We all get tired from time to time, whether it’s after a long day’s work or taking care of some rambunctious children all day—our physical and mental state often feel completely drained to a point where we look forward to shutting our eyes for a few moments to recoup some of that lost energy. This is called fatigue, and it is often described as feelings of exhaustion, lethargy, or even listlessness. However, there are individuals out there who have chronic fatigue syndrome, and researchers say that it may be due to germs in the gut.
Normal fatigue commonly occurs to most everyone and is remedied by rest to alleviate the symptoms previously mentioned. Chronic fatigue syndrome, on the other hand, is characterized by extreme fatigue that is further worsened with physical and mental activity, and oddly enough, it is not improved with adequate amounts of rest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, chronic fatigue syndrome affects nearly one million Americans, with women being affected more often than men. The disorder has also been referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), with the cause for chronic fatigue being unknown by medical professionals.
This makes finding a potential link to the condition exciting news to doctors and patients alike. Scientists have found differences in the gut bacteria of those with chronic fatigue syndrome compared to their healthy counterparts, marking the first time a link to the condition has been established. The researchers clarify that whether the differences observed are merely a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome or an underlying cause isn’t clear, but it could be tied to disease severity.
The research describes bacteria found living within the intestine having an influence on the way we feel as well as having a part in how our immune system responds to the environment and resistance to disease. Imbalances in the gut environment were explored by researchers, with 50 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and 50 healthy adults being recruited for the study. Most of the participants were female, with an average age of 51. A stool or fecal sample was taken from all patients and genetically broken down to identify the types and quantities of bacteria present, with blood samples also analyzed.
The researchers saw differences in gut bacteria between the two groups, with chronic fatigue patients having higher quantities of several intestinal bacteria species and bacteria composition appearing to shift depending on disease severity.
While this discovery definitely provides some new insight into the syndrome, the researchers admit that chronic fatigue syndrome is most likely caused by numerous factors and that it is unlikely to be due to a single entity. They think, however, that once more research in this area is done, doctors will be able to make specific recommendations that influence the composition of gut bacteria and reduce some symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
“This study is an early but important step toward determining the composition of a healthy microbiome. Ultimately, the findings may aid diagnoses and point to new treatments targeting subtypes of chronic fatigue,” said study lead author Dr. W. Ian Lipkin and his colleagues.