Oxidative Stress in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Updated February 02, 2012.

Research Brief

A new study supports the theory that chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) may be related to oxidative stress, and that oxidative stress may play a key causative role in the illness.

This was the third study in a series looking at several possible components of ME/CFS:

  1. Ventricular lactate
  2. Cortical glutathione
  3. Oxidative stress

The earlier research had uncovered significantly elevated levels of ventricular cerebrospinal-fluid lactate in ME/CFS, as compared to generalized anxiety disorder and healthy controls. In this study, researchers wanted to see if the high lactate levels could be caused by increased oxidative stress, low blood flow to the brain, and/or mitochondrial dysfunction (which involves the building blocks of cells.)

They say results showed significantly high ventricular lactate in participants with ME/CFS compared to healthy controls. They also report an insignificant difference in measures of cortical glutathione and no difference in markers of mitochondrial function.

In addition, ventricular lactate was highest and cortical glutathione was lowest in the most severe cases.

Rsearchers concluded that this study supports the pathphysiological model of ME/CFS with oxidative stress as a possible underlying cause.

What is Oxidative Stress?

The atoms in your body are supposed to have an even number of tiny particles called electrons. When an atom (or molecule) has an odd number, it's out of balance and roams around your body in search of an electron to steal in order to balance itself. In this way, they create other free radicals, damage your cells and DNA, and keep your body in an unbalanced state.

Free-radical damage may contribute to diseases including heart disease and cancer. Some researchers have theorized that it's involved with ME/CFS and related conditions such as fibromyalgia, PTSD and Gulf War illness.

Free radicals are a normal part of your body and we do need some of them, but at high levels they become destructive and put your body into a state called oxidative stress.

Things that can cause an increase in free radicals include air pollution, smoking cigarettes and a poor diet.

You've probably heard a lot about antioxidants. They've been loudly touted (and sometimes over-hyped) for several years because  can counter oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.

For this reason, some doctors recommend antioxidants for ME/CFS and similar illnesses, and some experimental protocols involve high levels of them (most notably the Pall Protocol.)

Evidence for oxidative stress isn't strong enough yet for doctors to universally recommend antioxidants for these conditions, but the body of work is growing and continuing to point to oxidative stress as an important factor. Learn more about Antioxidants for Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS.

Also See: Smoking, Oxidating Stress, Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS.

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo © Chad Baker/Getty Images


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