Emerging research discovers chronic fatigue syndrome has physical rather than mental roots.
Until now, physicians have been unable to pinpoint the origin for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or link the condition to consistent abnormalities in body chemistry.
CFS is a condition where normal exertion leads to debilitating fatigue that isn’t alleviated by rest. There are no known triggers, and diagnosis requires lengthy tests administered by an expert.
Now, for the first time, Cornell University researchers report they have identified biological markers of the disease in gut bacteria and inflammatory microbial agents in the blood.
As described in the journal Microbiome, researchers describe how they correctly diagnosed myalgic encephalomyeletis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in 83 percent of patients. Investigators used stool samples and blood work to determine CFS, offering a noninvasive diagnosis and a step toward understanding the cause of the disease.
“Our work demonstrates that the gut bacterial microbiome in chronic fatigue syndrome patients isn’t normal, perhaps leading to gastrointestinal and inflammatory symptoms in victims of the disease,” said Dr. Maureen Hanson, the paper’s senior author.
“Furthermore, our detection of a biological abnormality provides further evidence against the ridiculous concept that the disease is psychological in origin.”
“In the future, we could see this technique as a complement to other noninvasive diagnoses, but if we have a better idea of what is going on with these gut microbes and patients, maybe clinicians could consider changing diets, using prebiotics such as dietary fibers or probiotics to help treat the disease,” said Dr. Ludovic Giloteaux, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study.
In the study, researchers collaborated with Dr. Susan Levine, an ME/CFS specialist in New York City, who recruited 48 people diagnosed with ME/CFS and 39 healthy controls to provide stool and blood samples.
The researchers sequenced regions of microbial DNA from the stool samples to identify different types of bacteria. Overall, the diversity of types of bacteria was greatly reduced and there were fewer bacterial species known to be anti-inflammatory in ME/CFS patients compared with healthy people.
Interestingly, this is an observation often found in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
At the same time, the researchers discovered specific markers of inflammation in the blood, likely due to a leaky gut from intestinal problems that allow bacteria to enter the blood, Giloteaux said.
Bacteria in the blood will trigger an immune response, which could worsen symptoms.
The researchers have no evidence to distinguish whether the altered gut microbiome is a cause or a whether it is a consequence of disease, Giloteaux added.
In the future, the research team will look for evidence of viruses and fungi in the gut, to see whether one of these or an association of these along with bacteria may be causing or contributing to the illness.
Source: Cornell University
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