Contrary to common perception, chronic fatigue syndrome may not be psychological in origin as researchers have now identified biological markers of the disease in gut bacteria and inflammatory microbial agents in the blood.
The findings suggest that changing diets, using prebiotics such as dietary fibers or probiotics could treat chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition where normal exertion leads to debilitating fatigue that is not alleviated by rest.
Physicians have been mystified by the disease as there are no known triggers, and diagnosis often requires lengthy tests administered by an expert.
Now, for the first time, Cornell University researchers described how they correctly diagnosed myalgic encephalomyeletis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in 83 per cent of patients through stool samples and blood work, 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 professor Maureen Hanson, senior author of the study.
“Furthermore, our detection of a biological abnormality provides further evidence against the ridiculous concept that the disease is psychological in origin,” Hanson noted.
“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,” first author of the study Ludovic Giloteaux noted.
In the study, in the journal Microbiome, the researchers 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 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome compared with healthy people, an observation also seen 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.