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hronic fatigue syndrome can be a devastating medical condition. Theories abound as to the cause, including chronic viral and bacterial infections, weakened immune system, endocrine abnormalities and even psychosocial etiologies (it’s all in your head). The exact number of Americans affected by chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown but there are estimates of between 3 and 3,000 cases of chronic fatigue syndrome per 100,000 people (3,000 – 3 million people affected in the US). Although the exact cause has not been determined, there is ample evidence that chronic fatigue syndrome may be related to another chronic medical condition involving the bowel, leaky gut syndrome.

hronic fatigue syndrome usually starts after flu-like illness or a period of chronic stress. It is generally defined as having at least four of the following symptoms: profound exhaustion after exercise, impaired memory and concentration, un-refreshing sleep, muscle and joint pain, headaches, tender lymph nodes and recurring sore throat without obvious infection. Chronic fatigue syndrome patients often also have symptoms of irritable bowel (in my experience – 100 percent), new onset food allergies and chemical sensitivities and low blood pressure with dizziness when standing too quickly.

o medications seem to be effective and the success of many nontraditional medicine therapies is limited. Chronic fatigue syndrome shares many symptoms with chronic infections, but a causal

association with viral infections and lyme disease is inconsistent. However, the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome do closely mimic the common symptoms of leaky gut syndrome.

eaky gut syndrome is a condition where the bowel literally becomes “leaky” and toxins can be introduced into the blood stream in high concentrations. These toxins often come from bacteria and yeast and can affect many of the organ systems. Leaky gut syndrome is related to chronic poor food selection, medications – especially antibiotics - and stress. It is related to a condition called bacterial dysbiosis, where “bad” bacteria colonize the bowel and, in some cases, can result in life-threatening illnesses. Symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, headaches, changes in memory and irritable bowel symptoms. Irritable bowel may actually be a mild form of leaky gut syndrome.

n a recent medical publication (BMC Medicine, 2010), the correlation between chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic inflammation associated with leaky gut syndrome was explored. They discovered that a chronic inflammation of the bowels may be one of the foundation stones of chronic fatigue syndrome. They also suggested that inflammation may lead to a “leaky” bowel and would be a likely

source for the introduction of

inflammatory and toxic compounds into the body. These compounds can damage DNA and inhibit energy production resulting in fatigue, muscle weakness and pain and changes in memory and cognition. Many of these inflammatory and toxic compounds cause many of the symptoms of both chronic fatigue syndrome and leaky gut syndrome. Therefore, a reasonable argument can be made that the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome may originate in the bowels.

lthough there are no specific tests for leaky gut syndrome can be diagnosed by a simple urine test. Treatment for leaky gut syndrome includes select dietary supplements, changes in food choices and other simple lifestyle adjustments. In my personal experience, many people with CFS and leaky gut syndrome can get significantly better with this approach.

Patrick Massey MD, PhD is president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy and medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. He is board certified in internal medicine and fellowship trained at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. His web site is www.alt-med.org.

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