Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
WHAT IS CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition most known for the extreme fatigue and lack of energy, regardless of how much rest or sleep the person gets. Often, symptoms include chronic pain or a flu-like feeling. Many researchers believe some cases of CFS are caused by an overactive immune response to viruses or bacteria, including the Epstein-Barr virus, certain strains of herpes virus, and the bacterium that causes Lyme disease; to nutritional deficiencies; and to other causes.
Evidence of significant mitochondrial disease and dysfunction has been found in many patients with CFS and fibromyalgia (FMS).
1 to 4 million persons affected in the US (CDC). Research is ongoing to define the prevalence of primary mitochondrial disease in the population of CFS/FMS patients.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION IN CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME?
Mitochondrial dysfunction is likely to be responsible for many of the symptoms of CFS/FMS. A 2009 paper6 outlined how an “ATP profile test” can distinguish between patients who may be fatigued from stress, illness, digestive, or psychological factors from those who have insufficient energy due to mitochondrial dysfunction. Further, this research found that the degree of mitochondrial dysfunction correlated with the severity of the patients’ CFS illness. The researchers could not determine if the mitochondrial dysfunction was the primary effect, or if it is a secondary effect to another condition, such as cellular hypoxia or damage from viruses. But it is clear that mitochondria that inefficiently produce energy could lead to the symptoms of CFS.
Researchers expect to publish additional data soon that describe many patients with CFS/FMS. This research will further illuminate the role of mitochondria in these often-disabling conditions.
As with other conditions suspected of having mitochondrial dysfunction at the core, CFS has been treated with supplements and drugs. However, these treatments are not curative, have been poorly studied, and are often ineffective. Treatment of symptoms with medications (pain medications, various categories of antidepressants, and other medications) and lifestyle modifications (attention to diet and moderation of activity) are the mainstays of treatment for CFS, even though those treatments may not address the underlying disease.