Chronic fatigue syndrome, a baffling disorder that affects an estimated 1 million Americans, has been strongly linked to imbalances in gut bacteria in a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
The researchers found abnormal levels of specific gut bacteria are found in people with the condition — formally known as myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), according to the study published in the journal Microbiome.
The findings offer new hope for an effective new way to diagnose and treat ME/CFS, a complex, sometimes-debilitating disorder that can interfere with activities of daily living.
Symptoms include extreme fatigue after exertion, muscle and joint pain, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances, and orthostatic intolerance (light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting when standing upright).
Up to 90 percent of ME/CFS patients also have irritable bowel syndrome IBS, past research has shown. But the Columbia University study is among the first to disentangle microbiome imbalances in individuals with ME/CFS and IBS.
“Individuals with ME/CFS have a distinct mix of gut bacteria and related metabolic disturbances that may influence the severity of their disease,” says co-lead investigator Dr. Dorottya Nagy-Szakal.
The findings suggest sufferers may be able to ease their symptoms by incorporating certain probiotics — healthy bacteria — in their diets, to balance their gut bacteria.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers tracked 50 ME/CFS patients and 50 others without the condition. They tested subjects’ fecal samples for bacterial species, and blood samples for immune molecules.
The study’s key findings show that:
- Levels of distinct intestinal bacterial species —Faecalibacterium, Roseburia, Dorea, Coprococcus, Clostridium, Ruminococcus, Coprobacillus — are strongly associated with ME/CFS.
- The abundance of these species appears to be predictive of a ME/CFS diagnosis.
- An abundance of Alistipes and low levels of Faecalibacterium are the top biomarkers of ME/CFS with IBS. Increased Bacteroides abundance and decreased Bacteroides vulgatus are the top biomarkers of ME/CFS without IBS.
The researchers also noted the severity of patients’ symptoms — such as pain and fatigue — correlated with the abundance of distinct bacterial types.
“Our analysis suggests that we may be able to subtype patients with ME/CFS by analyzing their fecal microbiome,” says co-lead investigator Dr. Brent L. Williams, Ph.D. “Subtyping may provide clues to understanding differences in manifestations of disease.”
The study also points toward a possible mechanism behind the development of ME/CFS.
“ME/CFS may involve a breakdown in the bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut mediated by bacteria, their metabolites, and the molecules they influence,” explains senior author Dr. W. Ian Lipkin.
“By identifying the specific bacteria involved, we are one step closer to more accurate diagnosis and targeted therapies.”
So far, researchers have not identified the cause of ME/CFS. Nor are there any standard diagnostic lab tests or federally-approved treatments for the condition. For reasons that are unclear, women are two to four more times likely than men to have ME/CFS.
Because MD/CFS is so variable, treatment focuses on individual symptom control. Conventional approaches include prescription medications to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia; graded exercise, physical therapy, and psychological counseling including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Adjunctive therapies to help manage pain and fatigue include:
- Deep breathing exercises.
- Muscle relaxation techniques.
- Yoga or tai chi.
- Preliminary but inconclusive research suggests that some natural remedies may be helpful for ME/CFS, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include:
- Magnesium injected into the muscles of people with low red blood cell magnesium.
- A combination supplement containing fish oil and evening primrose oil.
- Adenine dinucleotide hydrate (NADH).
- Coenzyme Q10.
Although the new Columbia University study suggests that probiotic supplements may be helpful for ME/CFS, more research is needed, experts say.
A 2009 study of 39 ME/CFS patients, however, showed that the Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS) was associated with significantly reduced anxiety symptoms compared to placebo.
The information herein on "Gut Bacteria Hold Key to Diagnosing, Treating Chronic Fatigue" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.
We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.*
Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request.
We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez DC or contact us at 915-850-0900.
We are here to help you and your family.
Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
My Digital Business Card