Until only recently, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was thought to be psychological in nature. In other words, “It’s all in your head.” But doctors now realize that CFS is indeed a real medical condition—and a new study out of Cornell University in New York reveals it may just be one more health problem tied to our gut bacteria.
Although symptoms of gastrointestinal distress are often seen in patients with CFS, this study is among the first to reveal a substantial relationship between the two. Specifically, researchers were able to isolate certain biological markers in the gut bacteria and blood that signaled the presence of the condition, and the discovery may one day make it easier to diagnose and treat people with CFS.
For the study, researchers recruited nearly 90 men and women, about half of whom had been diagnosed with CFS while the others were considered healthy controls. And, just by looking at those biological markers, they were able to correctly identify the presence of CFS with 83 percent accuracy. Interestingly, the gut microbiome in the CFS patients was notably less diverse, lacking specific types of bacteria linked to a healthy inflammatory response.
“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 study author Maureen Hanson.
Currently, there is no single test to identify CFS, and doctors typically rule out a variety of other possible conditions before arriving at a diagnosis. Treatment is complicated as well, often involving a combination of therapies to manage symptoms. Study authors hope that by studying the gut microbes of people with CFS, they may be able to better understand and treat the condition—possibly even through dietary changes such as adding more prebiotic fiber to the diet to nourish the beneficial gut bacteria.