New research has identified distinct immune changes in patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, providing evidence that the disabling disorder is a biological illness as opposed to a psychological disorder.
According to researchers at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the findings could help improve diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, known medically as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) or systemic exertion intolerance disease.
For their study, researchers used immunoassay testing methods to determine the levels of 51 immune biomarkers in blood plasma samples collected from 298 ME/CFS patients and 348 healthy people as controls.
The researchers report they found specific patterns in patients who had the disease three years or less that were not present in controls or in patients who had the disease for more than three years.
The short duration patients had increased amounts of many different types of immune molecules called cytokines.
The association was unusually strong with a cytokine called interferon gamma that has been linked to the fatigue that follows many viral infections, including Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of infectious mononucleosis). Cytokine levels were not explained by symptom severity, the researchers noted.
We now have evidence confirming what millions of people with this disease already know — that ME/CFS isn’t psychological,” said lead author Mady Hornig, M.D.
The study supports the idea that ME/CFS may reflect an infectious “hit-and-run” event, the researchers noted.
Patients often report getting sick, sometimes from something as common as infectious mononucleosis, and never fully recover.
The new research suggests that these infections throw a wrench in the immune system’s ability to quiet itself after the acute infection. Researchers compare the immune response to a car stuck in high gear.
It appears that ME/CFS patients are flush with cytokines until around the three-year mark, at which point the immune system shows evidence of exhaustion and cytokine levels drop,” said Hornig.
“This study delivers what has eluded us for so long: unequivocal evidence of immunological dysfunction in ME/CFS and diagnostic biomarkers for disease,” said senior author W. Ian Lipkin, M.D., also a professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School.
The question we are trying to address in a parallel microbiome project is what triggers this dysfunction.”
Once again, after decades of being assumed crazy and mentally ill, research has finally determined that people suffering from this invisible disorder because they have a biological dysfunction.
This makes me wonder how many invisible yet painful conditions are labeled purely psychological or even “biopsychosocial” illnesses only because the cause has not been found YET.
Scientific research is advancing constantly and I’m convinced will find biological causes for much of what is currently disparaged as “mostly in your mind” and “curable by psychotherapy and alternative medicine” illnesses.