In the scientific publication, “Fecal metagenomic profiles in subgroups of patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome” (2017) in the 5th volume and 44th issue of Microbiome, authors Nagy-Szakal, Williams, and Lipkin, et. al. describe how a specific set of gut bacterial species correlates with symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome with and without Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is a summary and interpretation of their findings.
WHAT IS CHRONIC FATIGUE?
According to the CDC, Myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, was estimated to affect between 836,000 and 2.5 million Americans, in 2015. It is difficult to give an exact number due to the fact that many people do not know they have it and remain undiagnosed. Chronic fatigue is a long-term illness that commonly includes symptoms of unexplained, severe and persistent fatigue, reduced motivation, unrefreshing sleep, reduced mental alertness, pain, and dizziness. Overlapping symptoms of anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia are common in Chronic Fatigue. Interestingly, between 35 and 90% of chronic fatigue patients also present with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is the reason that the gut microbiome is now being investigated as a possible link in disease progression.
CLUES IN THE GUT
In this 2017 study, 50 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients and 50 healthy controls were included. The group of 50 CFS patients were divided into two groups: with and without accompanying irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). After analyzing the various groups of bacterial species present in the healthy controls and those found in samples from the Chronic Fatigue patients (with and without IBS) two major differences in gut bacterial populations were discovered. In Chronic Fatigue patients with IBS, there was an increase in abundance of Alistipes and a decrease in Faecalibacterium genus. There’s that Faecalibacterium again. I can’t tell you how many papers describing different inflammatory diseases (including cancer) show a decrease in this Faecalibacterium group of bacteria.
For those patients with Chronic Fatigue but not diagnosed with IBS, the results were a bit more specific. There was an increase in the general abundance of the Bacteroides genus and a decrease in abundance of one particular species: Bacteroides vulgatus. Even more, symptom severity seemed to match the abundance of these particular groups of bacteria for both groups of Chronic Fatigue patients. Overall, a decrease in F. prausnitzii and C. catus matched those patients in both groups with worse emotional wellbeing scores. Clearly, there is some role that gut bacteria plays in the development of this syndrome.
OTHER CHANGES FOUND
Besides the differences in gut bacterial species abundance, researchers also found changes in metabolic reactions in the body. There were differences in levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that “talk” to your brain) associated with pain. CFS patients that also had IBS showed reduced metabolism of argenine, polyamine and heme. Argenine metabolism increases energy and endurance, helps your memory and decreases intestinal inflammation. Polyamines are found in every living cell and interact with your DNA. Heme is a ring compound that carries iron. It can be found in hemoglobin in your red blood cells helping to carry oxygen to all the cells of your body. Further research is underway to determine what role gut microbes may have in affecting these metabolic reactions.
VITAMIN B & OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
One final note, researchers found that Chronic Fatigue patients often have reduced functional vitamin B. Since the B vitamins impact energy levels, this would make sense. They also measured omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and found that Chronic Fatigue patients had reduced levels of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (i.e., not enough omega-3). Other studies have shown that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids promote healing of the intestinal walls. As a reminder, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish and seafood as well as plant sources, like hemp seed.
If you’re interested in reading more, this article was based on the following publication:
Nagy-Szakal, D., Williams, B., Mishra, N., Che, X., Lee, B., Bateman, L.,... Lipkin, W.I. (2017) Fecal metagenomic profiles in subgroups of patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome, 5(44). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405467/
Kenda Rigdon, Ph.D. Nutrition Sciences Research Associate, Wife, Mother of 3 and Enthusiast for all things Microbiome and gut related!
Check out this blog in the April, 2018 edition of the Birmingham Metro magazine: b-metro.com/b-yourself-kenda-rigdon/34337/
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