Chronic fatigue syndrome may result from mitochondrial dysfunction

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a multisystem illness, whose two most characteristic signs are poor stamina and delayed post-exertional fatigue. The fatigue can be mental or physical, and fatigue, which is essentially lack of energy, comes from the inefficient basic metabolic process of the oxidation of food. It is one widely held hypothesis that the fatigue in CFS is psychological, that mental fatigue is a subjective sensation characterised by lack of motivation and alertness, even thought the brain is a major consumer of resting cellular energy. But this hypothesis is not supported by experiment in many cases.

The alternative hypothesis is that there is a metabolic dysfunction that results in not enough energy being produced. Simply, when the digestive system is functioning properly, glucose and lipids, together with oxygen bound to haemoglobin, are transported to every energy-producing organelle in the body, the mitochondria. The mitochondria generate energy by oxidative metabolism, so any mitochondrial dysfunction will result in fatigue and can produce other symptoms.

There is considerable evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is present in some CFS patients – biopsies have found several deletions of genes in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), genes associated with bioenergy production.

If the alternative hypothesis is correct, and there is mounting evidence to suggest it is, then this research advocating inorganic nitrates to improve the efficiency of mitochondria may well be of use to sufferers of CFS and ME.

Sarah Myhill, Norman E. Booth, John McLaren-Howard

Source: International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine


Click here for more research reports

?First Published March 2011

Top of page