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Welcome to the Microorganism Hotel

Gut Microbes and ME/CFS

Dr. Theresa Dowell, DNP Family Nurse Practitioner

 

Theresa Dowell is a family nurse practitioner and physical therapist. She has suffered from CFS for 12 years. It was her experiences as a CFS patient that motivated her to start a medical clinic in Flagstaff, Arizona dedicated solely to the treatment of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyaglia. She comes to the Bateman Horne Center as often as possible for clinician training.

 

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Gut Microbes

The Human Microbiome.  It’s the collection of microbes (bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live both in and on the human body.  They can be found in your gut, mouth, and lungs or on your scalp, skin, and nails. These microbes (technically, they’re microbe genes) outnumber human cells about 10 to 1 and account for up to 2-4 pounds of body weight.

Although it’s a little disturbing to think we are basically a hotel for microorganisms, these microbes, for the most part, serve us well.  Aside from giving us a good excuse for those few extra pounds of body weight, microbes help digest food, produce important nutrients, regulate the immune system, and protect us against disease-causing bacteria.

If you think of our bodies as a hotel for microorganisms, then our gut is the main lobby. Researchers are finding that gut microbiota is a key factor in determining our overall health. We’re finding our tiny guests play a significant role in many diseases including inflammatory bowel diseases, metabolic diseases (obesity and diabetes), allergic disease, and neurodevelopmental illnesses. It looks like they are playing a role in ME/CFS, too.

A recent study by Dorottya Nagy-Szakal and colleagues discovered that ME/CFS patients, both with and without irritable bowel syndrome, had abnormal levels of very specific types of gut bacteria. To determine this, the study looked at fecal samples of 50 patients and 50 matched healthy controls recruited at four ME/CFS clinical sites (one of which was the Bateman Horne Center). They also collected blood samples for immune molecules.

The Nagy-Szakal team also found that these very specific types of gut bacteria in ME/CFS patients influence the severity of their disease. In other words, it may explain why some patients with ME/CFS are bed bound and others are semi-functional.  Ultimately, the researchers hope that analyzing the fecal microbiome of ME/CFS patients will help them distinguish subtypes in the ME/CFS population and provide clues to understanding differences in manifestations of disease.

Yet another study that examined the gut microbiota by Ludovic Giloteaux’s research team at Cornell University showed decreased bacterial diversity as well as an increased number of pro-inflammatory bacteria in patients with ME/CFS.

Who could have guessed our gut microbiota would make such an impact in the health of ME/CFS? What does this all mean to ME/CFS patients?  Can we change our gut bacteria? Possibly. Are fecal transplants in our future? Maybe. Should we run out and buy a truckload of probiotics? Not just yet.  But my gut is telling me that we’re getting closer to finding the golden ticket, a diagnostic marker for ME/CFS.

 

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Journal reference
  1. Ludovic Giloteaux, Julia K. Goo, William A. Walters, Susan M. Levine, Ruth E. Ley, Maureen R. Hanson. Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome, 2016; 4 (1) DOI: 1186/s40168-016-0171-4
  2. Bull, M. J., & Plummer, N. T. (2014). Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal13(6), 17–22.
  3. Fecal metagenomic profiles in subgroups of patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome DOI: 1186/s40168-017-0261-y
  4. Can You Change Your Gut Bacteria? Susan Donalson James http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/news/20170531/can-you-change-your-gut-bacteria