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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Changes In Brain Chemistry

New research has provided insight into brain chemistry of those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. To find out more, read our blog.


Chronic fatigue syndrome is a long-term illness that causes a wide variety of symptoms. It can affect anyone, including children, however, it is most common in women and has a tendency to develop in those aged 25 to 45-years-old. Gulf War illness is a disease that shows various similarities to chronic fatigue syndrome, causing a series of unexplained chronic symptoms that correlate to those of CFS, such as fatigue, memory problems, and headaches. Both illnesses are often misdiagnosed as depression or other mental health problems. In fact, for decades, there has been controversy surrounding the topic of whether or not these diseases are genuine or simply psychological, which is a belief we battle with frequently as a law firm assisting with chronic fatigue syndrome compensation claims. Now, researchers from a university in Washington D.C. have uncovered molecular changes in the brain that are specific to each of the two conditions. In this blog, we discuss the study in more detail, as well as the results achieved, and explain what they could mean for potential sufferers of each condition.

Much like chronic pain syndrome, there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome or Gulf War illness. Causes of each condition remain unknown and there are no definitive tests to diagnose either disease, however, new research has found molecular changes in the brain, which has given hope to patients of CFS and Gulf War syndrome, opening up the possibility of prompter diagnosis and treatment.

Results have come from a study conducted by a team of researchers from Georgetown University Medical Centre, led by professor of medicine, Dr. James N. Baraniuk, who discovered changes in molecular levels in sufferers’ brains. The newfound research provides insight into brain chemistry of both disorders that can now be investigated further.

To find the results, Dr. Baraniuk and his team of researchers examined the cerebrospinal fluid of those with chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf War illness, as well as healthy participants. For examination, the team extracted the fluid from each participant using a lumbar puncture, post and prior to a session of bicycle exercise. In addition, the brains of each participant was also examined, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The exercise sessions lasted for a total time of 25 minutes and consisted of riding a stationary bike. In order to ensure the participants reached 85% of their maximum heart rate, as predicted using their age, the team of researchers increased the bicycle resistance.

Before exercising, levels of microRNA (miRNA), a small molecule that helps to regular protein production, were the same in all participants. After 24 hours had passed after exercising, however, levels changed in different ways for the three groups of participants. Each group showed a different pattern of change; chronic fatigue syndrome patients had 12 diminished miRNAs after exercise, compared to those who did not exercise. The miRNA levels were different from those altered in depression, fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer’s disease, which provides further confirmation that both CFS and Gulf War illness are distinct diseases.

One subgroup in particular developed jumps in heart rate of over 30 beats while standing, which lasted for two to three days post exercise. Magnetic resonance imaging showed their brands did not activate during cognitive tasks. Contrastingly, other subgroups did not experience any changes to their heart rate or brainstem changes.

“In results, we can clearly see different patterns in the brain’s production of miRNA molecules in the CFS group and Gulf War illness phenotypes,” explains Dr. Baraniuk. “This news will be well received by patients who are suspected sufferers of either of the two conditions, however, are being treated for depression or another mental disorder.”

To summarise, results from this particular study have helped to further prove the fact that chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf War illness are both genuine illnesses as opposed to psychological like so many have believed for so long. Now, as a result of this study, researchers believe that CFS is caused by the miRNA molecule; its changing levels cause tiring symptoms. Faster diagnosis and treatment options are on the horizon for CFS sufferers, as experts become increasingly knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the condition through further studies.

We do not endorse any research, studies or sources mentioned within our blogs and comments. Furthermore, we do not endorse any medical advice provided, and would strongly recommend anyone seeking medical advice to contact their local healthcare provider.

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