For years, it was thought that chronic fatigue was more or less in the head of sufferers — now it turns out it may actually be in the gut!
For many, living with chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS can really hinder one’s ability to participate in even the most simple of daily activities. And even though over one million people currently have ME/CFS, there still isn’t a universal treatment option or even a meaningful diagnostic tool to detect it. What’s worse is that four times as many women suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, with some of the worst cases lasting years at a time!
Now, recent studies published in Microbiome have revealed that people suffering from ME/CFS also host abnormal levels of a specific bacteria found in the gut. Even more notable is the fact that these levels of bacteria actually correspond with the severity of someone’s symptoms.
Head researcher of the study, Ian Lipkin felt hopeful about the future of identifying and treating ME/CFS, saying in a press release,
“Much like IBS, ME/CFS may involve a breakdown in the bidirectional communications between the brain and the gut mediated by bacteria, their metabolites, and the molecules they influence. By identifying the specific bacteria involved, we are one step closer to more accurate diagnosis and targeted therapies.”
Breaking Down Chronic Fatigue
During the study, the team meticulously matched 50 people suffering from chronic fatigue with 50 healthy individuals, procuring fecal and blood samples from each participant. The feces was tested for bacteria species, while researchers looked for immune molecules in the blood. When the results came back, seven distinct species of intestinal bacteria were shown to be strongly connected to symptoms associated with ME/CFS, effectively proving to be an accurate diagnosis of the condition.
So far, the following bacterial species have been identified as indicators of ME/CFS:
Additionally, an increased amount of an unclassified Alistipes bacterium and another unclassified Bacteroides were top biomarkers of ME/CFS with IBS. Similarly, decreased levels of a Faecalibacterium and Bacteroides vulgatus were some of the top biomarkers of ME/CFS WITHOUT IBS.
Now, as with most feats of empiricism, this small sample is still subject to further verification. That said, should these results be true indicators of what causes ME/CFS in the general population, it’s safe to say that the “it’s all in your head” approach won’t cut it much longer.
For those suffering from this condition, daily fatigue, brain fog, and ongoing abnormalities with one’s immune system like enlarged glands, joint pains, flu-like symptoms are some of the main struggles in living with the disease. Previously, many people with ME/CFS had been advised to undergo behavioral therapy and exercise, neither of which have supporting evidence as to whether these methods are effective.
In addition to these symptoms, others include:
- Problems with short-term memory and concentration
- Sweating episodes
- Sleep disturbances
- Alcohol intolerance
- Mood Swings
One of the reasons it’s so important to develop the right clinical approach to detecting and diagnosing ME/CFS is that these symptoms can overlap with other serious conditions, namely hypothyroidism, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, hepatitis B/C, and also coeliac disease. If these studies hold true, then we may very well be one step closer to finding ways to treat this disease and increase awareness of what it really means to have chronic fatigue.