Thirteen years ago, Cara Tomas was rendered bedbound with chronic fatigue syndrome. It came on suddenly, she says, without warning signs. Even now she has good days and bad days due to the lingering effects of the disease. “A lot of people dismiss it as a psychological disease, which is a big frustration,” she says.
Tomas knows more about CFS than most. A PhD student at Newcastle University in the UK, she has just published a paper demonstrating that white blood cells in people with the disease are as listless as the people themselves often feel. “Now we’ve shown there’s a physiological difference, it could explain the whole-body fatigue shown by patients,” she says.
For many years, arguments have raged over whether CFS — also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME — has a physiological or psychological basis. But the latest research comparing samples of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 52 people with the condition and 35 without has reinforced the case for a biological explanation.
Less mighty mitochondria
Across almost all measures of energy capacity, the cells from people with CFS were weaker compared with their healthy counterparts. If other cells are equally compromised, it could explain why people with the condition are often bed- or wheelchair-bound for months, and struggle with even modest physical exertion.
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