New Lab Test in the Works for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

851 new lab for ME CFS

Chronic fatigue syndrome — more correctly called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) — is one of the more frustrating chronic illnesses because most doctors don’t believe it exists or that it’s a psychiatric issue. Despite symptoms that completely debilitate its victims, ME/CFS is often the butt of jokes or medical ridicule because there is no lab marker to diagnose it even though it has been linked to inflammation of the nervous system.

However, that may change thanks to the invention by a father whose adult son has been bedridden with ME/CFS for the last 10 years.

The father, who is also a Stanford scientist, developed a simple blood test that measures the energy cells expend in order to maintain homeostasis after exposure to salt. Salt stresses cells, which must retain balance in sodium levels in order to function properly.

The researcher passed the cells exposed to salt through a small microchip that uses an electrical current to measure the energy exertion of the cells. Less exertion indicates the cells are able to easily maintain sodium balance, while more exertion meant finding balance required considerable effort.

The test was run on 40 people — 20 of whom suffer from ME/CFS and 20 healthy controls. In all 20 of the ME/CFS group, the cells expended significantly more energy in response to the salt compared to the cells of the 20 healthy people. This indicates the ME/CFS group had cells that were considerably less functional and more stressed.

Poor cellular function leads to poor function of the body and brain. Dysfunctional cells that can’t produce enough energy result in a body that is constantly fatigued and in poor health with multiple symptoms.

Although the test needs to be run on larger groups of people, if the research is able to replicate these results, it means conventional medicine will finally have the biomarker it needs to legitimize ME/CFS as a medical condition in the eyes of ordinary doctors.

Conventional advice for ME/CFS can be debilitating

One mistake many conventional doctors make when they examine a patient with ME/CFS is to assume they are lazy or hypochondriacs. As such, it’s common for doctors to tell ME/CFS patients to exercise to improve their symptoms.

This is bad advice for the ME/CFS patient whose cells are struggling to maintain just basic functions.

In fact, many patients with chronic fatigue are so severely fatigued they cannot work, have normal lives, or even leave their beds. Any exertion exacerbates their symptoms in what is called “post-exertional malaise.” For these individuals, exercise is an extremely inappropriate prescription.

ME/CFS affects several million people in the United States, although it’s estimated that as many as 90 percent of sufferers have not been diagnosed, due to the difficulty of receiving a proper diagnosis. It can take years and visits to multiple doctors to find one who will take the symptoms seriously.

Another difficulty in diagnosis is that patients suffer from multiple symptoms in addition to chronic fatigue, such as chronic pain, difficulties with memory and concentration, gut issues, and extreme sensitivities to light, sound, smell. Poor cellular function affects multiple organs so that symptoms can vary depending on the person.

ME/CFS can be diagnosed though a simple checklist of symptoms, however most primary care doctors are not aware of the list or adhere to the belief the disorder is imaginary. Conventional doctors also don’t like to diagnose ME/CFS because no drugs exist to treat it.

However, should the new testing prove to be accurate, it would give the millions of sufferers a diagnosis, thus eliminating the demoralizing mystery. This would also open the doors to new research into the condition.

Recent research into brain inflammation could also bring hope for ME/CFS

Fortunately, recent research breakthroughs in brain inflammation offer promise in not only validating ME/CFS but also its treatment.

Brain inflammation is more common than previously realized and is increasingly linked to myriad conditions other than ME/CFS, including depression, anxiety, childhood brain development disorders, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Immune cells in the brain outnumber neurons 10 to one and are vastly more important than previously realized. They are responsible for maintaining neuronal health and function and removing debris and plaque from the brain. However, when the brain is impacted by inflammation from dietary or lifestyle factors or a brain injury, the brain’s immune cells must abandon their jobs of supporting neuronal health and instead go into persistent warrior mode, damaging brain tissue in the process. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s has no off switch.

There are no drugs to tame brain inflammation, however, it has been shown to respond to certain botanical compounds and functional medicine protocols that include dietary, lifestyle, and health interventions.

Ask my office for more advice on how we can help you with fatigue.

Is Chronic Stress Damaging You? Take a Salivary Cortisol Test to Find Out

835 adrenal salivary test

Many of us are too stressed out these days and this can have negative consequences on our bodies and brains, promoting chronic disease and rapid brain degeneration. If you’re concerned about the effects of stress on your body and how to manage it, an adrenal salivary test is an important ally. It can show you whether your stress hormone cortisol is too high or too low and whether this has affected your sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Symptoms of low adrenal hormones

  • Fatigue
  • Slow starter in the mornings
  • Crash in the afternoon
  • Crave sweets, caffeine, or nicotine to keep going
  • Prone to moodiness
  • Become shaky, light-headed, or irritable if go too long without eating
  • Wake up at 3 or 4 a.m.; inability to stay asleep
  • Become dizzy when move from sitting to standing

Symptoms of high adrenal hormones

  • Excess belly fat
  • Insulin resistance (high blood sugar)
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Wake up not feeling rested
  • Women grow facial hair; men grow breasts
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

How to do an adrenal salivary test

To perform the adrenal salivary test, simply collect a small vial of saliva several times throughout the day using the vials in your test kit. The lab will then analyze your saliva for cortisol levels and how much cortisol you produce in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Do not something unusual or stressful on the day of your test.

It’s important to understand that low or high adrenal hormones usually don’t reflect a problem solely with the adrenal glands, two glands that sit atop each kidney and secrete adrenal hormones. Instead, chronic stress affects stress pathways in the brain, which start to dysfunction when stress is chronic.

