Gut bacteria could have answers for ME/CFS


Two separate US studies have found significant differences in the gut microbiomes of people with ME/CFS  compared to healthy people, although it was not possible to tell if they were a cause or consequence of ME/CFS. Researchers hope the findings will help to  develop a diagnostic tool, interventions (dietary, probiotic, prebiotic, or synbiotic) and divide patients into sub-groups to better treat them.

The microbiome may weigh as much as five pounds. The bacteria in the microbiome help digest our food, regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria that cause disease, and produce vitamins including B vitamins B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K, which is needed for blood coagulation. (University of Washington)

Jackson Laboratory study

Julia Oh’s study compared microbiome samples from people with both short-term ME/CFS (under 4 years; 74 patients) and long-term ME/CFS over 10 years; 75 patients) as well as 79 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. The investigators also looked at blood plasma samples.

There was less diversity found in patients with short-term disease fewer microbes known to be butyrate producers. Butyrate is important for protecting the integrity of the gut barrier and is also known to play an important role in modulating the immune system.

In contrast, the gut microbiomes had re-established in those with long-term disease and were more similar to the healthy controls. However, there were a number of changes in the metabolites in their blood plasma, including many of those related to the immune system. They also had differences in levels of certain types of immune cells compared with the healthy controls.


  • Multi-‘omics identified phenotypic, gut microbial, and metabolic biomarkers for ME/CFS
  • Reduced gut microbial diversity and increased plasma sphingomyelins in ME/CFS
  • Short-term patients had more severe gut microbial dysbiosis with decreased butyrate
  • Long-term patients had more significant metabolic and clinical aberrations

Multi-‘omics of gut microbiome-host interactions in short- and long-term ME/CFS, by Ruoyun Xiong, Courtney Gunter, Elizabeth Fleming, Suzanne D Vernon, Lucinda Bateman, Derya Unutmaz, Julia Oh

The Center for Solutions study

Williams’s study looked at the microbiomes of 106 people with ME/CFS and 91 healthy controls that were matched for age, sex, geography, and socioeconomic status. It also looked at levels of microbial species in the stool. It didn’t include analysis of blood plasma, though this group has already published plasma metabolomics analyses elsewhere. It did look at metabolites in the stool, which demonstrated reduced levels of butyrate metabolites in ME/CFS.


  • ME/CFS patients have substantial gut microbiome dysbiosis
  • Bacterial abundances, functions, SCFAs and species interactions deviate in ME/CFS
  • Reduced F. prausnitzii and E. rectale in ME/CFS may contribute to butyrate deficiency
  • Low F. prausnitzii abundance correlates with more severe fatigue symptoms in ME/CFS

Deficient butyrate-producing capacity in the gut microbiome is associated with bacterial network disturbances and fatigue symptoms in ME/CFS, by Cheng Guo, Xiaoyu Che, Thomas, Briese, Amit Ranjan, Orchid Allicock, Rachel A Yates, Aaron Cheng, Dana March, Mady Hornig, Anthony L Komaroff,
Susan Levine, Lucinda Bateman, Suzanne D Vernon, Nancy G Klimas, Jose G Montoya, Daniel L Peterson, W Ian Lipkin, Brent L Williams

In the media:

NIH: Studies find that microbiome changes may be a signature for ME/CFS

NIH Director’s blogMore Clues into ME/CFS Discovered in Gut Microbiome

New Scientist: Chronic fatigue syndrome linked to lower levels of some gut bacteria

National Geographic: Chronic fatigue syndrome is a puzzle. Your gut microbiome may hold the key

Neuroscience news: Microbiome changes may be a signature for ME/CFS

Health rising: The NIH ME/CFS Gut Studies Pt. I: A Biomarker for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)?

News-medical: Research reveals differences in the gut microbiomes of people with ME/CFS

Science media centre: Expert reaction to two studies on the gut microbiome and ME/CFS

Yahoo news: Our gut bacteria may have the answers to this mystery illness affecting millions

Technology networks: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients have altered gut microbiota

EurekAlert: Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome is associated with distinct changes in the microbiome and gut metabolites

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