Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating but still mysterious ailment often marked by long-term fatigue, pain, and memory loss. But symptoms of CFS, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, vary considerably and no cause has been determined or diagnostic test developed—leading to the widespread notion that patients are dealing with a mental, rather than physical, illness, notes Pacific Standard.
Now a study out of the University of California at San Diego published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could change that in a big way.
As the Washington Post explains, the research suggests that the bodies of those with CFS have gone into a hibernation of sorts. And while hibernation can be of great benefit to creatures in the wild, it has awful effects in humans.
The scientists found that those with the syndrome have lower levels of metabolites, defined by PS as "the waste products of chemical reactions inside cells." The resulting "metabolic signature" was strikingly similar to animals in hibernation mode, suggesting that patients' cells went into defensive mode to ward off trouble and never quite came out of it.
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One professor out of Stanford is so impressed by the potential "game-changer" that he's collaborating with other scientists to try to replicate the findings in a larger study.
“What they found is that there may be an ancient pathway, and maybe in humans it’s not working very well," he tells the Post. It holds the promise of a diagnostic test and treatment in the foreseeable future. (One panel wants to change the name of CFS.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: People With Chronic Fatigue May Be Fighting 'Hibernation'