Chronic fatigue syndrome — more appropriately identified as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) — is an extremely frustrating chronic health disorder. Most physicians either don’t believe it exists or that it’s a psychiatric problem. Even though ME/CFS debilitates many of its victims, the disorder is frequently the target for jokes or ridicule because no diagnostic lab marker exists, even though it has been shown to be caused by inflammation of the nervous system.
Thankfully, this situation may change thanks to the recent invention by a Stanford scientist. The researcher also happens to be the father of an adult son who has been largely confined to his bed with ME/CFS during the last 10 years.
The invention is a simple blood test that measures how much energy cells in the blood produce after being exposed to salt. Salt causes stress to cells and they must expend energy in order to return to a balanced state and function properly.
The scientist developed a method of passing the salt-exposed cells through a small microchip that measure the cells’ energy exertion using an electrical current. Healthy cells exert less energy maintaining homeostasis when exposed to salt. Damaged and unhealthy cells have to exert more energy because the job is harder on them.
He ran the test on blood samples from 20 people with ME/CFS and 20 healthy controls. The cells from all 20 people in the ME/CFS group had to expend considerably more energy to manage the exposure to salt than the healthy subjects’ cells. These results indicate that people with ME/CFS struggle with debilitating symptoms because their cells function so poorly.
To bring the lab test to market, he will have to run the same study on many more people and show the results are reproducible. However, this first run has excited the scientific and ME/CFS communities. Having a diagnostic biomarker not only means more patients will receive a proper diagnosis and be recognized as having a medical condition, but also the test will open the doors to more research on ME/CFS causes and treatments.
Because so many conventional doctors either don’t know about ME/CFS or think it’s imaginary, they can give advice that ranges from laughable to dangerous. For instance, tell ME/CFS patients to exercise to overcome their symptoms.
This is bad advice because patients with ME/CFS are struggling to maintain the most basic functions of existence. Many cannot work, have normal lives, or even leave their beds. Any sort of exertion causes post-exertion malaise, the term for essentially crashing and feeling worse and needing a long period of time to recover.
For these people, a doctor’s prescription to exercise can worsen their debilitation.
Fatigue isn’t the only symptom of ME/CFS. Other common symptoms of the condition include chronic pain, poor memory and cognition, gut problems, and sensitivities to light, sound, and smell. ME/CFS can be diagnosed though a simple checklist of symptoms, although most primary care doctors are unaware of the list.
New breakthroughs in brain inflammation research offer hope for people with ME/CFS.
Brain inflammation is linked to many conditions other than ME/CFS, such as depression, anxiety, childhood brain disorders, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Brain inflammation is more common than previously thought. Immune cells outnumber neurons 10 to one and play important roles in brain health and function. They maintain neuron health and function and removing debris and plaque from the brain. However, poor dietary or lifestyle factors or a brain injury can trigger inflammation in the brain, causing the brain’s immune cells to switch from supporting neuron health to becoming pro-inflammatory soldiers. The brain’s immune system has no off switch like the body’s, so inflammation can burn like a forest fire for years or decades, damaging brain tissue.
Although no drugs exist to tame brain inflammation, it does respond to botanical and nutritional compounds as well as functional medicine protocols that include dietary, lifestyle, and health interventions.
Ask my office for more advice on how we can help you with chronic fatigue.