Doctors Are One Step Closer to a Lab Test for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

People with (CFS) often go years without a diagnosis—and even after getting one, the “realness” of their condition may be questioned by friends, family members, and even doctors. That’s partially because there are no tests to determine whether a person has CFS (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME/CFS) and because symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

But new research is offering hope to CFS sufferers, and to doctors who diagnose and treat the condition. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford University researchers identify 17 proteins whose levels in the blood appear to be related to CFS severity. They say the discovery is an important step in proving that CFS does have a physical cause, and hopefully in developing a diagnostic test for the condition, as well.

For the study, researchers analyzed blood samples from 186 chronic fatigue patients who’d been experiencing symptoms for more than 10 years on average, and 388 healthy people. They tested for levels of 51 different cytokines, or proteins that are secreted by immune cells and circulate in the blood.

RELATED: The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms to Know if You’re Always Exhausted

When the researchers compared average cytokine levels in CFS patients versus the healthy control samples, they found that only 2 of the 51 substances they tested for were significantly different: One, called tumor growth factor beta, was higher in CFS patients, while the other, called resistin, was lower.

But when they looked more closely at CFS patients—and began to compare those with mild cases to those with more serious ones—they found more cytokine connections. In total, the levels of 17 different cytokines seemed to fluctuate with symptom severity: They were lower in people with mild symptoms when compared to the control group, but higher in people with severe symptoms.

The fact that these cytokine levels were high in some CFS patients but low in others explains why, in the overall analysis, the findings canceled each other out. It could also be why previous studies have failed to find such associations, the authors wrote in their paper. The differences could be due to genetics, they say, and may be a clue as to why some patients only develop mild symptoms while others fare much worse.

RELATED: 27 Ways to Boost Your Energy Without Caffeine

Researchers have long suspected that CFS is related to inflammation, and these results support that theory. Of the 17 cytokines linked to symptom severity, 13 are known to promote inflammation. One of those cytokines is leptin, a satiety hormone secreted by fat tissue, which women tend to have more of than men. This could help explain why three quarters of CFS patients are women, the authors say.

But the biggest takeaway from this study, they say, is that the identification of these 17 biomarkers (substances that indicate the presence of disease) could lead to the development of a laboratory test to diagnose CFS.

“There’s been a great deal of controversy and confusion surrounding ME/CFS—even whether it is an actual disease,” said senior author Mark Davis, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology, in a press release. “Our findings show clearly that it’s an inflammatory disease and provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test.”

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It could also pave the way for future research into treatments that can target these specific cytokines, suggests Anthony Komaroff, PhD, an epidemiologist at Harvard University and author of a forthcoming commentary to be published with the new study. It is now clear that there are real abnormalities in patients with CFS, Komaroff wrote in his commentary—although he also points out that these abnormalities should be confirmed with further research.

“Fortunately, the National Institutes of Health has announced it intends to increase its intramural and extramural investment in CFS research, and many laboratories outside the United States are also actively investigating the illness,” Komaroff wrote. “Hopefully, a decade from now, doctors will know better what to measure and, more importantly, what to do to ease the suffering caused by this illness.”

CDC: 1 in 3 Adults Sleep Less Than 7 Hours

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By Amanda GardnerTHURSDAY, March 3 (Health.com) — If you’re not getting enough sleep and find yourself waking up tired on a daily basis, you’re not alone. More than one-third of U.S. adults average less than 7 hours of sleep per night, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That lack of sleep is causing problems during the daytime, CDC surveys found. In one survey, 38% of people said they’d unintentionally dozed off during the day at least once in the previous month. Even more alarming, 5% said they’d nodded off or had actually fallen asleep while driving.

“If you don’t get enough sleep, it definitely impacts your functioning, your memory, response time. It definitely impacts your driving,” says Lela McKnight-Eily, PhD, one of the authors of the report and an epidemiologist and clinical psychologist with the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Heath Promotion.

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A second survey confirmed that too little sleep often leads to mental fuzziness. Nearly one-quarter of the people who reported getting less than 7 hours had difficulty concentrating during the day, and nearly one-fifth had trouble remembering things.

Sleeping less than 7 hours can interfere with everyday tasks, “lots of things you do every day and that you take for granted,” says Anne Wheaton, a postdoctoral research fellow at the CDC who co-authored the report.

Although sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults require 7 to 9 hours to feel rested, according to National Sleep Foundation guidelines cited by the CDC.

But that sweet spot is harder to come by in this day and age. Between 1985 and 2009, the percentage of people who slept less than seven hours has shot up from 23% to 35%, a striking increase that the researchers say is due in part to workforce changes and new technology—such as the smartphones and laptops that keep us connected at all hours.

Among the other notable findings in the report:People over age 65 were more likely than younger adults to sleep 7 hours or more.

Non-Hispanic whites (35%) were more likely than blacks (48%) to get at least 7 hours of sleep.

People with a high-school diploma tend to get more sleep than college-educated people.

When sleeping less than 7 hours, women are more likely than men to experience trouble with everyday activities.

Almost half (48%) of Americans snore.

“We need to start seeing sleep as a central part of health. It isn’t a luxury,” McKnight-Eily says. “[Lack of sleep] can impact day-to-day function and mortality. If you get behind the wheel of a car and haven’t had adequate rest, you can have an accident.”

Sleep disorders—including insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome—are common, McKnight-Eily adds. People who consistently feel poorly rested should consider seeing a sleep specialist to rule out a disorder, she says.

Exhausted? Taking Iron Can Cut Fatigue By 48%

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In a recent study, women who took 80 milligrams of iron daily had a 48% drop in fatigue. They were otherwise healthy people whose iron levels were on the lower end of normal. If you’re tired all the time, ask your doc to check your levels. (Note: too much iron can be toxic, though. So consult an MD before adding it as a supplement.)

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7 Tips to Streamline Your Weeknights

Meetings, errands, carpools… the work week tends to be a big blur, which leaves you tired and exhausted come Friday night. Instead of letting the work week grind ruin your weekend, try some of the easy tips below to streamline your weeknights. Your sanity will thank you!

Exercise in the morningYou might not be a morning person, but getting your workout done before the day begins, frees up a couple of hours in the evening. Having trouble getting out of bed? Check out my tips for becoming a morning exerciser.

Cook dinners with leftovers In order to streamline weeknight dinners, I often cook meals that produce a lot of leftovers, such as crock pot dishes or casseroles, so I have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. After a long day, I love being able to simply reheat a meal for dinner.

Schedule one TV nightSitting in front of the “boob tube” is a major time-suck. So instead of wasting hours watching TV, I record all of my favorite shows on my DVR and then plan one night each week to watch all of them. Instead of watching a couple of hours of TV every night, I save time by watching them all together, which tends to be a lot more relaxing because I can really unwind when I know I have a few of my favorite shows to watch. Plus, fast-forwarding through the commercials saves me time too.

Designate Sunday as your “beauty” night On Sunday night, I like to do all of my time-consuming beauty routines at the same time, instead of individually to save myself some time mid-week. For example, I will deep condition my hair while giving myself a manicure.

Reserve Wednesday or Thursday as your errand dayErrands always pop up for me during the work week. Instead of trying to fit in daily errands, I make a list and tackle them all on one day (before or after work or on my lunch break). I usually pick Wednesday or Thursday, when my errands have started to add up, which also frees up my weekend at the same time.

Clean for 5 minutes each nightEveryone has 5 minutes to spare, right? You might not think five minutes of cleaning or tiding your house will make a difference, but, trust me, it does!  Set a timer for five minutes and then pick up random things around house, sort through mail, load the dishwasher, wipe-down the counters in the kitchen, etc. These little tasks really add up and save you time when the weekend rolls around.

Do a load of laundry mid-week I hate wasting my weekends doing laundry, so I try to fit it in during the week. Mid-week, I’ll wash, dry, and fold at least one load of laundry and then save the rest for the weekend. Every little bit helps!

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Fight Fatigue Naturally With These 5 Daily Fixes

That second cup of coffee is not the only way to combat fatigue. Making a few changes to your daily routine might be all you need to feel more alert — and positive! — all day long.

Choose the right breakfast: Loading up on convenience foods with little nutritional value is a surefire way to drop energy levels. Start the day with a healthy breakfast comprising fiber, complex carbs, and protein to fuel the body and keep you from that midmorning slump.

Make time to work out: Finding time to exercise on a busy day might seem impossible, but boosting your endorphins and energizing your body through movement is some of the best defense against constant fatigue. And whether it’s first thing in the morning, during lunch, or after work, consistent exercise can also help you sleep more soundly and wake up more alert.

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Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Staying hydrated is one of the keys to healthy digestion, glowing skin, and fighting fatigue! You may be surprised to learn that being tired is one of the first signs of dehydration, so keep water with you when you’re on the go.

Allow yourself a break: Something as short as a five-minute walk in fresh air and natural light can improve both your energy and mood. If you’re so swamped you can’t leave the office, move through a few desk stretches that will relieve stress in your shoulders, neck, back, and wrists to help you stay focused.

Turn off electronics before bed: It’s obvious that getting adequate sleep every night keeps your body functioning at its top potential. But if you keep your electronics on all night as you slumber, it is affecting your sleep patterns and your demeanor the following morning. It’s best to turn everything off at least 20 minutes before you hit the hay to allow your body the time to adjust naturally and fall asleep more soundly.

POPSUGAR is a lifestyle website for women focusing on fitness and weight loss tips, healthy cooking, celebrity fitness, and workout routines for all levels. Read more at POPSUGAR.com.