondria (Hammersmith Health Books, 2017), available online at Amazon and
College of Naturopathic Medicine:
tel: 03331 210 305
The Cowden Support Program: