New research looks at how your diet and your digestion could be the answer to why you're so exhausted all the time

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

Exhausted all the time? You're not alone. According to the latest data from the CDC, more than one million people in the U.S. currently suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the vast majority of these are women. Many patients say that the debilitating illness is excruciating, not just because of the characteristic pain and exhaustion but also because it's so hard to get doctors to believe they have it in the first place! But a new study published in Microbiome, not only shows that CFS isn't "all in your head" but rather that it might actually be all in your gut.

When people first start experiencing signs of CFS-depression, joint pain, excess sleepiness, forgetfulness, weakness, and of course life-altering fatigue-most often doctors will start looking for the source of the problem from the top down, starting with their mental state. But researchers from Cornell took a new approach, starting from the bottom up-literally. They looked at a bunch of poop.

They found that they could identify more than 80 percent of people with CFS based on their stool samples alone all because of bacteria. Results found that people with CFS have a different gut bacteria profile than people who don't suffer from the illness. Researchers were also interested in inflammatory markers in the participants' stool and blood.

"Our work demonstrates that the gut bacterial microbiome in chronic fatigue syndrome patients isn't normal, perhaps leading to gastrointestinal and inflammatory symptoms in victims of the disease," said Maureen Hanson, Ph.D., a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell and the paper's senior author. Hanson went on to say that this basically proves that CFS is a very real, biological illness, and certainly not just a case of someone who needs another excuse to stay in bed. (Read: 6 Ways Your Microbiome Affects Your Health.)

The fact that gut bacteria can make you tired may sound far-fetched, but the researchers say it actually adds up when you look at the results. First, people with CFS had a higher amount of bad bacteria and fewer "anti-inflammatory" species, leading to inflammation, pain, and poor digestion in the gut. All of this creates systemic inflammation and lowers immunity. Second, when researchers examined blood samples, they found certain inflammatory markers that would lead them to believe those with CFS were experiencing "leaky gut," a condition where the gut is more permeable, allowing bacteria to seep into the blood stream. This forms a dangerous cycle with bad bacteria crowding out the good guys, pushing more and more icky stuff into your blood, which triggers your immune system to try to fight this off leading to exhaustion and other CFS symptoms. It's no wonder you'd feel sick and tired all the time!

Researchers say that improving your gut microbiome by adding healthy bacteria to your diet through foods or probiotic supplements could help boost your energy, whether you have CFS or just feel like all the coffee in the world won't save you. So pick up some extra kefir or kimchi the next time you're at the market.

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