A single bacterium is missing for you, and your whole body is tired
Could a depleted gut bacterium unable to produce enough of a molecule beneficial to our health be behind chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)? A team of researchers has taken a closer look. 1
About this article
One of the collateral effects of Covid – or more precisely of long Covid – has been to bring an illness presenting similar symptoms, chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis), back under the spotlight.
This chronic disease mainly affects women aged between 20 and 40, and its symptoms include debilitating fatigue, post-exertional malaise, memory problems, gastrointestinal disturbances, immune abnormalities, and sleep disorders. Two studies published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe explore this mysterious disease, and more particularly its links to the gut microbiota.
Between the ages of 20 and 40 The illness predominantly begins in adults 20–40 years of age.
Depleted microbiota observed in chronic fatigue syndrome
Both studies showed depleted levels of a gut bacterium called Faecalibacterium prausnitzii in CFS patients. Moreover, the more F. prausnitzii was depleted, the more severe the fatigue. But that’s not all. This bacterium is known to produce a (sidenote: Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are a source of energy (fuel) for an individual’s cells. They interact with the immune system and are involved in communication between the intestine and the brain. Silva YP, Bernardi A, Frozza RL. The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020;11:25. ) called butyrate, which is beneficial to our health. Butyrate protects our gut barrier and modulates the immune system, and far from staying confined in the digestive system, it also enters the bloodstream, where it provides further benefits.
Between 0.4% and 2.5% of the world’s population The global prevalence of ME/CFS ranges between 0.4% and 2.5%.
Disrupted immune system
The second study appears to show that this SCFA may determine the long-term clinical course of the disease. In patients who have suffered from CFS for more than ten years, the gut microbiota seems to return to balance over time (although some differences persist compared to healthy people). But long-term patients had more severe symptoms and their immune system seemed more disturbed than that of patients who had suffered from the disease for less than four years. According to the researchers, initial disturbances of the gut microbiota and a decrease in butyrate may, in some people, lead to irreversible changes across the whole body, which in turn lead to an altered state of health over the long term. 2
3 females vs. 1 male in average The illness is more common in females than males with a ratio averaging about 3/1, ranging as high as 6/1.
The gut microbiota
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1. Guo C, Che X, Briese T et al. Deficient butyrate-producing capacity in the gut microbiome is associated with bacterial network disturbances and fatigue symptoms in ME/CFS. Cell Host Microbe. 2023 Feb 8;31(2):288-304.e8.
2. Xiong R, Gunter C, Fleming E et al. Multi-'omics of gut microbiome-host interactions in short- and long-term myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome patients. Cell Host Microbe. 2023 Feb 8;31(2):273-287.e5.