Most doctors don’t believe chronic fatigue syndrome is a real condition or they misdiagnose it as a psychiatric issue. Those who suffer from the debilitating symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) often find themselves the butt of jokes or the object of medical ridicule simply because there is no lab marker to diagnose it even though it has been linked to inflammation of the nervous system.
A recent invention by a Stanford scientist, whose adult son has been bedridden with ME/CFS for the last 10 years, may have discovered the key to diagnosing this mysterious condition.
It involves a simple blood test that measures the energy cells expend to maintain homeostasis after they are exposed to salt. Since salt puts stress on cells, they must restore balance to sodium levels in order to function properly.
The researcher conducted the test on 40 people – 20 who were suffering from ME/CFS and 20 who were part of the healthy control group. The test involved exposing cells to salt and then passing them through a small microchip that uses an electrical current to measure the energy exertion of the cells. Less exertion indicates the cells are able to easily maintain sodium balance, while more exertion meant finding balance required considerable effort.
The results showed that the cells of every participant in the ME/CFS group expended significantly more energy in response to the salt than the cells of the healthy control group. This indicates the ME/CFS group had cells that were considerably less functional and more stressed.
Poorly functioning cells that can’t generate enough energy lead to a poorly functioning body and brain. This cellular dysfunction can manifest into a multitude of symptoms including chronic fatigue.
The test needs to be run on larger groups of people to see if the results can be replicated. In the meantime, these preliminary findings offer hope that conventional medicine will soon have the biomarker it needs to legitimize ME/CFS as a valid medical condition in the eyes of ordinary doctors.
Conventional advice for ME/CFS can be debilitating
It’s estimated that, of the several million people afflicted with ME/CFS in the United States, 90 percent have not yet been officially diagnosed. It can take years and visits to multiple doctors to find one who will take the symptoms seriously.
Many conventional doctors make the mistake of assuming that patients with ME/CFS are hypochondriacs or that they’re simply lazy. Very often, these doctors will advise their ME/CFS patients to get more exercise to improve their symptoms.
For ME/CFS patients whose cells are already struggling to maintain the most basic functions, exercise is an extremely inappropriate prescription. Their chronic fatigue makes it impossible to work and maintain normal lives. In fact, many of them can’t even leave their beds. Any exertion leads to what is called “post-exertional malaise.”
Since poor cellular function impacts multiple organs, symptoms can vary from patient to patient creating another challenge to receiving a proper diagnosis. In addition to chronic fatigue, some people may also experience chronic pain, difficulties with memory and concentration, gut issues, and extreme sensitivities to light, sound, smell.
There is a checklist of symptoms that doctors can refer to for diagnosing ME/CFS, however, most primary care physicians are not aware of the list or refuse to believe that the disorder even exists. As there are no drugs to treat ME/CFS, conventional doctors may also choose to stay away from this diagnosis since there is no solution they can offer to treat it.
However, if this new testing proves to be accurate, it would eliminate the demoralizing mystery of ME/CFS and legitimize a diagnosis for the millions who suffer from this devastating disorder. It would also pave the way for new research and potential treatments for the condition.
Recent research into brain inflammation could also bring hope for ME/CFS
Brain inflammation is more common than previously realized and has been linked to ME/CFS as well as other conditions like depression, anxiety, childhood brain development disorders, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Immune cells in the brain outnumber neurons ten to one and are significantly more important than once thought. Their job is to maintain neuronal health and function and remove debris and plaque from the brain. Unfortunately, when the brain is inflamed, whether it’s from dietary or lifestyle factors or from an injury, the brain’s immune cells turn their attention away from supporting neuronal health and transition into persistent warrior mode which actually causes more damage to brain tissue. While the body’s immune system can shut itself off, the brain’s immune cells don’t have an off switch.
There are currently no drugs available that can reduce brain inflammation. The good news is that inflammation has been shown to respond to certain botanical compounds and functional medicine protocols that include dietary, lifestyle, and health interventions.
Contact my office if you’d like to learn more about treating chronic fatigue.