Researchers for decades have had difficulty getting a grasp on chronic fatigue syndrome, known also as CFS, so some have in the past written it off as psychosomatic – all in the mind. Worldwide, there may be as many as two hundred million people suffering from this condition.
Symptoms of the condition – diagnosed in the medical community as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) – include fatigue, even after a full night’s sleep, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic pain in muscles and joints. A diagnosis was difficult and complicated, requiring extensive tests and an assessment by an expert trained to recognize chronic fatigue. That, however, may be changing.
Research from Cornell University in 2016 found indicators of ME/CFS in gut bacteria, linking gut health with the debilitating illness. The research is so persuasive, in fact, that Professor Maureen Hanson, one of the research paper’s authors, said, “Our detection of a biological abnormality provides further evidence against the ridiculous concept that the disease is psychological in origin.”
ME/CFS and the Gut
Cornell’s research has found is that there are detectable differences between the gut flora of a ME/CFS sufferer and that of individuals without the condition. The researchers were able to correctly diagnose ME/CFS in 83 percent of test subjects who had the condition. The research may not only lead to new and non-invasive ways of diagnosing the condition, it may also yield new treatments to correct imbalances in gut flora.
Future treatments may be as simple as taking a particular type of probiotic.
The researchers identified different strains of bacteria by sequencing the DNA of bacteria taken from stool samples. In chronic fatigue sufferers, they found that bacterial species diversity was significantly lower than in individuals who don’t. Further, there were fewer types of specific bacteria known to reduce inflammation. Finally, the researchers found indicators of inflammation in the blood of chronic fatigue victims, suggesting bacteria have made their way through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, provoking an immune response.
The research does point to an overactive immune system contributing to the condition. But the researchers noted that this may not be an issue with the immune system itself. Instead, the immune system may be doing what it is supposed to: attack potential threats to the body. Bacteria passing through the intestinal wall definitely fit that role.
What does this all mean? Chronic fatigue may ultimately be a consequence of a leaky gut.
If you suffer from ME/CFS, improving the health of your gut may be the best thing you can do. This may involve adding probiotics or fermented foods to your diet. While there is no quick fix, improving gut health can improve overall health regardless.
However, if you believe you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s wise to seek a proper diagnosis. Consult a medical professional to ensure you don’t have a different condition masquerading as chronic fatigue, such as depression. Once you have a clear diagnosis, it may be wise to consult a dietician or functional medicine specialist for ways to manage or reverse the condition.
While Cornell’s research is in its early stages, it does suggest ways diagnosing ME/CFS that haven’t been considered before. And it points to the tantalizing possibility of a cure.