It isn’t just being too busy, a bad job, a bad relationship, and so forth that cause chronic stress. Lesser known factors of chronic stress can include unstable blood sugar (usually from too many carbs), a chronic infection, leaky gut, or an autoimmune disease. Using second and third adrenal salivary tests allow you to track whether you’re successfully managing your condition; adrenal health should improve as these conditions resolve. If adrenal health does not improve, it means you must keep investigating to find out what is causing the body stress.

Measuring the sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm

A sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, that is out of whack is one symptom of adrenal stress. If the circadian rhythm is normal, then cortisol is highest in the morning and lowest at night. This is what allows us to feel alert when we wake up and sleepy before bed. Many people with altered circadian rhythms notice they are more awake at night. Or they may notice an energy crash in the afternoon and being wide awake in the middle of the night.

The stages of stress

The adrenal salivary test measures circadian rhythm, the cortisol precursor hormones DHEA and 17 hydroxyprogesterone, and cortisol levels. It can tell you where you fall on the spectrum of adrenal fatigue to high adrenal hormones. People don’t necessarily progress from high adrenal hormone to low; adrenal function can jump back and forth between phases or stay stuck in one phase.

The adrenal salivary test also measures total secretory Ig antibodies, or (SIgA). Low SIgA levels reflect poor and dysfunctional immunity. If your SIgA levels are low, you are more prone to food intolerances, chemical sensitivities, autoimmune disease, infections, and other assaults on the immune system.

Ask my office about functional medicine protocols that can profoundly influence your adrenal health. We will also search for and manage the root causes of your adrenal stress.

Effects of trauma and harm passed on for generations

830 epigenetics intergeneational

The notion that genes dictate our destiny has been solidly debunked in favor of epigenetics, the study of external or internal mechanisms that switch genes on and off. Exciting new research shows epigenetic memory can span multiple generations.

Studies have linked epigenetics to cognitive dysfunction, autoimmunity, reproductive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and nearly all cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that genetics are responsible for a mere 10 percent of disease, while the remaining 90 percent is due to environmental variables.

Consider these research findings:

In rats, maternal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals caused infertility in male offspring that was passed down to 90 percent of males in four subsequent generations.

Adaptations to traumatic experiences can also be passed down multiple generations as a way to inform offspring about methods for survival.

For example, mice who learned to fear a scent associated with a negative experience passed the response down two generations, despite the offspring never having experienced the same situation.

A similar transfer of responses has been observed in humans:

Exposure to starvation during pregnancy is associated with poor health outcomes for offspring such as:

  • Lower self-reported mental health and quality of life
  • Major mood disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Decreased intracranial volume
  • Congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system
  • Enhanced incidence of cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity

Descendants of people who survived the Holocaust show abnormal stress hormone profiles, in particular low cortisol production. Because of altered stress response, children of Holocaust survivors can be at increased risk for PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Children of women exposed to intimate partner violence during pregnancy have higher predisposition to mental illness, behavioral problems, and psychological abnormalities due to transgenerational epigenetic programming of genes acting in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), a complex communication pathway between glands involved in our stress response.

Classic genetic theory states that genetic change occurs over a time scale of hundreds to millions of years.

Epigenetics explains how our lifestyle, diet, environment, and experiences affect the expression of our genes over multiple generations, but it does not account for actual changes to our genetic code.

How do genetics and epigenetics relate?

Via epigenetics our genes can be influenced by factors such as:

  • Diet
  • Sleep habits
  • Where you live
  • Who you interact with
  • Exercise habits
  • Smoking
  • Environmental toxins
  • Heavy metals
  • Stress level
  • Social support (or lack of it)
  • Medications
  • Method of birth (cesarean vs. vaginal)
  • And more

We inherit one variant of each gene from each parent. Epigenetics can turn off one of these two gene variants (this is called “imprinting”).

This can result in a negative health outcome if the other, still-active variant is defective or increases our susceptibility to toxins or infections.

The cumulative impacts of our lives on our genes

Related to epigenetics is the exposome, the cumulative measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime — starting at conception — and how they relate to our health. Some consider the exposome the environmental equivalent of the human genome.

The exposome is divided into three overlapping categories:

The environment inside our bodies that affects our cells:

  • Hormones and other cell messengers
  • Oxidative stress (excess highly reactive and damaging molecules)
  • Inflammation
  • Lipid peroxidation (damage to cell membranes and other molecules containing fats)
  • Body shape
  • Gut microbiota
  • Aging
  • Biochemical stress

The external environment to which we expose our bodies:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Occupational factors
  • Pathogens and toxins
  • Radiation
  • Medical interventions

The general external environment, including broader sociocultural and ecological factors:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Geopolitical factors
  • Psychological stress
  • Education status
  • Urban or rural residence
  • Climate

Using epigenetics to positively impact the future

Epigenetic processes are natural and essential to many bodily functions. But if they go wrong they can negatively impacts not only our health but the health of our children. Researchers feel the ability for these changes to be passed down has significant implications regarding evolutionary biology and disease causation.

There are factors we have no control over such as certain environmental toxins, method of birth, and exposure to some level of stress. The good news is we can affect change in many areas that can powerfully affect our epigenetics:

  • Anti-inflammatory diet
  • Daily exercise
  • Stress-relief activities
  • Good sleep habits
  • Who we interact with
  • Antioxidant status
  • Not smoking
  • Social support
  • Addressing food intolerances
  • Mediating autoimmunity

Functional medicine offers many avenues to support healthy epigenetic expression. If you seek ways to help your body express its genes in the best ways possible, contact my office for help.