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Adrienne Dellwo

Oxidative Stress in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By February 2, 2012

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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

February 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm
(1) CFSboston says:

The medical establishment will have you believe that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is some sort of mysterious illness, but it’s no mystery to me; CFS/ME leads to HIV-Negative AIDS, idiopathic CD lympocytopena (ICL), a clinical diagnosis that I possess.

How can the AIDS establishment continue with a stale “it’s caused by HIV” theory when there are ICL cases cited in medical journals dating back to 1992? While millions of ailing immunodeficient CFS/ME patients get belittled and neglected, perfectly healthy HIV+ people are allocated billions of dollars in taxpayer money. How can it make any sense to anyone?

In the U.S. last year, the NIH spent $3.1 Billion researching perfectly healthy HIV+ people. Sick, ailing immunodeficienct (some of us dying) CFS patients received a meager $6 Million. How can it make sense to you? Source: http://report.nih.gov/rcdc/categories/

It’s so easy to see that the medical establishment simply has these paradigms (CFS, HIV) inverted. AIDS patients are simply more CFS patients, who also happen to harbor a seemingly harmless virus, HIV. AIDS patients are just the tip of the CFS iceberg, and it’s already well-documented that HIV is not the cause of CFS/ME.

Now that the mystery has been solved, could we please stop wasting time and re-allocate all the HIV funding into CFS/AIDS research?

I demand a revolution!

For 7 Step Plan to resolving our World’s catastrophic public health disaster, and to learn more about HIV-Negative AIDS: http://www.cfsstraighttalk.blogspot.com

I stopped fighting for myself a long, long time ago. I fight for humanity.

February 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm
(2) Brett says:

It would seem to me from the Pall Protocol article that if exercise increases NO, that might explain the exercise-induced malaise.

For me personally, the low fat diet increasing NO might explain why I have gone from a vegan diet to a frequent consumption of unhealthy foods like bacon and butter, not out of a lack of discipline, but due to a strong physical craving that my body truly needed it.

February 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm
(3) Taliba says:

What anti-oxidants are most often recommended?

February 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm
(4) Aidan Walsh says:

Sorry do not buy into Pall protocol it is to much for sick patients and I believe can cause serious complications…there is a persistent infection going on in these illnesses and I believe in only 2 research theories and those are the Nicolson’s and Stratton’s protocols…Also I have read too many reports where patients died and their doctor’s said most probably caused by vitamin/mineral overloads and toxicity associated with liver failures…These amounts of vitamins would be fit for Iron man competition athletes…Identify the true cause(s) of these disorders and treatment cure will pursue…If these theories worked we would be having patients yelling cured and this we are not hearing…It never fails we keep hearing theories and no proven facts or published papers or any replicated scienctific studies…I know countless people who have been on decades of vits/mins and no cures just out of pocket expenses…All theories everyone is assuming…We need facts and we need them now…We need these governments to get off their asses and fund very serious bio-medical research…Enough with the charades children die from these disorders and memorial lists continue to grow…

February 4, 2012 at 8:43 am
(5) Andrew Porter says:


Perhaps the autonomic malfunction, as discovered in my case of M.E. is significant, insofar as I have lost correct blood pressure control. This means that my blood pressure is far to low, 92/58 mmHg when sitting, and drops even further when standing. It is caused, in part by peripheral blood vessels failing to constrict when I stand to keep my blood pressure up, and blood flow through the upper parts of my body.

With reduced blood flow and volume means less oxygen delivery, a reduction in aerobic metabolism and a bias towards anaerobic metabolism. This means rapid onset of fatigue, delayed recovering, rapid build up of waste products, all adding to the problem. As for NO levels, they also become abnormal.

The condition is virtually identical to, if not a form of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, POTS, hence fatigue, weakness, poor quality sleep, blurred vision, lethargy and a feeling of being unwell.

February 6, 2012 at 10:23 am
(6) Rachael says:

Running on empty!

The organization of muscle fibers in each of us is determined by our genes. The endurance of the long-distance runner and the short-burst of energy experienced by the sprinter are both genetic in nature. Perhaps, some of us were genetically never meant to be long-distance runners; it may have in some way contributed to our development of CFS.

Slow-twitch muscle fibers like those of the long-distance runner have abundant mitochondria and use large amounts of energy slowly so that you can work out for a long time without getting tired. Slow fibers use oxygen-using (aerobic) pathways for activities that require endurance.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers found in sprinters have less mitochondria and use small amounts of energy quickly. Fast fibers use sugars for fuel (anaerobic) and do not require oxygen. It gives you the ability to run fast, but for short distances. The byproduct of this (anaerobic) energy production is heat and lactic acid. Lactic acid accumulation in the muscle causes fatigue and soreness. The (anaerobic energy) system is a limited system for energy production.

February 6, 2012 at 8:27 pm
(7) Karen says:

Andrew, this is my problem exactly, very low blood pressure and an absurdly fast heart rate. I stopped taking the Atenolol and Fludrocort because these meds were not controlling my heart rate.
(I tried compression hose but developed bunions and think the stockings may have contributed to that.)
Have you found anything that works? Are you on portable oxygen?

July 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm
(8) cherie nutting says:

I find the above comments interesting. I have had Fm/cfs since 1965.
I was also a champion sprinter winning most competitions in my youth.
I could not win when the dash was long distance. I did not perspire but
won every race. However, I had to drop out after a certain point.
Later I came down with FM and CFS. Cherie

September 21, 2013 at 12:22 am
(9) Kim says:

I’m intrigued by this idea of fast and slow muscle twitch fibers too. I was a swimmer and, as Cherie describes, one the race was longer than 100 meters I couldn’t win. The shortercthe distance the better.

I’ve lived my life in the short bursts of enery, needing to withdraw and rest between. Even working or doing housework, going for a walk, I do them all in short intense bursts. Recently, for the past 6 months, I’ve been having weekly accupuncture and loads of probiotics, antioxidants, superfoods, etc and I ‘ve noticed that I am slower and more deliberate in what I’m doing and have more resiliance.

This is pure intuitive speculation, but I wonder if the genetic legacy has anything to do with the underlying flight/fight/freeze response and the way our body processes adrenalin and cortisol.

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