Why do some people still think ME/CFS is psychological in nature?


A recent article by a team of researchers in Germany and the USA – including Manuel Thoma, Leonard Jason and Carmen Scheibenbogen – provides a clear summary of why the view that ME/CFS is a psychosomatic illness is inconsistent with results from biomedical research.

ME Research UK provides a useful diagram of the biological abnormalities that research has found in people with ME/CFS:

Biomedical studies summarised in the research paper provide further evidence that it is biological abnormalities that lead to symptoms in ME/CFS, rather than dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours as believed by proponents of the psychsomatic model suggests. For example:

Studies have shown that there are biological differences in the way the body responds to physical activity in people with ME/CFS compared to those without ME/CFS. People with ME:

  • have been found to switch more quickly to less efficient anaerobic metabolism;
  • take much longer to recover from the same amount of exercise as healthy controls – 2 weeks compared with only 2 days for healthy controls;
  • after exercise have alterations in gene expression –  meaning that their body seems to be responding differently to the exercise compared with healthy controls; ME Research UK recalls there also appear to be differences in gene expression following exercise between males and females with ME/CFS.

Evidence has shown that decreased blood flow to the brain in the upright position is not correlated to physical fitness – and therefore is not caused by deconditioning.

What can be done to ensure ME/CFS is treated as a biological illness? 

  • Fund more high-quality biomedical research into ME/CFS
  • Better education for health professionals on ME/CFS
  • Evidence-based learning materials for the wider population such as family and friends, education professionals, and other members of society

Read the full article:

MERUK: Research shows that ME/CFS is a biological illness  –  so why do some people still think it is psychological in nature?

Why the Psychosomatic View on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Is Inconsistent with Current Evidence and Harmful to Patients by Manuel Thoma, Laura Froehlich, Daniel BR Hattesohl, Sonja Quante, Leonard A Jason and Carmen Scheibenbogen in Medicina Vol 60 no.1 2023

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