Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) is a debilitating disorder. The fatigue and other symptoms it causes result in an inability to participate in the daily activities of life for many sufferers. Although more than one million Americans have ME/CFS — more than lupus, multiple sclerosis, and some types of cancer — there is not yet any treatment, or meaningful diagnostic tool. Four times as many women suffer from ME/CFS, and it lasts for years in some patients.
Although the disease was previously thought of as some kind of imaginary ailment, ME/CFS is now being taken seriously by researchers. This week, new research published in Microbiome reveals that people who have ME/CFS also have abnormal levels of specific gut bacteria — and the levels of bacteria vary with symptom severity.
“By identifying the specific bacteria involved, we are one step closer to more accurate diagnosis and targeted therapies,” head researcher Ian Lipkin said in a press release from the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) and the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.
The team carefully matched, and then followed, 50 ME/CFS patients and 50 healthy controls. They took fecal and blood samples from all participants, and tested the fecal samples for bacterial species and the blood for immune molecules. Seven distinct species of intestinal bacteria were so strongly associated with ME/CFS that an accurate diagnosis could be predicted based on the elevated presence of all of them.
Although this study included a small sample, subject to further verification, this research could be the first step toward targeted diagnostic tools and treatments for the disease.