1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Exercise, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Altered Immune Response

A Review of Literature

By

Updated July 09, 2014

exerciseexhaustion.jpg

Exercise can lead to extreme exhaustion in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

A 2014 review of evidence looked into the strength of evidence for the theory that exercise leads to an altered immune response in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

Reviewers examined the available literature and evaluated their methodological quality. They included 23 studies in their paper.

Based on those studies, they determined there was moderate evidence of multiple exercise-triggered abnormal immune responses in ME/CFS when compared to healthy controls. Those abnormalities included:

  • More pronounced response in the complement system;
  • Oxidative stress;
  • Altered gene expression profile in the immune cells, including increases in post-exercise interleukin-10 and toll-like receptor 4 gene expression.

They found no difference in circulating cytokines, either pro- or anti-inflammatory.

The reviewers state that many of the immune changes related to post-exertional malaise, which is a key feature of ME/CFS.

Post-Exertional Malaise

People with ME/CFS don't recover from exercise like healthy people do.

For example, on Monday, a healthy person exercises until they feel worn out, then feels recovered on Tuesday and can repeat their performance.

Also on Monday, a person with ME/CFS exercises to the same point of fatigue. On Tuesday, they not only haven't recovered from it, they may also have flu-like symptoms (body aches beyond what's normal from exercise, sore throat, fever, extreme fatigue, etc.)

That's post-exertional malaise. Depending on how severely ill they are, it may take several days or even weeks for them to fully recover.

Fatigue & The Immune System

It may seem strange that immune system abnormalities can make someone feel sick. However, many of them symptoms you feel when you are ill are a result of your immune system kicking into overdrive.

It takes a lot of resources to fight an infection, so your body diverts a lot of its energy to the fight – producing and deploying specialized cells, hunting down the infectious agents and destroying them. A fever is often part of that defense, making your body too hot for the invader to thrive.

We don't yet know what causes the immune system of someone with ME/CFS to behave the way it does, especially after exercise, but as we learn more about what's going on, it'll get researchers closer to understanding why.

Source:

Nijs J, et al. Exercise immunoloy review. 2014;20:94-116. Altered immune response to exercse in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encehalomyelitis: a systematic literature review.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue
  4. Diet & Exercise
  5. Exercise, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Altered Immune Response

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.