Brain Inflammation Now Documented in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

April 14, 2014

Brain Inflammation Now Documented in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Cutting-edge research published just days ago, shows that patients dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) have neurological inflammation and it is widespread throughout the brain. Up until recently, it has only been able to be hypothesized that these individuals dealing with CFS/ ME have brain inflammation involved in the pathophysiology of the disease. Being able to prove this issue has been impossible up until now, as advanced PET scan technology can now demonstrate the activation of microglial cells or astrocyte activity of the brain. Recall that the glial cells are the workhorses of the brain and are the brain’s immune system. When these glial cells are overworked or activated, inflammation is a consequence.

Researchers found a higher activation of the microglial cells and astrocytes that were 45-199 percent more active in patients with CFS/ME than those without the illness. The over-activity and inflammation areas were found in the limbic system of the brain. Structures shown to be inflamed with this over-activity included areas of the hippocampus, amygdala, cingulate cortex, thalamus, midbrain and others. This is where vital life processes occur. This limbic system is the “old brain” or the part of the brain that is primarily involved with survival, i.e. eating, sleeping, circadian rhythms, motivation, reproduction, and basic emotions. It sits on top of the brain stem, but is underneath the cortex or the conscious thinking part of the brain. When this subconscious life force area of the brain is not working well, getting thru the day requires Herculean effort. In the case with CFS/ME, the communication processes are so burdened with inflammation that profound fatigue and dysfunction occurs through every neurological phone call.

Patients who have CFS/ME often have debilitating symptoms of fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, brain fatigue, brain fog, altered sleep wake patterns, headaches, sensory overwhelm, and many other difficulties. The areas that were tested are clearly related with brain dysfunction and not as a result of simple fatigue or a psychiatric problem that is so often blamed. Having dysfunction in these areas would explain the reason why many CFS/ME patients have significant difficulty with remembering conversations, learning new things, going to school, or simply doing a basic task like simple arithmetic. It also explains why something like going to the mall or enjoying a special outing with friends and family although pleasant and enjoyable becomes painful and exhausting. The stimulation is simply too much. It provides explanation for why individuals with CFS feel like they are profoundly exhausted even after the slightest exertion and can occur for days afterwards. Each activity, behavior and thought is having to be relayed through multiple areas of the brain that are profoundly hot and inflamed. It’s like a sunburned brain trying to process information. Having nearly two hundred percent more inflammation and excess cell activation in the core fundamental centers of the brain will make anyone feel like they are functioning with gravity turned up and their body severely betraying them.

Medical research has yet to pinpoint the exact cause of this inflammation, i.e. viral, toxins, adrenals, HPA axis disruption, thyroid, gut, methylation defects, nitric oxide imbalances, mitochondria dysfunction, immune dysfunction, or autoimmunity, etc. It can readily be said in the sickest of these patients most have multiple baffling levels of dysfunction. It is evident though that CFS/ME demonstrates autoimmunity and neurological inflammation. Having recognition of this neurological inflammation though is powerful and provides another entry point into helping these struggling individuals. However what is even more empowering is knowing that there are tools and nutrients that have been shown to reduce microglial cell activation.

Individuals living with CFS/ME often have serious health challenges and suffer consequences through all areas of their life as a result of the illness. This new found understanding of identifying neurological inflammation and then taking steps to reduce inflammation from as many sources as possible is vital to changing the trend. Following The Leptin Diet and using a wide range of support consistently over time provides a chance to regain control over this debilitating disorder. Even if you are someone who does not have this disorder, but has mild concerns of brain fatigue and brain fog and perhaps a family history of age-related dementia, reducing excessive wear and tear and chronic low level of brain inflammation is vital to aging well neurologically. Don’t wait to clean up these issues until it's a substantial problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure especially with brain health.

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