Does checking basic tasks off your to-do list leave you exhausted? Do you find yourself regularly struggling to get out of bed? Millions of people are dealing with a debilitating condition: chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious illness that makes living a normal, active life extremely difficult.
In addition to a feeling of exhaustion that no amount of sleep can mitigate, symptoms of chronic fatigue include:
- Decreased ability to do things that weren’t difficult before illness
- A feeling of ‘crashing’ after engaging in normal physical or mental activity
- Sleep problems such as falling or staying asleep
- Impaired cognition, including memory problems, trouble concentrating and ‘brain fog’
- Muscle and joint pain
- Frequent sore throats
The exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown. However, since many sufferers feel their condition originated with a flu-like illness, some experts believe it’s caused by a viral infection. Others think a bacterial infection like pneumonia may trigger the illness. Problems with the immune system are also considered a potential cause, since chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune disorders share characteristics - like increased inflammation. Stress and genetics are other possible triggers of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic fatigue and gut health
Researchers have begun to explore the link between chronic fatigue syndrome and imbalanced gut bacteria.
- In a 2017 study, scientists identified abnormal levels of certain gut bacteria in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Specific strains of gut bacteria were strongly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, and the severity of chronic fatigue symptoms correlated with the relative abundance of these bacterial types.
- Researchers concluded that chronic fatigue syndrome may involve a breakdown in communication between the brain and the gut.
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Since a growing body of evidence highlights the importance of a healthy microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in our bodies) for overall well-being, it’s not surprising that chronic fatigue syndrome has been associated with the gut.
The microbiome is made up of many different types of bacteria, both helpful and harmful. When we’re healthy, these good and bad bacteria are balanced. But when something happens to upset this balance – whether it’s illness or a course of antibiotics – the microbiome can’t function optimally. When levels of beneficial bacteria dip too low, harmful microbes may take over, potentially leading to a microbiome that’s overrun with bad bacteria. This imbalance negatively impacts our wellness.
The microflora in our gut aid digestion, produce vitamins and support our immune system, among other things. Our microbiome also affects our mental health, with some research pointing to a connection between gut bacteria and mood. Other conditions linked to the microbiome include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes and even obesity.
A healthy microbiome is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for people with chronic fatigue, who may be experiencing an imbalance of gut bacteria that contributes to their condition.
Probiotic supplements may be effective in supporting the microbiome and reducing symptoms of chronic fatigue:
- Probiotics help repopulate the microbiome with beneficial microbes, restoring the balance between harmful and helpful.
- Sickness-causing pathogens are kept at bay, digestive processes are optimised and the immune system is able to function properly.
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The benefits of probiotics
The benefits of probiotics have been widely studied, and science suggests these supplements can help with a whole host of health problems. Here are some of the many conditions probiotics have been shown to treat and/or prevent:
- Vaginal infections
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Urinary tract infections
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
As research suggests that an imbalanced microbiome could be a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, taking a probiotic to bring the microbiome back into balance may be an effective way to reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue. Probiotics can be a safe, natural and gentle addition to any chronic fatigue treatment plan.
Gut health can also be promoted with the right diet: increase fibre intake to foster the good bacteria and include fermented foods like probiotic yoghurts, sauerkraut and kombucha.