A Cure for Chronic Fatigue in Gut Microbiome?

If you’re one of the estimated 2.5 million people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), you know how this disease can rob you of your lifestyle. The extreme fatigue, along with other difficult symptoms, can make you unable to work, socialize, and even do the simple things in life. And you’re probably not satisfied with the standard “treatment” of medicating one or more of the symptoms in the hopes that it will help lessen other symptoms. However, some of these treatments cause more problems.

Currently, mainstream medicine has no cure for CFS, and no cause has been pinpointed either; theories as to its origins range from viral infections to stress to a combination of triggers resulting in CFS. An alarming number of medical professionals dismiss the existence of CFS as a medical condition – Thomas Sabin, vice chair of neurology at Tufts University School of Medicine, has said that up to half of neurologists he has spoken to “don’t believe it is a real medical entity.”

Before diagnosing a patient with CSF, a wide variety of tests are typically done so doctors can rule out other potential health conditions. Deciding on a diagnosis of CFS can be difficult because its symptoms are identical to the symptoms of many other health conditions. Some of these symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • flu-like symptoms
  • poor sleep
  • cognitive impairment
  • depression
  • sore throat
  • lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • joint/muscle pain
  • headaches
  • cardiac symptoms
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • extreme exhaustion for 24+ hours following physical/mental exertion

Once a patient is diagnosed with CFS, doctors attempt to manage its symptoms with medications. If a patient is experiencing depression, an antidepressant is prescribed, which is hoped to also improve sleep and lessen pain. If a patient is experiencing particular symptoms that fall into a specific specialty, like cardiology, they may be treated for a condition that doesn’t exist until additional symptoms present themselves. Any of the above symptoms can precede others, again making a CFS diagnosis difficult.

However, a recent study published in the journal Microbiome revealed a new connection between the health of the gut and CFS. Imbalances in the gut microbiome, meaning the levels of some bacteria are too high while others are too low, can be at the root of many illnesses and disorders. Because up to 90 percent of patients with CFS also have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), researchers compared the gut bacteria of IBS patients with the gut bacteria of patients with CFS and IBS. The findings showed that there was a difference in the pattern of gut bacteria disturbances between these two groups – specifically, an overabundance of seven types of gut bacteria were strongly linked to chronic fatigue, and a low level of an eighth type of bacteria was also present. These results may give medical professionals an important tool in the early and successful diagnosing and treatment of CFS in the future. Because an imbalance in the microbiome can negatively impact the immune system and the central nervous system, some researchers have theorized that this imbalance may be the cause of CFS.

However, further studies need to be done in order to determine whether this imbalance of the microbiome is the cause or result of CFS. This study builds on previous studies that showed a difference in the gut bacteria of healthy people versus that of CFS patients. Clearly, this is just one more indicator of the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Among the many things affected by the health of your microbiome are the strength of your immune system, functionality of the brain (mood, behavior), heart disease, and obesity.

Restoring or maintaining a healthy, balanced microbiome can go a long way toward helping you heal or avoid numerous health issues.

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