Oxidative Stress & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder characterized by extreme physical and mental exhaustion. This exhaustion is not relieved by rest, and the fatigue is exacerbated by even light activity. Other symptoms include frequent headaches, sleep disturbances, and joint pain. No one knows what causes CFS. Women are affected more often than men and young adults more often than children or the elderly. In most people, the initial onset seems to be triggered by a disease. They get sick from a virus like the flu and then, rather than recovering, develop CFS. For most, the onset is sudden, and some can even pinpoint the exact day and time when they first became ill. Recent research has linked oxidative stress to CFS.
Many of the biochemical reactions constantly taking place in the body produce free radicals as a byproduct. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron in their outer shell. Because of this unpaired electron, they are highly reactive. In the body, they will react with many of the basic building blocks of the cell, including DNA, fats, and proteins. These interactions are very destructive and can damage key components of cellular function. Over time, damage accumulates, and cells die. The body protects itself from free radical damage by using antioxidants as free radical scavengers. Antioxidants are produced by the body, as well as being found in many foods and supplements. Glutatathione (GSH) is one of the most important endogenous antioxidants, while vitamins C, E, and A along with zinc and selenium are the antioxidants most commonly found in food. They work by pairing with free radicals and neutralizing them before they can do any damage. As long as the balance between antioxidants and free radicals is maintained, all is well. However, when the balance shifts, and there are not enough antioxidants to neutralize all the free radicals, the body enters a state of oxidative stress. Constant exposure to free radicals gradually chips away at cellular health and functioning.
How is Oxidative Stress Linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Oxidative stress is found in many disease. Infection, cancer, inflammation, and large-scale immune activation can all tip the balance in favor of free-radicals. In all these cases, the body's own antioxidant, GSH, is low. This is particularly true of CSF. When people exert themselves, cellular processes rev up in order to supply more energy. This inevitably leads to increased levels of free radicals, since they are a by-product of these same processes. For most people, the body responds by upping its production of antioxidants, thus maintaining equilibrium. For people with CSF, however, this does not happen, and so they wind up with a net increase in free-radicals every time they exert themselves, increasing oxidative stress.
How Can Oxidative Stress be Reduced in Chronic Fatigue Patients?
The easiest way to reduce oxidative stress is to shift the equation by supplying more antioxidants. In the past, GSH supplements have been tried. Unfortunately, the gastrointestinal tract cannot absorb GSH very well. Instead, cysteine, the most important precursor of GSH, is given as a supplement. These days, N-acetyl cysteine is administered to help reduce oxidative stress. In addition, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C supplements can help the body reuse GSH, thus further reducing oxidative damage.
Photo Credit: Gary Allman