CFS woman_sketch

By Jem Yoshioka from Wellington, New Zealand (cfs) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sometimes known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a disease characterized by extreme exhaustion, achiness, brain fog and difficulties sleeping among other symptoms that are exasperated by physical activity. More than 1 million people in the United States are estimated to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, with three out of every four patients being women. Doctors have struggled for decades to know how to diagnose or treat the symptoms adequately and there is no known cure. There has even been controversy about whether CFS is even a legitimate separate disease and the added frustration that doctors would tell their patients that they couldn’t find anything wrong with them that explained their symptoms. But now Stanford University have released research that links the disease to variations in certain cytokines, which are small secreted immune-signaling proteins, that correspond with illness severity. That is, the more of these certain cytokines detected the worse the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are likely to be. Therefore this new detection method for CFS goes beyond just positive or negative results you see in other blood testing methods for diseases.

In the study results published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy, the Stanford scientists analyzed blood samples from 192 of CFS patients, as well as 392 healthy control subjects.   Out of 51 cytokines investigated by the researchers only two of the cytokines differed, tumor growth factor beta was higher and resistin was lower, between the CFS and control groups in their total concentrations.  These differing markers between healthy and CFS sufferers provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test.  Then after comparing the results of just the CFS patients, 17 of the cytokine levels varied dramatically between the patients with mild versus severe symptoms. Of those 17 cytokines, 13 were types that are pro-inflammatory, supporting findings from other studies that also suggest that chronic inflammation plays a major role in the illness.  The study’s senior author is Mark Davis, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology and director of Stanford’s Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection summarizes that: “there’s been a great deal of controversy and confusion surrounding ME/CFS, even whether it is an actual disease.  Our findings show clearly that it’s an inflammatory disease and provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test.”