Is Your Gut Bacteria Wearing You Out?

Gut bacteria has been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, Cornell study finds.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has puzzled physicians for decades. New research suggests an unlikely culprit may be causing chronic fatigue—the gut.

According to a press release issued by Cornell University, researchers have identified biological markers for chronic fatigue syndrome in gut bacteria and inflammatory microbial agents in the blood.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to fatigue, CFS can cause muscle pain, impaired memory and insomnia. There are no known causes for CFS and no tests for doctors to diagnose CFS.

This study is the first to identify biological markers for CFS. In an unprecedented study, the research team was able to correctly diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome in 83 percent of patients using stool samples and blood work.

The Cornell University research team’s noninvasive diagnosis represents a major step forward in understanding the cause of CFS. It also provides evidence against the once popular idea that CFS may be psychological.

"Our work demonstrates that the gut bacterial microbiome in chronic fatigue syndrome patients isn't normal, perhaps leading to gastrointestinal and inflammatory symptoms in victims of the disease," senior author Maureen Hanson said in the press release.

Hanson is the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Cornell.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 48 people diagnosed with CFS and 39 healthy controls who provided stool and blood samples. The researchers then identified different types of bacteria using sequenced regions of microbial DNA from the stool samples.

According to the press release, the team found the diversity in types of bacteria was greatly reduced and there were fewer anti-inflammatory bacterial species in CFS patients compared to healthy participants. They also discovered specific markers of inflammation in the blood, which could allow bacteria to enter the blood and trigger an immune response that could allow symptoms to worsen.

Further research is needed to understand which came first—the altered microbiome or CFS. According to Dr. Ludovic Giloteaux, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study, the researchers found no evidence to distinguish whether the altered gut microbiome is a cause or consequence of CFS.

This study was published June 23 in the journal Microbiome.

It was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.