Chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis) is notoriously difficult to diagnose since it manifests with esoteric symptoms that often overlap with other disorders such as fibromyalgia, depression, and hormone imbalances. However, new research from the University of California sheds light on the metabolic abnormalities seen in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), regardless of cause. Although several factors can trigger its onset (viral infection, illness, traumatic injury, severe emotional stress or something else), the “chemical signature” among patients with CFS is strikingly similar.
The UC study confirms that CFS is a hypometabolic state, similar in some ways to a type of hibernation. Specifically, most CFS patients have lower amounts of a type of fat (“sphingolipids”). This substance physically protects cells, and appears to be an adaptive response that may oppose viral or bacterial infection within a cell. By entering into a hypometabolic state, cells permit survival under conditions of environmental stress, but at a price: severely curtailed function and quality of life. The research seems to suggest that science may be closer to developing a lab test that removes diagnostic uncertainty about this common disorder.