Is stress making you “hibernate”? (Surprising!)

This Wednesday marks the fall equinox.  

And for some, this is welcome news because it heralds the arrival of shorter, cooler days and longer nights. 

It also marks the time of year when many of Earth’s creatures prepare to go into “torpor,” or hibernation mode. Their body temperatures will drop. Their metabolisms will slow. And their oxygen consumption will go down to minimal levels. These physical adaptations help animals survive cold, harsh winter conditions. 

But did you know that some scientists believe HUMANS can go into a form of hibernation when they are stressed…and this reaction may explain two of modern medicine’s biggest mysteries!? 

Let’s dive right in… 

Animal hibernation may tell us a lot about two modern medical mysteries 

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM), which very often occur together, affect more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. Both conditions are characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, weakness, and fatigue.  

Of course, for decades, many mainstream doctors didn’t officially recognize or understand these debilitating conditions. Instead, they often mistakenly told patients it was “all in your head.”(This response highlights the mainstream’s utter lack of understanding about the strong mind-body connection in humans—since every medical condition is both in the head AND in the body.) 

Thankfully, CFS and FM are finally starting to get the attention they deserve from the medical and research community. And groundbreaking research suggests that the conditions may actually be a kind of “metabolic hibernation,” similar to what some animals undergo to survive harsh environmental conditions during the winter months… 

CFS and FM now seen as a type of “metabolic hibernation” 

For this new line of investigation, researchers at the University of California, San Diego looked at 612 different metabolites in 84 people—45 with CFS symptoms and 39 without them. 

The researchers discovered that people who suffered from CFS had low levels of 80 percent of their metabolites and abnormalities in 20 key metabolic pathways. (This finding basically indicates that CFS slows down metabolism.) 

The researchers said the slowed metabolic responses actually resembled the “dauer state” into which nematodes enter when they are over-stressed by starvation, overcrowding, or toxic environments.  

(Dauer is a German word, meaning “enduring” or “persisting.” And research biologists often study the “dauer state” in nematodes, which are a type of roundworm, to learn more about the aging process.) 

So, like nematodes in the dauer state (or snakes in hibernation mode), it seems that humans, when faced with environmental stresses, may also go into a defense mode and shut down to the minimum metabolism required to simply stay alive.  

This certainly helps explain why sufferers seem to come down with CFS-FM after a stressful, triggering event—such as an acute infection, exposure to toxic chemicals, an accident, or traumatic injury. 

Typically, after a few days or weeks of illness, starvation, stress, or privation, the body restores normal metabolism. But in CFS-FM, the metabolism doesn’t bounce back. The body remains in a conservation state with a slowed “metabolic signature,” similar to that of animals in hibernation.  

Of course, as complicated as this all may sound, the solution for CFS-FM may be to “wake up” the metabolism by adopting the right diet and taking supportive dietary supplements. In fact, natural physicians and practitioners have been using these techniques on CFS-FM patients for years. 

Mind-body therapies—such as acupuncture, hypnosis, and biofeedback, among others—can also help.  

Indeed, my own research shows your “emotional type” strongly influences your chances of developing CFS and FM in the first place. It also influences which mind-body therapy(s) will work best for you. 

So, if you have CFS-FM, I suggest finding a good naturopathic doctor who understands these issues. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is a good place to start. (You can search their database of physicians here.) 

To learn about which mind-body treatments will work best for you as an individual, read my new book Overcoming Acute and Chronic Pain: Keys to Treatment Based on Your Emotional Type and take this short quiz. 


“Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Aug-Sep 2016; 113 (37): E5472–E5480