Chronic Fatigue in Your Gut Not Your Head

In April I reported a study demonstrating that probiotic supplementation had a beneficial effect on one of the psychological symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). In that 2009 paper patients on the treatment for eight weeks were significantly less anxious than those taking the placebo product. Published in June this year a new study builds on that observation. The researchers at Cornell University first noted the frequent comorbidity of gastro-intestinal disorders with CFS, as well as evidence of abnormal immune response in individuals with CFS as indicated by markers of inflammation in the blood. They hypothesised that, taken together, gut microbiome diversity and levels of inflammation could predict who had a diagnosis of CFS.

This study compared the samples of 39 healthy people and 49 individuals with CFS. By looking at differences in the samples the researchers were able to identify disease cases with 83% accuracy. They found that those with CFS were significantly more likely to show signs of microbial translocation, where bacteria that reside in the gut break through the gut wall and enter the blood stream. Since they should not be present in this part of the body the immune system recognises these roving bacteria as intruders and launches an immune (inflammatory) response. This inflammation is associated with many of the symptoms of illness in CFS and other infections.

Compared to the samples of healthy individuals ME patients had reduced numbers and diversity of a type of bacteria called Firmicutes¸ typically the most abundant phyla in the human gut microbiome, as well as significantly lower amounts of types associated with an anti-inflammatory affect.

In the long-running debate about what causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome the arguments tend to fall dichotomously: it’s either psychological OR biological in nature. Some research has shown a positive effect of psychotherapy in alleviating symptoms whilst others have found improvement with microbiome modification. The likelihood is, therefore, that a combined treatment approach will yield the best results for patients, helping them to manage both the physical and psychological symptoms of this debilitating disease. 

Giloteaux, L., Goodrich, J. K., Walters, W. A., Levine, S. M., Ley, R. E. & Hanson, M. R. (2016). Reduces diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomeylitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome, 4:30.

Jason, L. A., Torres-Harding, S. Friedberg, F., Corradi, K., Njoku, M. G., Donalek., J., Reynolds, N., Brown, M., Weitner, B. B., Rademaker, A. & Papernik, M. (2007). Non-pharmalogical interventions for CFS: A randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 14, 275-296.

Borody, T. J., Nowak, A & Finlayson, S. (2012). The GI mircobiome and its role in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A summary of bacteriotherapy. Journal of the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 31, 3-8.